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Opinion: My View on the Recent Growth of Women’s Football in England

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Whilst I’m not one to do many opinionated pieces, mainly focusing on matches, results and statistics with a few of my own thoughts chucked in the mix, I felt compelled to write something on here about how I feel women’s football has really flourished in the last twelve to eighteen months, in perfect time for the summer’s World Cup. At the beginning of last year, I did not know anyone else, personally, who was also a fan of the women’s game. I had no one else to get giddy with about the start of the new WSL and NWSL seasons, no one to talk to about games and their results, and found myself trying to force members of my family to watch the under-20 World Cup last summer because it was on Eurosport and hardly out of their way to do so (except for the occasional 2am kick offs). Fast forward to now, and I find myself talking about the women’s game on a daily basis, both with people who have extensive knowledge about it and those who are at least able to say that they saw something about it on the news the other day. Focusing on that last point; the media have really played their part in the increase in popularity of women’s football. I recently came across a statistic from a study conducted by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation in 2011 that read “just 5% of sports media coverage in the UK is devoted to women’s sport”. I was shocked when I read it, but then I noticed the date and was quick to think about how much things have changed in the last four years. Admittedly, things could still be better, but even the smallest things show slight improvements since then. For example, newspapers are publishing more features on women’s football, such as the Daily Mirror’s recent interview with Alex Scott in the build up to the 2015 WSL 1 season, and clubs are doing the same, another recent example being Liverpool’s increase of content based on their women’s section in their monthly magazine.

