'Nobody hates us' – can an independent women's team thrive?


London City Lionesses have won three of their first four Championship games this season

Can a women’s team thrive at the top level without any ties to a men’s club? After breaking away from Millwall, London City Lionesses believe the answer is “yes”.

The new second-tier side, who host English champions Arsenal on Sunday in their first League Cup fixture, are going it alone as a new brand without a “brother”.

In the higher levels of the English women’s game, almost every other club is affiliated to a male counterpart, with many reliant on funding from their men’s team one way or another.

But, after a less-than amicable separation from Millwall, the new Lionesses have made a positive start to life on the pitch and they feel more female teams might follow in their footsteps.

“We want to prove that a women’s team can now be run as an independent club and not rely on handouts from an older brother,” London City Lionesses manager Chris Phillips told BBC London Sport.

“It is right for a women’s team to be commercially free, to be able to go and do deals with partners and sponsors. Being able to do our own deals, we can sustain this model and become profitable.

“Commercially, London has a big pool. We’re in the right place at the right time with the right product. Maybe a few will follow suit.”

‘No-one hates us’

But how difficult will it be to build a fanbase from scratch, without the prospective boost from supporters who already follow one of the capital’s leading men’s sides?

A crowd of 224 turned up for their 3-1 home victory over Leicester City on 8 September at Dartford’s Princes Park Stadium and the Lionesses have won three of their first four league games this term.

Asked how his team would find more fans, Phillips added: “The first thing is, no-one hates us.

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“We’re not Spurs, so Arsenal don’t hate us. We’re not West Ham, so Chelsea don’t hate us.

“Our players will be going out to schools, to youth clubs, to communities and interacting with people. We know it’s going to be a gradual process but we’ve built the foundations.”

The club have started a community outreach programme which sees their players providing coaching courses at local schools.

While it remains to be seen whether Phillips’ theory proves correct and fans of London’s men’s clubs develop a soft spot for his Lionesses, there is one set of supporters from whom they can expect some animosity.

Chris Phillips’ new side have amassed more points (nine) in four games this term than his Millwall team managed in 20 outings last season (five)

Millwall fans ‘deeply upset’ at breakaway

Millwall Lionesses played in the second tier last term but their Championship licence was transferred to London City after approval from the Football Association, who run England’s top women’s leagues.

They almost went into administration in April 2018 and were saved after nearly £17,500 was donated via a crowdfunding page, but won just one of 20 league games in 2018-19.

Their former board, led by chairperson Diane Culligan, formed the London City Lionesses to the “disappointment” of the Lions,