(Ben W) #1

Tipping point?

Record-breaking attendances suggest that

this could be a breakthrough year

In recent years, women’s football has
abounded with talk of tipping points and
game-changers, with the sport seemingly
forever on the cusp of making a great
leap forward. In reality, progress has been
a mix of other cliches, forever taking
two steps forward and one backwards,
encountering false dawns as it edges
out of the shadows into which it was
cast during decades of prohibition.
Nevertheless, while there has been
no seismic moment of late to match
the famous bra-top World Cup-winning
celebration of USA’s Brandi Chastain in
1999, the trend line has been surging
upwards and 2019 is shaping up as a
breakthrough year.
A World Cup always provides a boost
but, more significantly, the club game is
finally making waves by attracting fans,
sponsors and media coverage.
This season, 60,739 people watched
Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid in the
Wanda Metropolitano, while 39,000 saw
Juventus’ victory over Fiorentina at the
Allianz Stadium. Both were regular

league games, and while tickets in Turin
were free and either moderately priced
or free to Atletico season-ticket holders
in Madrid, the fact is more than 100,000
people still went to the two games.
Eniola Aluko, the former England
striker who is now at Juventus, says: “It
was absolutely incredible to see a full
house. There were a lot of tears and
emotion. A lot of these girls, particularly
Italian girls, grew up never thinking this
could happen.”
The attendance in Spain was a record
for a women’s club match, eclipsing the
estimated 53,000 at Goodison Park in
1920 to watch the legendary Dick, Kerr
Ladies play St Helen’s.
It was the success of the Dick, Kerr
team, originally started by munitions
workers from a Preston factory, that
prompted the FA, fearful of competition,
to ban women footballers from using
men’s club grounds and FA referees. The

bar, soon followed elsewhere in Europe,
lasted half a century and effectively drove
the sport into obscurity.
A growing level of professionalism
in recent years has resulted in greater
depth with full-time players and more
qualified coaches. There is also a wider
sense that the sport’s time has come.
Governments see football as a way to
improve female mental and physical
well-being, while clubs and sponsors
have realised it is both a cost-effective
way of being seen to do “the right thing”
and of attracting a new audience.
In significant developments, Barclays
Bank and high-street pharmacy retailer
Boots announced three-year £10million
sponsorships, respectively of the FA
Women’s Super League [WSL], and the
five British Isles national teams. In the
USA, nutrition brand Luna Bar pledged
to top-up the bonus awarded to Women’s
World Cup squad members by $31,250
to bring it on a par with the men in 2018.
And while Nike revealed a series of
women-specific kits for their World Cup

teams in a glossy Paris launch, rivals
adidas promised winners among their
sponsored athletes would receive the
same bonuses as their male equivalents.
However, as ever there are caveats.
English fans, in particular, remain
resistant. While the Wembley Women’s

FA Cup Final is capable of bringing in
40,000-plus attendances, last year’s
League Cup Final between Manchester
City and Arsenal drew only 2,424.
The highest average gate in the WSL
is at Chelsea, who attract around 2,000
to their Kingsmeadow ground but drew
just 2,616 for a Champions League home
tie with Paris Saint-Germain.
Spanish success appears to be
based around heavy marketing and
cross-promotion with the men’s teams,
and closer links to the latter certainly
seems to be the future. In recent years
Barcelona, Manchester City, Manchester
United, Juventus, Milan, Bayern Munich
and other giants have either begun new
women’s teams or professionalised what
was previously an afterthought.
Piggybacking on the men’s game may
be the obvious way forward given the
funds and fan base, but it is tough for
those without the backing of wealthy
men’s clubs. In England, Yeovil – whose
men’s team are struggling to stay in
the fourth tier – recently went into
administration, having over-reached
trying to meet WSL’s full-time
requirements. This drew a points
deduction which effectively relegates

Glenn Moore

Women’s Football

“It was absolutely incredible to see a full house. There

were a lot of tears and emotion. A lot of these girls,

particularly Italian girls, grew up never thinking this

could happen” Juventus striker Eniola Aluko

Aluko (right)

over 60,000 fans
saw Atletico play
Barcelona this year