The introduction of Sky Sports’ Sportswomen programme in 2013 is something noteworthy that has occurred since this statistic was discovered in 2011, a half an hour segment that is broadcast weekly, summarising the big events in women’s sport. BT Sport’s establishment and their choice to cover the WSL is another thing that has happened since 2011, with live matches frequently shown as well as review shows and quick highlights in their daily sport round ups too. The channel also aired the final day of the season in 2014 for free, which massively helped the game as people tuned in to watch Liverpool dramatically snatch the title against all odds on goal difference. The general media’s coverage of this incredible conclusion was impressive too. When I woke up the next morning, I was quick to see it included on Daybreak as I got myself ready for school. Later that day, some of my male friends were discussing it too, none of whom had taken an interest in the women’s side of the game beforehand. Whilst the BBC have been criticised in the last twelve months on a few occasions for failing to show some of the England women’s national football team’s games, for reasons that Jacqui Oatley and others tweeted were out of their hands, they too are playing a huge part in the progression of the game by choosing to broadcast every single one of this summer’s games at the Women’s World Cup. If we rewind to 2009, this becomes even more impressive as, when England reached the final of the Euros in that year, only a handful of matches were shown on the BBC. Also, it’s worth noting that the Women’s World Cup will be on par with the men’s in term of media coverage in England based on this, as all of the 2014 FIFA World Cup games were broadcast live, shared between the BBC and ITV, and the women’s will be too on a channel accessible and free to millions. Speaking to Anthony Nolan, the Commercial Manager of She Kicks, a bi-monthly magazine based in the UK which is dedicated to covering women’s football, he too explained how the publication has benefited from the growth of the women’s game in the last year or so. “There has been a significant increase from a She Kicks perspective,” he reported. “We’ve seen an increase in traffic to our website as well as social media. The magazine has also seen a steady growth in sales over the past 12 months.” Whilst more media coverage makes the game more popular, the popularity of women’s football also helps those who are dedicated to promoting it, ensuring that these people continue to contribute and do a fine job in the process by getting the rewards their efforts deserve. She Kicks is a magazine dedicated to keeping us up to date with everything women's football. Photo credit: @SheKicksdotnet She Kicks is a magazine dedicated to keeping us up to date with everything women’s football. Photo credit: @SheKicksdotnet There are obviously countless negatives that can be picked out when talking about the media and women’s sport; sexism still exists quite prominently in many articles – in case you happened to miss the Daily Mail’s coverage of Brondby defeating rivals Fortuna Hjorring in November, just google Brondby Ladies (it’s the first thing that comes up when you do!) – whilst the regularity of features and updates in the game is certainly much slower and in much less depth than that of the men’s game. However, for once let’s celebrate the progress made in recent times, as we prepare for the biggest and most exciting tournament in women’s football yet. Newspapers and magazines are more interested because the readers are more interested because broadcasters such as the BBC, BT Sport and Eurosport are all committed to showcasing the talent and entertainment that the women’s game brings to the table. Getting these companies to invest in the sport is difficult given the uncertainty of people actually wanting to watch it, but their time and effort is paying off now and helping the sport in the process. If one thing is for sure, the media are certainly helping to give women in football much more attention in recent times. Let’s now revert to my earlier point about how the men’s teams are helping to promote their women’s sides more. Men’s football is huge – the world’s biggest sport – and the women’s game would be foolish not to try and use this to improve the status of their sport. Clubs are becoming more unified now, with the men and women treated more equal if not completely, and they are keen to showcase the success enjoyed by their women’s team. As aforementioned, Liverpool’s monthly magazine is now including more about their women’s side, whilst Manchester City have recently built incredible new facilities for the use of both the men and the women at the club. The female team can now boast a brand new 7,000 capacity stadium too, which recently hosted England’s friendly with China. City are one of many teams whose female players have become professional in recent months on top of this. Most of the women in England’s top tier are full time footballers now, as opposed to working another job on the side, just like the men. Obviously, due to a difference in the money the two genders attract and make, the women are not on the same incredible salaries as the men, but they train full time and their focus is football and football only. Some clubs, such as Bristol Academy who are independent from any men’s team, are yet to reach this point financially, as well as many in WSL 2, but select members of their squads are still professionals, such as Fran Kirby at second division side Reading. Slowly, but surely, clubs are beginning to invest money in their female teams as well as the men, and this support does wonders for the game as it improves the quality of the players with them training full time. Better quality players and teams then produce better football, which people will pay more to watch. Other small things that clubs have done recently is helping to promote the women’s game too. For example, Watford allowed their ladies side to play at Vicarage Road (where the men’s team play their home games) for their first home game of the new WSL 2 season in March, and many clubs like Liverpool and Notts County give fans with season tickets or single match tickets for the men’s team discounted or free tickets for the women’s games too. These may seem like small gestures, and they are for the clubs who don’t lose much in terms of money or time in conducting them, but they do wonders for the women’s teams. They don’t just result in a better atmosphere for the game, but they mean these first time watchers are likely to come back to watch as well because the players and teams on show are good enough to put on an entertaining game that leaves the spectators wanting to return, regardless of whether the special offers continue or not. These marketing schemes are becoming common in the WSL now, which has helped attendances increase massively already this season with most figures in the thousands in 2015. Clubs are beginning to realise just how much impact their small actions are having now, ensuring they continue to come up with schemes to help their women’s teams and the game is flourishing in the presence of the better crowds that are generated as a result. Watford Ladies' game at Vicarage Road this season attracted their best ever crowd; one of 1,102 - a large improvement on their previous record of 340. Photo credit: @Watfordladiesfc Watford Ladies’ game at Vicarage Road this season attracted their best ever crowd; one of 1,102 – a large improvement on their previous record of 340. Photo credit: @Watfordladiesfc Along the same lines, the FA are stepping up in their actions to improve the game too. The 2012 Olympics in London saw a Team GB women’s football team entertain tens of thousands and many predicted that the game in England would benefit from this. However, the buzz was somewhat short lived and the FA have recognised this and are doing wonderful things to raise its profile once more, this time with aims of a longer lasting effect. The England women’s team’s debut at Wembley against Germany last year was historic, and the announcement that the women’s FA Cup final will be played at the stadium in August for the first time shows that the international fixture was certainly popular and left fans wanting more. The final is always broadcast on national television, but this year it carries more anticipation and is likely to draw a much larger crowd. Finally, we are seeing the women gain the audiences and stages they deserve, as opposed to a few hundred attending a game at a League Two club’s stadium in the middle of nowhere. This is not a dig at the FA, as some of the obscure venues in the past will have been the best they could afford giving the predicted revenue of the game, but it shows how well women’s football is progressing instead and that the FA is willing to do whatever it can to give the game the best stages possible. Their belief that the national team could attract enough fans to justify it playing at Wembley showed great support too, and it is important they they continue to offer this support for the sport to grow and improve at all levels; from foundation to elite. To conclude, the progress that has been made in England by women’s football in the last twelve to eighteen months is tremendous. Of course, as I have mentioned a few times, there are still some key issues that need to be addressed, but with so much to look forward to in the rest of 2015 from a women’s football perspective, I decided to shine a light on just a handful of many of the positives that have occurred in recent times. The women’s game is long way off the status of the men’s, but small steps are being made to at least improve it’s standing in the world of sport. From free tickets to games at Wembley, from Panini sticker books to national coverage of a World Cup, every little helps and every little is helping. People, and influential people at that, are beginning to realise the potential that the women’s game carries, and their support and investment, in time, money and effort, is working wonders in England alone. One has high hopes for the future, especially with the 2015 Women’s World Cup bound to draw many viewers in the UK and attract new fans to the game. Hopefully, in another twelve to eighteen months, I will feel compelled to write again about even more progress that has been made.

9-Wembley-PA

 

Hi, I’m Ameé, I write reguarly about the English Football League on my blog, A Pitchside View, and also women’s football at A Women’s Pitchside View. If you liked this post, please feel free to rate it and also check out other pieces I’ve written on these sites, as well as on Fanthem. Thank you.


Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Ameé Ruszkai

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