EXCLUSIVE: Crystal Palace's Réa Laudat says there's more to women's football than just the WSL
At a time when the Women's Super League is receiving plaudits galore for the strides it has made and the attention it now receives, it would be easy to overlook female football's second tier.
But that is something Crystal Palace's Réa Laudat, for one, won't let happen. And she doesn't want others to either.
The 25-year-old joined West Ham in 2012 and then went to the Academy of Art University in California on a football scholarship. When she returned she signed for Tottenham Ladies in 2017 before making the move to Crystal Palace this summer.
But since moving to the London-based championship side she feels that the teams and players are constantly living in the shadows of the women's top flight.
“Naturally, the WSL is going to overshadow us because it is the top league and you need to give them credit where it’s due.
“But on the FA Player app, the majority of games shown are from the WSL, there is only a couple of the championship games. I think there should be at least one shown every week from a championship side to show people that it's not just about the WSL.
“And to show England that actually they are pushing the forefront of all levels in women’s football and not just at the top level, because it's easy to forget about the lower leagues. Our [championship] league is just as competitive and you are getting players who have played at WSL level.”
Laudat is also passionate about what she sees as a lack of women of colour in the top flight.
She said: “I have noticed through the women's leagues that there is not many women of colour. Especially at WSL level, there are only a handful. Even on the coaching side of things. That needs to definitely change."
For example, the defending champions of the WSL, Arsenal, have just one black player in their squad. Manchester City and Manchester United have only one female of colour in each team.
“You know we are from England, we are from a very diverse country, more so in cities such as London," she says.
“I am based in London myself and if you go east to a five-a-side pitch you will find more women of colour playing. So I wonder why this has not progressed to the top leagues. Where is the progression for these women?
“If you look at the men’s top leagues, it’s packed! There needs to be some kind of awareness and backing on this.”
But the progression of the women’s game in general is something that pleases the Palace forward.
“Women’s football is totally different to men’s. Although we play in the same sport, we cater to a different fan base. I definitely think there is always more that can be done overall but it definitely is progressing.
“For example, just small things like when I first joined West Ham the first team wasn't given boots for instance. Whereas when I was at Spurs during my last season, we were given boots which is a big thing. Boots are pretty expensive, you need a couple of pairs a season.
“(In her first season) we also trained at Tottenham’s training ground once a week but during my last season we trained there full-time which was good. We didn’t use the men’s first team side of the facilities at the time, we used the academy side of the facilities, it was just nice to be there.”
Of her current club she said: “Palace women have their own sponsorships which are completely different from the men. It’s a good thing showing that we can go out and get our own sponsors.”
But despite all the changes which have been happening in the women’s league, she urges people in the game to pick up the tempo and to progress even more in order to “really optimise what is happening”.
“I think it’s amazing that [the women’s game] is getting noticed. From a player perspective, I want it to progress quicker than it already is. I know it sounds silly but I am naturally going to compare myself to a male player in terms of how much they are getting paid and how they are getting treated.”
The WSL is the only league in the women’s game which is full-time. In the championship, it is not required for a footballer to be full-time, making them semi-professional. Only Aston Villa and London City Lionesses have their players on full-time programmes.
From a TV and media coverage perspective, she strongly believes that marketing is the key to raise the profile of championships clubs.
“Marketing is really big. It is down to the teams to advertise where the games are and what the teams are doing. Social media for a team is great but there is always more that can be done.”
On attendances, she says: “There is talk of doing games back-to-back, say for instance West Ham men have a game on Sunday at 4pm and then putting the women’s game before or after. This is good because I think people would stay before/after the men’s game.”
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Laudat emphasised the importance of having good crowds at the games week in and week out and believes that exposing the game to young girls is a real positive.
“Seeing [the women’s football] it definitely gives the younger girls hope and so they can be like ‘wow I can do that as a job and pursue that'.
“When I was younger I watched Bend it like Beckham and the honest truth is after I watched that film that is the reason why I went to America. I was 10, I watched it and I knew that's what I wanted to do."