75,000 attendance at WSL’s Women’s Football Weekend highlights growing interest in the women’s game

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As Premier League players jet off for swanky international showdowns against the likes of Montenegro and Kosovo, many football fans diagnose themselves with a feeling of emptiness, complaining about the lack of competitive action to cry or shout or cheer at. What they don’t acknowledge is that, right under their noses, there’s another goldmine of thrills and agonies waiting to be sweated over: the Women’s Super League. 

This season’s edition of England’s premier women’s football competition has got off to an electrifying start, with three clubs grappling within one point of each other at the summit of the table after six games.

The sixth matchday of the campaign was selected to be the FA’s inaugural Women’s Football Weekend, a milestone event which encouraged fans across the country to get out and support their local women’s team. The cumulative attendance for the weekend almost reached 75,000, smashing the record of 62,000 which was set on matchday one of this season. Those braving the chilly November weather were rewarded with what was arguably the Super League’s most entertaining weekend this season, with 18 goals spread over the six fixtures. 

This season’s edition of England’s premier women’s football competition has got off to an electrifying start

Nick Cushing’s Manchester City romped to a 5-0 demolition job over West Ham to apply pressure on early league leaders Chelsea, whilst Everton secured a 1-0 victory in the Merseyside Derby to keep Vicky Jepson’s Liverpool rooted at the foot of the table. 

Manchester City showed all the trademark signs of assertiveness and confidence, pressing high up the pitch and teasing the ball patiently around the fringes of West Ham’s penalty area, probing for gaps. West Ham were also condemned by their own disorganisation; the midfield cavalry often arrived too late in the defensive third, leaving their defence to step out to meet attackers. This was no more obvious than for Man City’s 4th goal after 39 minutes, with West Ham right-back Cecilie Kvamme rushing to close Jill Scott on the edge of the D, only for Scott to slide the ball past her to Lauren Hemp to treat herself to a relaxed finish. 

Manchester City showed all the trademark signs of assertiveness and confidence

The big fear for Manchester City at the start of the season was how the loss of prolific forward Nikita Parris to Lyon would affect their attacking potency. Her replacement, Ellen White, signed from Birmingham, topped the scoring charts in the 2017/18 season, but suffered a knee injury this summer from which she has only recently returned. Two goals in two starts for White and 12 goals collectively for the squad suggest that Cushing’s side have handled any setbacks expertly.

Elsewhere, newly promoted Tottenham and reigning champions Arsenal contested the Women’s Super League’s first ever north London derby in front of a record-breaking 38,262 fans at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Arsenal asserted their dominance with a 2-0 victory thanks to second half goals from Kim Little and Vivianne Miedema. Though sloppiness in possession was one of Tottenham’s less impressive traits, they did show flashes of brilliance, with Kit Graham providing a persistent goal threat. North London is still Arsenal’s turf, but Spurs can fancy themselves to finish in the top half in their first ever WSL season, and challenge for domination of London in the long term.  

Another London club who might take issue with that are Reading, a side generally respected as one of the league’s stronger outfits, boasting a blend of experience and youth. Their Women’s Football Weekend game proved to be a goal fest: a 3-3 draw with Bristol City, who came from 3-1 down but remain in 11th place. 

Elsewhere, Brighton recorded their first win of the season with a 3-0 victory over Birmingham. League leaders Chelsea eked out a 1-0 win over Manchester United thanks to a second half Maren Mjelde penalty. Free from the burden of Champions League football, unlike Arsenal and Manchester City, Chelsea are the only club yet to lose this season and will be hoping to claim their third title in five seasons.

Still the shadow of the men’s game looms over women’s football

After a record-breaking matchday for women’s football, the puzzle arises as to why it takes an international break in the men’s game and a designated Women’s Football Weekend to bring the female game into the public eye. At what point will it be discussed independent of the men’s game? 

Still the shadow of the men’s game looms over women’s football. In general, the most popular teams in the women’s game are the most popular teams in the men’s game. Whereas Reading and Brighton, who would be classed among the smaller men’s teams in the league, could draw just over 5,000 supporters between them for their home games, women’s teams affiliated with “larger” men’s clubs had many more eyes on them. Liverpool vs. Everton drew 23,500, Tottenham vs Arsenal drew almost 40,000 and Chelsea vs Manchester United’s 4,790 spectators set a record for a WSL game held at a non-Premier League stadium. Some of these latter clubs aren’t even so successful in the women’s game; Liverpool have finished in the bottom half in six of the Super League’s eight seasons, Tottenham are contesting their first ever Super League campaign, and Manchester United were only formed in 2018. 

Yet there are plenty of signs indicating that the profile of the women’s game is increasing and shall continue doing exactly that.

It’s a pleasure to recall the hazy summer when the Three Lionesses stormed to a World Cup semi-final faceoff with the USA. The leadership of captain Steph Houghton, goals of Ellen White and crunching tackles of Lucy Bronze galvanised great support; an estimated 11.7 million people huddled in front of the television to watch England’s semi-final heartbreak in July.  

On the back of this, BT Sport are building on their commitment to the promotion of the sport with the promise to broadcast at least 30 women’s games this season. Though this figure pales in comparison to the 200 Premier League games shown each season, it is another step in the right direction; in 2011, only four women’s games were broadcast live.

There are plenty of signs indicating that the profile of the women’s game is increasing

And the growing engagement with the game at grassroots level pays tribute to the FA’s numerous campaigns to increase the number of young female football players. A UEFA report from 2017 showed that England has over 100,000 registered female footballers. Moreover, The FA Girls’ Football School Partnership network has been developed to increase access to football for girls at over 6000 schools. 

It is from initiatives like the FA Women’s Football Weekend that the women’s game at the highest level will benefit the most. Quality, excitement and potential are all there in abundance; what we need now is an explosion of exposure to catapult the women’s game to the prominence it deserves. 

Image by Katie Chan via Wikimedia Commons

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