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The game of football has always been perceived as one of the most masculine sports and as such, it is hard to imagine that it is also the most distinguished team sport played by women around the world. With over 170 national teams participating internationally at the professional level, women’s football is becoming increasingly popular, but this has not always been the case. In the past, sexism and discrimination have prevented women from taking part in the sport, but not anymore. With the exciting news that the Three Lionesses will break their record for match attendance, it is clear that women’s football has come a long way from its humble beginnings.
It might be surprising for some that ladies have been engaged in the sport since the late 19th century. To begin with, in 1895, a Ladies’ Football Association (FA) was founded – only for it to crumble soon after because of organisational issues.
During WWI, women’s football became extremely appealing when employment in heavy industry spurred on the growth of the game, much as it had done for men fifty years earlier. Despite being more popular than some men’s football fixtures (one match even saw a crowd of 53,000 people) women’s football in England suffered an enormous blow in 1921 when the Football Association forbade the playing of the game on their pitches, on the grounds that watching women play the game was unpleasant. However, in reality, the new rule was mainly fuelled by the envy of the popularity of the women’s game.
Finally in 1969 the English Women’s FA was founded and the FA’s ban on matches being played on members’ grounds was finally lifted in 1971. In the same year, UEFA proposed the idea that the women’s game should be supervised by the national associations in each country.
During the 1970s, Italy became the first country with professional women’s football players on a part-time basis. In 1985, the United States national soccer team was formed and in 1989, Japan became the first country to have a semi-professional women’s football league.
As football moved into the 21st century, women’s football has been expanding steadily. The inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament was held in 1991 in China and in the 2011 Women’s World Cup about a million tickets were sold. So, clearly the interest in the sport has been increasing rapidly.
Finally, we come to the news that England’s women’s team have sold more than 33,000 tickets for their monumental match against Germany at Wembley, as part of both teams’ preparations for the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. The game will boast the highest attendance ever for an England women’s fixture, and will surpass the previous record of 29,092 which was achieved when England played Finland at the City of Manchester Stadium in 2005. It will be held on November 23 and will be the first time England women’s national team have played at the new Wembley.
England head coach Mark Sampson could not hide his delight about the fixture: “this is a magnificent start to ticket sales and shows just what fantastic support there is out there for this team and for women’s football. We know it will be a great occasion, not just playing at Wembley but playing a team of Germany’s quality. These are exactly the sort of matches we want to be playing in preparation for next summer’s World Cup, against the best teams in the world. There is a big buzz around the team and staff today knowing how much support there is for us out there.”
Therefore, taking into consideration this news, is women’s football finally catching up to its male equivalent? We are all well aware that men’s football still has the upper-hand in pretty much every aspect, including salaries, fan’s anticipation and TV coverage. Nevertheless, women’s football continues to develop and there are many reasons why we should all praise the way that the sport has been able to move forward. For instance, in 2013 Arsenal Ladies’ legend Rachel Yankee broke Peter Shilton’s record and became the most capped player for the English national team. She has an astounding 129 appearances to date.
Another curious case is that United States women’s national soccer team are the most successful team in the game. They have won an impressive four Olympic gold medals, two World Cups, and nine Algarve Cups. Hence, there is no point in arguing if they are doing better than their male compatriots, whose best performance in the World Cup is a third place in the inaugural tournament held in Uruguay in 1930.
Judging by England’s women’s record attendance and all of the positive and negative views regarding the sport, what is its future? Most probably the game will continue to grow and gain more and more exposure and fans along the way and maybe someday it will reach the popularity of men’s football.