It has only been 16 months since the Lionesses lifted the Euros trophy before a sold-out Wembley and inspired thousands in the process. The names of Ella Toone and Chloe Kelly will forever be enshrined in football history for what they did on that Sunday evening. In the months since, attendances in the Women’s Super League (WSL) have grown exponentially, with more and more games being held in their male counterpart stadiums: Arsenal women at the Emirates, Chelsea women at Stamford Bridge and even here in Southampton their women’s team will play at St Mary’s in front of up to five-figure crowds. My first-hand experience watching my local team Swindon Town Women FC play at the 15,000+ seater County Ground, and inspire girls’ grassroots teams invited to the club, has shown how far women’s football has come in this short time. What all these different women’s teams have in common is that they are supported by their male club counterparts, who are in the Premier League or English Football League (EFL). This has allowed them to become professional and allowed some to play full-time, mainly those in the WSL. Of course, there is still a long way to go until women’s players are paid the same as men, however as the leagues grow bigger in revenue and attendance, more money will filter into the Women’s game. Sky Sport currently hold the broadcasting rights for the WSL, but if a bidding war were to ensue, the league could find itself with an even better deal. Media movements such as HerGameToo and ShesABaller have highlighted women’s football on social media, further inspiring the youth.

However, women’s football has come under considerable criticism for its perceived ‘poor quality’ and general standards not being up to those of men’s games, with FC Dallas boys U15s beating a US Women’s national team XI (USWNT) 4-0.. Even within leagues, critics argue that the standard is too varied, with some more skilled teams scoring double digits every game against weaker opposition. An issue that has affected women’s leagues lower down from the WSL has been the difference in quality within that specific league. For example, my local team Swindon beat a team based in nearby Totton 6-2 early on in the season, and the Lionesses beat the Latvian national team 20-0 in qualifiers. This highlights a possible lack of investment in women’s football by some countries’ governing bodies and also the financial restraints some clubs face not associated with a league club. There have even been calls to shorten the pitches or lower the cross bars in response some women goalkeepers’ height disadvantage compared to men. While the quality of women’s play is improving, and it will continue to do so as the FA improves funding for women, a key detail here is that the FA banned Women’s teams and leagues from 1921-1970 and so there was little to no way for them to develop during this time. Ultimately women have had 50 or so years to reach the same standard that men have had 100+ years to reach.

Support at Women’s games is certainly growing. For example, at the Conti Cup/WSL Cup clash of Southampton v Arsenal on Thursday night, over 1000 Arsenal fans travelled with the team to support them, making the 160 mile round trip for a midweek game. This shows how much the team have built up a committed fanbase in the past few years. What also benefits the development of support and crowds is the relatively cheap ticket prices, as it costs only £5 to watch the Cup game that featured full England Internationals, compared to £20+ to watch a men’s team in the professional leagues. Ultimately the only way the Women’s game will improve is if people continue to support it, so it needs all the support it can get.


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