Football Ferns hit out at Auckland club Western Springs AFC over battle with women's premier team

The Football Ferns have delivered stinging criticism for Auckland's Western Springs AFC, whose female players have walked in protest over the equality scandal that's engulfed the club. 

Last week, Western Springs - the largest football club in New Zealand by player registrations - parted ways with women's premier head coach Ryan Faithfull. 

Western Springs says Faithfull was "moving on", but Newshub understands he was sacked, after supporting of his players' demands.

In March 2023, senior Western Springs players penned a letter to the board, requesting parity with other clubs within the Auckland system and also with their male counterparts, in regards to expenses, use of facilities, and a specialist strength and conditioning coach. 

Faithfull coached Western Springs to second in the 2022 New Zealand women's national league, losing to Auckland rivals Eastern Suburbs in the final.

In solidarity with their coach, the women's first team will not take the field for the club, leaving Western Springs in a precarious position. 

Should the club fail to field a team for two consecutive matches, a five-figure financial penalty will be imposed, while the team itself could be withdrawn from the division.

To avoid such a penalty, Western Springs has called in mediators to end the standoff with the players, many of whom are threatening to leave the club altogether.

After the club had a bye last weekend, the next two weeks loom as key, with players seeking resolution as quickly as possible. Some told Newshub they are considering giving up football altogether, due to the impact of the situation.

The saga is a black mark against Western Springs, which will act as a training base for the Norwegian national team during this year's Women's Football World Cup, hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

The club received a share of Government funding worth $19 million to help aid its preparations for the World Cup, beginning in July 2023. 

While the players themselves are unable to talk until mediation between both parties has concluded - some fearful of reprisal from club officials - they have allies in high places.

Western Springs before the 2022 National League final.
Western Springs before the 2022 National League final. Photo credit: Photosport

"We've definitely heard about it," Football Ferns defender Claudia Bunge told Newshub. "It's really sad to see the lack of support they're getting.

"Big ups to them, that's a really hard and uncomfortable thing to go through. Stepping down from a team is the ultimate sacrifice.

"Hopefully, a bit of change can start to occur.

"Leading up to a World Cup, it's not good enough. Clubs need to be doing more."

Western Springs AFC has affirmed its commitment to the women's team and the women's game as a whole. 

"The breakdown in the relationship with the premier women's team is a disagreement on how we get closer to parity for the women's programme and how fast," it said. "The club acknowledges that the issues raised by the women's team could have been handled better. 

"The club would like to stress that there are a significant number of incorrect facts, figures and statements in the article around funding, physio, strength and conditioning, and assistant coaches. Mediation will assist us in correcting these misunderstandings.

"Pay parity and support for women's sport is a global issue across all codes and this has now come to our doorstep. We are taking this issue seriously and see it as an opportunity to get a shared understanding about what this means for all parties."

For New Zealand defender Elizabeth Anton, the issue goes even further. The 24-year-old played her junior football at Western Springs, before becoming a professional.

While the issues put forward by the current playing group are nothing new, Anton hopes for a resolution in the future.

"They've obviously always been there, when I was back at the club," she said. "I'm sure they're at many other clubs too.

Former Western Springs women's head coach Ryan Faithfull.
Former Western Springs women's head coach Ryan Faithfull. Photo credit: Photosport

"I think it's great that it's giving an opportunity for clubs to look at where they're at. Hopefully, they can come to mediation that's positive for everyone.

"It's about understanding these issues and also having those conversations, so we can move forward and hopefully come to a better outcome.

"We've got to keep fighting for these equal conditions and that's a big thing, making sure our training facilities are safe and those basic things we need."

Newshub understands the players hope for resolution within the next two weeks, if several conditions are met by Western Springs officials.