Maitland FC will enter the Herald Women’s Premier League (WPL) for the first time in 2021, as Northern NSW Football (NNSWF) announces that Thornton FC’s WPL teams will transition to the club from next season.

The move will see Maitland FC entering teams into all WPL grades which will include key personnel from Thornton also joining the club to manage the program.

The arrangement will assist the 2019 NPL Premiers to continue its strong National Premier Leagues (NPL) program as well as increase the standards required of the WPL competition in 2021 as the league aims to transition into Women’s NPL (NPLW) in 2022.

Maitland FC president Ray Watkins was excited for the club to be involved in women’s football and looked forward to the value it would bring the club.

“We see it from the point of view that women’s football is the biggest growth team sport in this region and probably Australia,” Watkins said.

“As far as Maitland Football goes, we’ve been in the NPL NNSW for five or six years now and we’ve made big strides in particular with our senior men’s football and now at youth level as well.

“We think we’ve got the structure and resource base and it’s our intention to give women and girls of the Hunter Valley the same opportunities as we give to the men’s game. The same program, the same facilities, the same resources.

“We’re keen to be able to drive the development of women’s football in the Hunter Valley to the level it deserves to be.”

Maitland FC invited the Thornton WPL side to train at Cooks Square Park on Tuesday night as a symbolic welcome to the club, with Maitland’s home ground to host the Redbacks’ round 10 WPL clash with Mid Coast FC on Saturday 29 August 2020.

“Men’s and women’s football will be treated equally at Maitland,” Watkins said.

“Maitland and our community are very focused on their own teams and we gathered a tremendous amount of support in our FFA Cup run last year where we hosted the Central Coast Mariners at Maitland Sportsground.

“By increasing the profile of the women’s game, it will only benefit the club in general throughout the community and corporate sector and just boost the momentum and awareness of the club.”

With access to adequate facilities being a challenge for the women’s program previously, the players and coaches will now have further access to an NPL level venue, assisting NNSWF to ensure the long-term viability of the league.

Thornton’s 2020 WPL coach Al Primmer was equally excited with the development, saying it would take women’s football in the Hunter Valley to the next level.

“It’s massive. I think it shows how serious the Hunter Valley are about women’s football,” Primmer said.

“Thornton have done a great job since they first came into the competition. But this takes the next step forward and probably stamps how serious we are that a Premier Club is taking it on.

“Professionalism, coaching, I think it takes it all to the next level.”

Primmer, who has 24 years of senior coaching experience, said the transition to Maitland would be a real opportunity for not only his players but all young female players across the Hunter Valley.

“Thornton have been a development club. And if you go through every WPL club there would be a number of girls who have come through the Hunter Valley system,” Primmer said.

“For some reason they have driven past Thornton to go and play with Newcastle teams which I understand. But with someone like Maitland taking it on, the club won’t accept mediocrity or being second best.

“Thornton aren’t walking away from women’s football. By working with the transition to Maitland, we’re trying to take women’s football in our area to the next level. We’ll always be about putting the girls first and this is a great stepping-stone.”

The challenge of resources, volunteers, accredited coaches and access to adequate facilities for Women’s Premier League Clubs, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic is real. NNSWF believes the arrangement between the two clubs will enable better access to these resources as well as NPL expertise to help players and coaches involved in the women’s game to take the next step towards entering the NPLW competition in 2022.

Maitland joins fellow NPL NNSW clubs Newcastle Olympic FC and Broadmeadow Magic FC in recognising the importance of having the women’s game in their stable.