Are Record Crowd Numbers Showing Women's Football Is Getting Bigger?
Undoubtedly, the success of the Women’s World Cup this summer demonstrated that there is a rapidly growing appetite for women’s football. This looks certain to continue into the new season of many women's football leagues around the globe, especially in England, where the first Women’s Super League (WSL) matches have already registered some record crowds.
But... Are these record crowds an evident proof that women's football is becoming bigger, or is it just an illusion?
A few weeks back, in the first match of 2019/20 WSL, City and United drew a record-breaking crowd of over 31,000 to Eastlands, equalling almost 60% of the average Premier League attendance at the stadium last season. While that happened, in the south, Chelsea hosted newly promoted Spurs at Stamford Bridge in front of around 25,000 spectators, along with many more who watched the match live on TV.
Those numbers are outstanding, and very significant for women's football growth if you compare them to the previous WSL record of... Just 5,265 spectators!
This "minuscule" record was set just last season when Arsenal claimed the title at Brighton’s Falmer Stadium. Certainly, women's football has made a lot of progress since then, especially thanks to the big push provided by the World Cup.
There can now be no doubt that there's a market for women’s football and the FA must invest accordingly. Now that women's football is developing at a great pace, this cannot stop. Clubs must make efforts to elevate their women’s teams and give them access to training and match-day facilities. If not, everything that has been done until now will be in vain.
Ultimately, there's no reason for men’s and women’s teams of a club not to play their home and away fixtures on alternate weekends to avoid fixture clashes (Start fixing this FA! This is also for you, FIFA!). Some clubs and the FA have promoted initiatives to raise the profile of women’s football, and that's why fans are increasingly likely to get on board. Still, there's a long way to go to reach women's football success peak.
Due to the biological, physical limitations on the performance of female footballers in comparison to their male counterparts, nobody would argue that the women’s game will be of an identical standard to the male game. IT'S THE SAME, GOD DAMN IT! If you like football... WHY ARE YOU NOT WATCHING WOMEN'S FOOTBALL AS WELL!?
There are currently plenty of sports in which the men’s and women’s competitions run side by side and carry equal gravitas. Tennis and athletics are notable examples that have given us celebrated female athletes such as Serena and Venus Williams, Martina Navratilova, Maria Sharapova, Jess Ennis, Paula Radcliffe, Kelly Holmes, and Sally Gunnell.
Women's football also has great athletes such as Alex Morgan, Lucy Bronce, Jennifer Hermoso, Marta, and Megan Rapinoe, winner of 'The Best'. With such talented players in the game, why does football need to be the exception to the sport's equality rule?
For many years, there has been a tendency for football fans to feel like every change to the game is something that is changing football basis, and what the game truly is, a male working-class game. Fans fiercely defend football culture from any threat, just like it's happening with VAR at the moment.
Women’s football is also perceived to be one such threat. But the female players who they scorn hail from the same working-class backgrounds as they do, and have grown up with the same love for the game. So why are men the only ones allowed to enjoy football without any prejudices?
Rather than shun women’s football, existing fans would do well to extend the terrace atmosphere to the women’s game in an act of working-class solidarity. Embracing women’s football as part of the working-class tradition, instead of allowing it to fall to corporate sponsors and plastic fans is an act of defiance against the modern game. Only time and effort from both sides of the sport will help women's football grow even more than is doing now. After all, Football is everyone's sport, no matter which sex is playing it.