The Growing Game

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

The game that is waiting for the world to catch up.


via Google Images

Women's football in England, and indeed worldwide, is beginning to move onto a bigger platform. What was once a somewhat taboo hobby for some, is now hurtling towards the limelight, and is on its way to taking centre stage. Awareness of the women's game is slowly but surely growing. Last year the Lionesses drew in an impressive 11.7 million viewers for their World Cup semi-final, the BBC's biggest live audience of the year. With this mighty feat, paired with increasingly regular attendance across all league games, it is clear that interest in the game is certainly on the rise. Historically, women's football has received very little in the way of funding. The FA finally took the game under its wing 26 years ago, yet the FA's Women's Super League did not turn fully professional until the 2018-2019 season. However, we are now starting to see a larger backing from the FA, as well as development in the way of outside investors. Sponsorship deals from several large, well-known brands for the English national side, together with Barclays sponsorship of the WSL, demonstrate the emergent marketability of the sport.

via Getty Images

Encouragingly, players in the England squad are beginning to form deals with sponsors, and perhaps quite rightly so. It is, after all, these same players gathering momentum from the front, who are opening themselves up for the criticisms and opinions of the masses. It is important to remember that select partnership is not unusual in any walk of life, and the handful of Lionesses receiving sponsorship should not be alienated in light of this. Whichever way it may be presented, increased investment in the game is crucial for its growth. Yet, we do not underestimate the players championing the game across the leagues. Those who are just as dedicated, and who strengthen the game with as much passion and commitment as those at the top. Lead from the front, build from the back. Major overseas signings are elevating interest in the WSL, and this is subsequently leading to the demand for more league games to be broadcasted. Apps such as the FA player, and select matches chosen by the BBC and BT sport, has meant that there has been a gradual increase in transmission. This has opened the door to larger audiences. However, this coverage is not always reliable, nor transparent. Just recently the BBC advertised the broadcast of several FA Cup 4th round ties. Yet only one match was televised, much to the irritation of those unable to physically attend these games. What is more, many key games continue to be the victims of scheduling conflict. Most recently, the Continental Cup semi-finals took place as midweek fixtures. Whilst this alone is not a huge issue, it does significantly limit the number of fans able to travel. However, with both matches kicking-off at the same time, as well as them clashing with a men's Manchester derby, many viewers, most notably United and City supporters, were stuck between a rock and a hard place. It is scheduling mishaps such as these that hinder the organic growth of the game. Currently for many club fans, the men's game will always take precedence.

James Boyle

The issue of equality is ever present in the women's game. Lewes FC's current campaign has succeeded in highlighting the pay gap between the men's and the women's game, identifying the huge difference in winnings. Favourably Lewes FC have found themselves in a position in which they are able to accommodate both their male and female players equally. Whilst this is certainly commendable, unfortunately for most clubs, it simply is not yet possible to sustain equal pay. This is especially true of larger clubs, in which the difference in revenue brought in by the male and female teams is vast. Luckily these players do not play football for money. They play for love of the game and with the respect and support of each other. It is perhaps these qualities that makes the women's game so endearing to watch, and so enjoyable to root for. But whilst Lewes FC's campaign may have a long way to go in achieving equal pay across the board, it has certainly drawn attention to the sheer disparity between the male and female game. Monetary value aside, equality embodies so much more than just pay. Equality encompasses respect, value and dignity; areas in which female players regularly tend to find themselves on the back foot.

via Getty Images

A recent report featured in the Daily Mail investigated the state of some of the women's facilities in the WSL. What was uncovered was bothersome, but perhaps not surprising. The report highlighted the squalor states many teams are subjected to when travelling, and the less than adequate catering arrangements, amongst other issues. It is here where issues of equality really hit home. What must be instilled is that both male and female players are a part of one club, and should be treated as such. Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that the women's game is not yet expecting the all singing, all dancing facilities harboured by the men's. But what is expected, are half decent amenities, as would be regulation for any other place of work. Or at the very least, a fridge. Criticisms of the women's game, more often than not, question the quality of play. This is then typically compared directly to the men's game. But players can only do so much with what is available to them. There is still much to be said about the condition of pitches and the standard of officiating, which with both cases, there are huge inconsistencies. Yet, despite these factors, there are certainly more than a few female players who would not look out of place in a men's match. Being a part of a sport that is growing is exciting, but also terribly frustrating. Waiting for the world to catch up can definitely be disheartening. The general consensus amongst governing bodies indicates that a rise in overall interest, including physical attendees and televised viewers, will lead to an increase in financial and promotional backing. Yet with unreliable coverage and continuous scheduling conflicts, we find ourselves in a catch-22 situation. But, with the continuous devotion of fans to raise awareness of the game, and to support their players, there is no reason as to why the game should not naturally flourish. Fans should not fret, there has been substantial growth, and there will continue to be. We are headed toward something special, just you wait and see.