SUNDERLAND LADIES will be playing in the FA Women’s Championship next season after their application to move up to the second tier of the women’s game was approved by the FA.

Having spent last season in the FA Women’s National League North, Sunderland will line up in the Championship next term alongside their North-East neighbours Durham Women, who narrowly missed out on winning promotion to the Women’s Super League earlier this year.

Sunderland, who boast a formidable pedigree in the women’s game, submitted their bid to return to the second tier in May, with their approach to the FA highlighting the club’s long-term commitment to enhance community engagement and develop the long-standing and highly successful Regional Talent Centre. On the pitch, Mel Reay’s side recorded the highest points-per-game average over the past two seasons in the FA Women’s National League North.

Sunderland Ladies won the FA Women's Premier League National Division in 2011, 2012 and 2013 before securing the inaugural FA WSL 2 title in 2014, while also lifting the FA Women's Premier League Cup in 2012. The Lasses continue to exert a powerful influence over the England women's national team set-up, with seven of the Lionesses’ 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup squad having previously featured for the club. All four of the North-East players who were named in the Team GB squad for the Tokyo Olympics this week – Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, Lucy Bronze and Demi Stokes – started their careers with Sunderland.

The club’s return to the FA Women’s Championship comes at a time when Sunderland’s new owner, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, has expressed a firm commitment to the women’s set-up.

“We are delighted to have been awarded FA Women’s Championship status and we thank the FA panel for approving our application,” said Sunderland sporting director Kristjaan Speakman. “This success is a testament to Leann Cowperthwaite, who project managed the submission, and to the collaboration between our football and business operations, who produced a detailed proposal despite facing a quick turnaround.

“It also represents a tangible reward for Mel and the team for their stellar record over the past 24 months and we now look forward to delivering on our plan."