Since the very first game in 1865, women’s football has been largely hidden from the spotlight that has very much shone on the elite men’s game.
Whilst men’s football has grown to exponential heights, with billions of pounds invested in the game and a worldwide fan base, the women’s game has struggled to gain such acknowledgement and support.
However, since the FA’s takeover of the sport in the mid-1990s, women’s football has grown to become the most popular female sport in the UK.
The most recent figures show that over a quarter of a million women and girls play football at least once a month, with this number continuously increasing as the success of the sport grows.
Women’s football is now the third biggest sport in the UK in terms of popularity, behind only men’s football and cricket.
However, in a new five year plan launched in 2012, the FA hopes to lift women’s football above men’s crick- et by investing a sum of £3.5million into the sport, which will help to develop the game at all levels, and help increase the fan base by enhancing media coverage.
Team GB’s performance in the London 2012 Olympics catapulted the women’s game in the UK to new heights with over 70,000 spectators and 4 million television viewers watching Team GB in their 1-0 victory over Brazil at Wembley.
Whilst it is a much different game to that of the men’s, women’s football started to be taken seriously when players such as Steph Houghton and Jill Scott (both local Durham girls) became overnight stars.
In 2011, the FA launched the Football Association’s Women’s Super League (FAWSL), a semi-profession- al league created to drive the women’s game forward and to enhance its public profile.
Eighteen teams currently play in the top two divisions, and the league is now covered by BT Sport, with games frequently being televised on major channels.
Since the FAWSL’s launch, match attendances have increased by more than 600%, and the viewing figures of televised matches are equal to those of men’s Scottish Premier League games.
The advent of social media has allowed fans to get closer to their heroes than ever before, adding a new dimension to sport.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in women’s football, as fans turn to their social networking feeds for the latest news on the game.
It has been found that fans of the women’s game are up to seven times more interactive than those of the men’s game.
The Manchester City and England captain Steph Houghton currently has more than 36,000 followers on Twitter, and whilst this is only a slight proportion of the 1.4million followers of the men’s captain Vincent Kompany; Houghton’s public profile has exploded since her crucial goals for Team GB at the Olympics.
Her name now adorns many a sky blue shirt as she has become a role model and hero for thousands of aspiring female footballers.
Women’s football is also highly prolific here at Durham University. Both DUWAFC’s first and second teams won their respective leagues this season, with the firsts going unbeaten throughout the season.
The sport is also highly represented at college level, with sixteen teams playing weekly across the two leagues.
As the media coverage and fan base of women’s football in the UK grows, it is unknown how popular the sport will become.
Personally, I believe it is difficult to see it reaching the heights of the Premier League in the near future, but with the right investment and support, women’s football will continue to grow and prosper.
Global companies such as McDonalds and Coca Cola are heavily involved in the sponsorship of the men’s game, and investment from such companies would certainly raise the public profile of women’s football. The women’s game needs to be treated as an equal to men’s football for it to reach the desired level.
Photograph: Katie Falkingham