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The state of the Women’s game

September 23, 2009


The world might be football mad and in England we have the most high profile and richest professional men’s league in the world, but when it comes to the women’s game the level of interest and support remain frustratingly small. While Capello’s men play at the shiny new Wembley, England’s women have yet to play at the national stadium; instead they appear at grounds in Swindon, Colchester and Shrewsbury.

It has not always been this way though, immediately after the First World War a match between Dick Kerr’s Ladies FC (a works factory team from Preston) and St Helen’s Ladies at Everton’s Goodison Park stadium, drew a crowd of 53,000 (a women’s record attendance that still stands today). Players such as Lily Parr and Alice Woods became stars of the game, and earned tidy sums touring France and the US.

But this was all to change, on the 5th December 1921 the FA banned women from playing on their pitches, effectively all grounds with spectator facilities. It was said that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”. Speculation now says that male officials were threatened by the success of their female counterparts. The women’s game was left to die whilst the men’s game flourished.

In 1971 this ban was lifted but the women’s game has failed to get back to how it was with Parr and Woods. Recent successes; Arsenal Ladies winning the Uefa Cup in 2007 (the equivalent to the Champions League), England reaching the quarter finals in the World Cup that same year and recently they were Euro Final Runner Ups to Germany (Why is it always Germany?). Despite this array of honours and successes the Women’s game is short on attendances, facilities and finance, League games are not shown on TV, and sponsorship is hard to come by.

Successful clubs like Manchester United, Birmingham City, Charlton, Bristol City and Fulham Ladies have all folded or struggled when the men’s club cut off support. It’s no surprise that English players are heading over to America where the games are shown live on TV and they have live phone in and discussion programmes. In Sweden, Umea IK pay professional wages to 75% of their players and rival mens’ teams in terms of football coverage. England is lacking well behind these examples of what is going on elsewhere in the world. It was reported that during The World Cup they were paid £40 a day! It’s of no surprise that they have to have 2 jobs to keep themselves financially secure, with annual salaries of £16,000 – it’s a long way of the men’s teams with some of them getting that in a day.

As role models go the Kelly Smith’s and Karen Carney’s of this world are doing all they can to highlight women’s football and the FA is now starting to pay attention; mainly because the stars are leaving England to go to America. They say there will be a new Super League in 2010, but news on it is sketchy to say the least.

I’ve had the chance to do quite a lot of coaching and over a year ago I coached a group of 10-12 year old girls football, and they all wanted to play football when they were older but had been told by their schools “It wasn’t worthwhile”. Although I’ve now heard some of them are trialling for a girls team near me and I feel proud! So I must have done something right and I’m going to get in contact with them and see if there’s any further support they need. I realise it’s easy to write a post like this and say more needs to be done and then do nothing myself, so I will continue with coaching and try to get as many girls/women into football. I trained last year to be a referee and if I hadn’t gone with two other girls I would have been the only female in the training, with 24 blokes! Not that it would have stopped me going I might add.

I’m interested to know what you think?

If anyone has any doubts on the women’s game you gotta check out Brazilian footballer Marta, a lot of men wouldn’t be able to score goals like she can!

14 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2009 2:40 pm

    Great piece Bliss B

    We had a lil debate recently about the womans games, when England got to the Euro Finals. I personally enjoy the womens version, but that is because i do not link it with the mens code…i think i few lads that read our stuff here seem to get the two confused..expecting the goalkeepers to be Petr Cech size and not happy with the “lack of quality” on the ball (..?) As i said i dont link the two, so i can enjoy it …then again id quite happily watch anyone or thing kick a football around so im easily pleased

    Im disappointed that United do not have a women team or i would follow the domestic game more so its just Internationals for me. Id like to know more about this new pro league thats just been set up in the States, that Smith and Carney play in.

    BTW, Kelly Smith is a beast…shed give most guys a run for their money..very skillful. Oh and i used to love Anna Sjostrom of Sweden..great player and…ahem…great legs. A woman that plays football is almost the perfect being! Especially if they look like Anna

  2. September 23, 2009 3:48 pm

    I’m a footballer- I’ve played since I was 4, sometimes on nationally ranked and Olympic development squads in the USA, and with boys in Germany when I was a child. I’ve coached premier level youth girls clubs.
    I love the sport.
    BUT…..if women aren’t bringing the money in, why should the money be put back out?
    If a women’s match could fill 1/4 the seats of Wembley I’d be surprised. The wages should be reflective of how much the team has, and giving a certain amount “just because the men make that much” is affirmative action not based on merit (i.e. revenue generated) and I’m not for it.
    In the US, we have something called Title IX that mandates universities spend equal money on men’s and women’s sports programs which is ridiculous considering American football, baseball, and basketball bring in tons of money to the university and sports programs, where as women’s basketball, football, swimming etc brings in very little. I’ve seen men’s programs cut to ensure abidance to Title IX. And as a female athlete, I don’t want anything to do with it, just like I don’t think race should determine who gets a spot in a university.
    Fair is fair. I don’t want to take anything away from women’s football. But I want what is given to be reflective to what is earned.
    The key is to change opinions about the entertainment value of the womens football. Generate more interest, bring the younger girls up in the culture of the sport, but don’t stand there with our hands outstretched just because “the men get this or that.”

