With the amazing achievement of our Lionesses, it would be devastating for us as a club to have to fold due to our current circumstances, says Gillingham centre-back Vicky Ashton-Jones
ELITE Women’s Football may be riding on the crest of the wave after England Lionesses winning the European Championships for the first time this summer – but here in Kent things are looking much bleaker in the third-tier for Gillingham.
With plenty of funding in the top-flight Women’s Super League, with professional players enjoying the benefits of better wages, commercial deals and more television exposure, life is a different story in the FA Women’s National League Southern Division.
Gillingham Football Club decided it could no longer fund and support the women’s section due to the pressures it faced during the Covid-19 health pandemic in 2020.
The Women’s team now face being disbanded if new owners to not come in to save them after it was announced yesterday that chairman Josh Oatham has come to the decision to step down as owner and chairman of Gillingham Women Football Club at the end of August.
“The club is now seeking an external personal/party to take over all ownership responsibilities for the football club. If a new owner is not found in the coming weeks, I fear for the club’s existence going forward,” warned Mr Oatham.
“In 2020, following Gillingham Football Club’s decision to no longer fund and support the women’s section, I was faced with a situation where if I did not take on the sole responsibility for the club, it would have disbanded.
“My intensions since then have been to stabilise the team both on and off the field, to make it an attractive proposition for someone to then take over and continue to drive the club forward, following one of the most successful season’s in the club’s 27-year history, I feel that this has been achieved.
“This decision has been difficult to make, but it has been made for both personal and financial reasons, as I feel I have taken the club as far as I can.
“The club needs resources, in terms of times and funding that I can no longer provide.
“Since the end of last season, with the hope of getting this resolved prior to the start of the 2022-23 campaign, I have been actively speaking to various potential parties regarding ownership of the club. Unfortunately, as it stands, an agreement has yet to materialise.
“Therefore, I have been left with little choice than to release this statement in the hope that new parties come forward, to continue the great work of the players and staff, building on the success of last season.
“I have informed the players and staff of my decision and would like to thank them for their full support at this time.
“During my time at the club, they have been exceptional and if it wasn’t for this group, this decision would have been a much easier one to make.
“Finally, this is a special football club that is proud to represent Kent in the third tier of the Women’s game, one league below the professional Championship. Accompany this with the increasing attention on the Women’s game, which has been further driven by the success of the Lionesses this summer, I feel this is an exciting project for the right person/party to take forward.
“The club will continue to operate as it has done previously.”
Gillingham’s female footballers are technically amateur players, they do not receive any finances but also don’t pay to play for the Thamesmead based club either.
“With the amazing achievement of our Lionesses, it would be devastating for us as a club to have to fold due to our current circumstances,” added club stalwart, centre-back Vicky Ashton-Jones.
"We're so greatful for what Josh has done for this club. In a time when Women's Football is finally getting the recognition it deserves, it's heartbreaking to think we may no longer exist as a club if we don't get the support we need. Please reach out if you can help us."
The captain added: “There are teams in our league who are paid and receive expenses etc, obviously an ambition of ours at Gills!”
Gillingham kick-off their new league campaign with a trip to play Watford on Sunday (at Wealdstone FC, 14:00).
Gillingham's first home league game will be against Cheltenham Town on Sunday 9 October (14:00 at Bayliss Avenue, Thamesmead).
Gillingham finished in sixth-place last season and claimed the Kent Cup with a 3-0 win over Dartford.
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