Regardless of last night’s defeat, this year’s Women’s World Cup really feels like the first-time women’s football has entered the mainstream, and long may it remain there.
The watershed moment came last week, when 7.6m tuned into BBC One to watch England stroll past Norway last Tuesday in the quarter final stage, more than who watched the men’s FA Cup final in May earlier this year.
Last night, 11.7m watched us bow out of the competition to the USA. Such numbers would’ve been impossible to achieve in years gone by.
No longer is women’s football just a side note to the beautiful game; England’s success this summer in France goes beyond making it to the semi-final stage; the real success lies in what I feel is a legacy that has been built by our team.
What has changed for the women’s game to achieve such prominence? It’s a question that might have a lot of different answers – and feel free to contribute below – but I think above all it is a collective change in the nation’s psyche: this summer’s Women’s World Cup has been covered just as the men’s version would be by the BBC, whilst the nation’s major papers have led with a splash of the England team on their back pages on multiple occasions.
Beyond the World Cup, major investment has changed the face of the game in the UK: the rebranding of the Women’s Super League last year carried with it a multi-million-pound sponsorship by Barclays, touted as the “largest investment in women’s sport by a brand”. Prize money is now in the excess of £10m, a sum that admittedly lags hugely behind the men’s game, but it is a start.
It’s not just financial investment either: the FA have attempted to align the structure of the WSL with the men’s game. A league pyramid now exists, complete with promotion and relegation. Perhaps most crucially, youth academies are compulsory for all teams seeking a WSL license, hopefully cementing the game for generations to come.
As a father with two young girls who love to play football, I’m extremely proud of how far the women’s game has come.
Despite yesterday’s defeat, I’m incredibly optimistic about the direction the women’s game is taking in the UK. There’s a long way to go before women’s football reaches its full potential, but I hope that this summer has cemented women’s football as a mainstream sport around the globe. Alongside countless boys growing up dreaming of being the next Harry Kane or Trent Alexander Arnold, here’s hoping millions of girls up and down the country watched last night with the hope of emulating Ellen White or Lucy Bronze.