    • September 23, 2009 6:02 pm

      I’m on the side that supports Title IX. I don’t think women are given enough opportunity to shine on their own elsewhere and I think what the US is doing is great.

      The base has to start somewhere. Whether it’d be by grants or favourable rulings, these are things which can and probably be adjusted over time as the sport becomes self-independent.

      My only hope is that it doesn’t resort to the women having to use sex to sell. Many sport have taken this avenue to sell, most notably tennis. In the good old days of Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, the gear was as plain and simple as you could get.

      Fast forward to when Anna Kournikova burst on to the scene and suddenly, you could be a half-decent player, never winning anything major, and still earn more dosh than the No.1 player in the world. At least Maria Sharapova can claim to be a grand slam champion.

      • September 23, 2009 7:11 pm

        So you’re saying men’s sports that are still bringing more revenue into a program should be cut to make room for women’s sports?
        At my university, men’s swimming took a hit, guys lost scholarships etc so money could be transferred to the women’s program which brought in even less interest than men’s swimming.
        It’s great to give to women- to promote- but not at the price of taking from men just because they are men.
        Allot funding where revenue is earned.
        Just like in the office I don’t want to be promoted to manager over a man who has performed with better results than I have just because I’m female and he’s male. I want to earn it. To insinuate that I couldn’t earn it without affirmative action is ironically what I find insulting. Paradoxically, Title IX seeks equality but there is none when things are given to one group without merit.

        Raising interest at the grassroots level is difficult but you can pump as much money as you want into certain things and unless the substance is there, nobody will buy it.
        I’d be very interested to see the impact Title IX has brought thus far in terms of money spent vs money earned by women’s sports programs. My guess is we’re negative. And Title IX has been around for 30 years. At what point do you pull the plug? 30 years of grassroots efforts seems excessive to me. The past 30 years has seen a huge increase in girls playing sports here.
        I’d guess 4 out of 5 girls under the age of 13 have played football in the DC area. But the USWNT still couldn’t sell out 1/2 of RFK Stadium. Participation is at an all time high, but spectator interest remains steady. And we all know football is in bed with money.

        There are also a lot of male athletes who make bank in advertising deals because they are better looking and less talented than some of their fellow athletes.
        It’s not a gender-specific thing. And it’s not an athletics specific thing either, for better or for worse.

  3. September 23, 2009 7:30 pm

    And sadly, just looking at stats for the website today-
    Sarah’s article is thoughtful, well written, poignant, factual–all the things we want in an article from a football pundit.
    But look at the number of views. :-( Women’s football just hasn’t built in the interest we all wish and hope it would.
    But yes, J-Rump, you’re right on the sex sells tip- it is disturbing that Lucy Pinder’s photoshoot got about 20 times as much attention as an article on a football blog that is actually ABOUT FOOTBALL.
    You know the saying…you can lead a horse to water…..
    This is a big one- the problem isn’t within women’s football. The problem is within society as a whole. Change is slow going.

  4. blissbubbley permalink
    September 23, 2009 7:38 pm

    Totally true Katie, it’s something I’m passionate about but to be honest I wasn’t expecting much from it.

    I say good luck to our English players heading over to America, hopefully there they will get all the support and development they need and then can join up with the England team and be all the better for it! :-)

    I guess what I should have done was a post on the ‘fittest’ England player!

    • September 23, 2009 7:52 pm

      No way. This article is fantastically written, informative, and thought provoking.
      You’ve addressed what needs to be said.

      Just a question though- and I’m just throwing this out there- do you think if you asked a certain number of 15-18 year old footballers both male and female- who wants to be a professional footballer one day? Do you think you’d get equal responses?
      When my girls I was coaching turned 15 and 16 I saw a huge decrease in attendance and interest.
      I’m blaming the masses for not caring enough about the sport, but I think a lot of forces are at play.

      Again, absolutely not a mentality caused by any lacking within the sport of women’s football- but by society.

      Next time we’ll do a bait-and-switch and put a half naked Pinder as the photo attached to an article that actually says something of substance.

      Oh and Welcome to the team :-)

  5. September 23, 2009 7:59 pm

    I’m going to be going back into coaching hopefully soon so I’ll have the opportunity to ask, but I think we can both guess the outcome!

    Thanks for making me welcome! Great to be a part of it!

  6. September 23, 2009 9:16 pm

    Very interesting debate this.

