Birmingham City were one of the founding members of the Women’s Super League and have been in the division for 11 years but they will be competing in the second tier next season following relegation.
As recently as 2017, Birmingham were FA Cup finalists. A decade ago, they were challenging for league titles.
But after several seasons fighting the drop, Birmingham’s luck finally ran out following their 6-0 defeat to Manchester City on Wednesday.
‘I feel like we’ve been let down’
“It’s tough. I’m gutted. It’s probably the only word I can think of right now,” said manager Darren Carter immediately after their relegation was confirmed.
“That’s more for the players because they don’t deserve it. I truly believe that.”
The majority of Birmingham’s issues have been well documented off the pitch.
They have had the lowest playing budget of any side in the WSL, players have publicly protested at issues regarding facilities and resources, while a lack of investment and support from the board has led to three managerial changes in 12 months.
That lack of consistency and investment has cost them on the pitch as results tumbled, before a late surge under Carter kept their slim hopes alive.
“I feel like we’ve been let down and this team has been let down in the last few years especially. As a group they have shown an incredible amount of fight and spirit. That’s a testament to them as people,” added Carter.
“It’s been against them since the very beginning of the season. There’s been a lot of criticism and some of not wanting us to do well because of what’s gone on previously and I get that, 100%. But as a group of players they don’t deserve to be relegated.”
Seven of the eight points Birmingham have picked up – and their only two league victories – came after Christmas when they were already bottom of the table.
Only second-bottom Leicester City have conceded more goals, while rivals Aston Villa are the only side to have scored fewer than Birmingham.
Birmingham have failed to take points off the teams around them too – losing both games to Leicester and suffering a 1-0 loss to Villa at St Andrews in November.
“Credit to Leicester. They have picked up some really big results and did what they needed to do. The two games against us were always going to be huge. We said it wouldn’t define the season but it kind of has in a sense,” said Carter.
“You can look back at moments and say we probably haven’t had that little rub of the green we needed.”
‘The team has taken a lot of criticism’
Carter told BBC Sport in March he wanted his players to help “change the narrative” at the club after a sustained period of turmoil.
The former Birmingham City player admitted it “hurt” him to think about their past successes and how far the club has fallen in recent years.
“It hurts me some of the things I’ve had to take since being in the job that’s been aimed at this club. We know it’s in a rebuild phase,” said Carter.
“The team has taken a lot of criticism but I’m here to change that. I want to push the team and get them back to competing with the best in the top league.
“This team has a proud history in the women’s game. I want to continue that tradition and for me that means being in the WSL.”
Birmingham have already confirmed the women’s team will remain at St Andrews stadium next season for their home matches, while Carter said players and staff will continue on a full-time basis in the Championship.
One of the challenges will be to retain key players as they drop into the second tier – captain Louise Quinn, winger Jade Pennock and forwards Lucy Quinn and Veatriki Sarri have all impressed and could be among those attracting interest from elsewhere. Goalkeeper Emily Ramsey is also on loan from Manchester United.
But Manchester City boss Gareth Taylor said Birmingham would have “good things coming” if they employ Carter on a permanent basis.
The interim coach revealed last week he would “love to continue” in the role and talks have started.
“Darren came in at a difficult period and picked up the reins. If [Birmingham] are able to secure him for another season I think they are moving in the right direction,” said Taylor.
“He’s got them really organised and set-up to be effective. If they can secure Carter going forward then I think good things are coming.”
‘Things have happened that should not have’
Carter said “big changes are needed” at Birmingham if they want to regain WSL status and he has called for backing from the club.
Despite their troubles in recent seasons, he is already eyeing a return to the top flight at the first time of asking.
“I have a vision of how that looks and I want to go and implement it,” added Carter.
“It’s imperative that this team gets the backing it deserves and we can bounce back straight away. I’ve spoken to as many people as I possibly can to get that vibe and energy of what the identity of Birmingham City women should be.
“I want to bring that back. I want to bring back the good times and the good feelings. It will be a process but I want it to be a quick process. I want changes to be made quickly because I really want to challenge to get back in the WSL next season.”