A giant step for women’s football at Wembley
The stadium was packed for yesterday's historic match between England and Germany. Is this evidence that women’s football is now taken as seriously as the men’s game?
‘Finally, the grassroots revolution we’ve all been waiting for,’ one headline declared on Sunday, when history was made at the new Wembley stadium. As usual when international matches are played there, the England football players strode out on to the pitch in shirts emblazoned with the three lions to a deafening roar. But for the first time at the new stadium, the eleven players were women.
More than 55,000 tickets were sold for the international friendly against their old rivals, Germany. Although England lost 3-0, this game was heralded as the ‘coming of age’ moment for women’s football. The record ticket sales were higher than the sales for the England men’s last friendly at Wembley, which sold just over 40,000.
It is impressive considering that in 1921 the FA banned women from playing, declaring the sport to be ‘quite unsuitable for females’. For the next 50 years women could only sit and watch.
Today, women’s football is one of the world’s fastest growing sports, with over 30m participants worldwide. Major clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool are among those investing in the women’s game, and broadcasters like the BBC and Sky are vying for the rights to air fixtures.
Some say this match is evidence of wider progress in women’s sport more generally. In April, women will race on the same day as the men in the Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race. Earlier this year, women competed alongside men as part of a one-day event during the Tour de France.
Next summer, remarkably, every game of the Women’s Football World Cup will be broadcast by the BBC. And unlike their male counterparts, England have a chance of doing well at the event in Canada, having won all ten of their qualifying matches.
Equality for female footballers still remains a long way off, some say, most notably in terms of pay. Even with sponsorship deals, the UK’s top players earn around £50,000 a year — about what Wayne Rooney makes in a day. There are many who say the women’s game is less exciting to watch. And sexism still dogs the game. Others say women’s football is a passing fad that is simply riding high on a wave of dissatisfaction with the men’s recent woeful World Cup performance.
But Sunday’s game shows that there is a huge appetite for female football. Unlike the Olympics, when female athletes were cheered on as part of a wider event, the demand for this single match shows that women’s football can command an audience on its own merits. Many punters are waking up to the fact that women’s football is more affordable, and good-natured than men’s. Some go further and say it just as gripping.
- Is women’s football as exciting as men’s?
- Should the media display, report and promote women’s sport equally with men’s sport?
- In groups, discuss who your female sporting heroes are and why.
- Choose any sport played at your school. Write 300 words about when women first started playing it.
Some People Say...
“The demand for a huge variety of women’s sport is there from the public.’Clare Balding”
What do you think?
Q & A
- I’m not that interested in football.
- You don’t have to be a football fan to realise that the representation of women within sport and public life more generally is important. It has been a bad few weeks for England football, with Ched Evans — the former Sheffield United player who was convicted of rape — dominating the news. There is hope that England’s women footballers can generate some more positive headlines for the sport.
- Why is women’s football becoming more popular?
- Interest has grown since London hosted the Olympics in 2012, when a Wembley crowd of 70,000 saw the GB women’s team beat Brazil 1-0. It is now the most popular team sport for women and the third largest team sport in the country behind men’s football and cricket, with 1.4 million women and girls playing regularly.
- Germany are second in the world rankings, while England are currently seventh.The sides last met in the final of the 2009 European Championships, a game which the Germans won 6-2 at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki.
- Record ticket sales
- Only engineering works on the London Underground prevented the FA from putting thousands more on sale.
- Tour de france
- It was the first time since 1989 that women cyclists have raced alongside their male counterparts at cycling’s most prestigious finish.
- Three years ago the BBC’s Sports Personality list failed to include any women. In 2011 commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys caused outrage when they were caught making disparaging comments about assistant referee Sian Massey. Yet a month later the pair were presenting a daily show on talkSPORT.