    I dont know too much about the American system, Capitalism dictates that the most successful sports and athletes (ie all the male ones!) should get the lion’s share of any funding. However this poses a very important question:

    “are we trying to breed success in sport, or is it more important that kids..male and female..get the equal opportunity to simply partake”

    If its all about Olympic Gold medals and the like, then yes, a big slice of the funding cake needs to go there. But i personally would like to see the money (especially in the UK) go towards kids just getting the opportunity to play sport (play, and not win, being the operative word) Obsessing with winning at grass roots is not right. Therefore i think the moneys should be split 50/50 between mens and women sport. Professional sport funds itself. It should not be considered which sport is more popular.

    I know in America that sport is much more ingrained in their culture, whereas here its just football, and then everything else. The government should fund sport for the kids, and then let the pro associations take their pick and carry on that development. Two tier system..everyone then gets a chance

    • September 23, 2009 11:15 pm

      Here in the States, parents foot the bill for youth club participation. And it’s a hefty one. I miss the $120/hour coaching fees I was able to charge…..

      Anyway. So parents foot the bill for youth programs, or the club itself can raise money.
      My squad in university was not funded by the school. We paid for EVERYTHING on our own. Travel, accommodations, tournament fees.
      Granted, training grounds were provided by the university but everything else was all on us….and we did some hard work to get the money.
      Really-it’s possible without a hand out from government, from schools, from anyone.
      And when I was a kid, I didn’t get allowance for doing chores- I got to play football.
      I think it’s so counter-active to tell little girls on one hand “you can do anything you put your mind to, now go get your kit on” but on the same hand not make her work for her ability to do it or to give some sense of entitlement.
      That’s just me though, and my parents were tough like that so the mentality has probably just passed on….

      • September 24, 2009 9:35 am

        hmm i think once again there is an example of the difference between US and UK social and class society. I totally understand what you are saying about working for it and 100% agree, but i dont think we are on the same song sheet.

        My thinking is pointed directly about whats going on on this side of the pond. The funding that sport gets here is derisory. Some schools do not even have the use of a football pitch. And if you were brought up in a council estate, like half the people in England then its unlikely your parents will be able to afford to pay for you to play sport. Being able to put food on the table is the main concern..i know when i was a kid my mother worked 3 jobs, just so we could eat and not for me to play sport. I played football at local government scheme teams, and in the streets, with a ball, tennis ball, whatever…i know its not quite the mean streets of Brazil but there is poverty everywhere.

        This is my point about money and sport

        Young boys and girls should have the opportunity to play sport. We pay a very high tax rate in the ok with that, but i want to see a fair distribution. I consider it an important part of education.

        However you will see kids hanging around the streets still, nothing to do and no where to go in almost every town in the UK. If Wayne Rooney didnt have God given ability he would be one of those kids on the streets of Liverpool..and invariably this is the point that crime comes into play in their lives.

        So really its about a bigger picture for me. Im glad your parents intilled that fight in you, but that is an opportunity they gave you..many kids dont have that drive behind them. We are but a small island with 70 million people squashed on to it. Its a small space for alot of people. The state proclaims to be a Social Capitalist state, which is why we have the NHS (where America has health insurance) It says we have high taxes to pay for all of this free to use elements, but that means less in the pockets for most. The state here has to foot the bill for sports development because there simply isnt any money for the man in the street to pay for it.

  7. September 24, 2009 11:33 am

    Actually KP raises a good point about society. Many of our comments are based on the society we live in, and I am no different. I have always been impressed with the number of female athletes produced by the US, and this is the part I see. The ones who made the cut. Because living in a muslim country, women are not even encouraged to play sport, as they deemed football shorts reveal too much skin, and encourage the wrong type of behaviour in men (Yes, the religious community previously put a direct link between female sport and men’s lust). It has only been in recent years that women have picked up sport here, because 3 females of the royal family are actually pretty damn good at their sport!

    However, being where I am, I don’t see the disappointed guys in the background, who may have been the next Michael Phelps, that now are stuck in a dead end job because their chosen university had cut their funding for the sport they are talented in.

    • September 24, 2009 2:17 pm

      What if the girls wore tracksuits?
      I mean, you’re way more likely to get further by changing things you can control than hoping the entire mentality of really conservative Islam is going to change.

      Anyway. Youth can play a season of footer here for $100.
      If you want to play travel, or “select” football here, that’s where it gets pricey.
      And keep in mind, I live in Suburban DC which is filthy rich. The girls I coached also went to private schools at the tune of $40K/year so I had no qualms about making the Real Housewives of Washington pay up. It’s not the same in rural South Dakota.
      Now if there were a prodigy out of SE DC who wanted to play, the parents of the club get together and chip in and foot the bill because they want a winning side. I’ve seen it done.

      Clubs are responsible for maintaining the ground. I don’t think tax dollars filter out to sport at all actually. But as Rob said, political differences in US and UK.

      Whatever your system is….Islamic, socialist, impoverished, filthy rich, whatever…figure it out and work within it.


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