"The Women’s Super League (WSL) started last weekend so I thought I’d canvas opinion and send out a tweet: ‘Anyone who’s never been to women’s football thinking of going this season?’
You can call it lazy but it’s more effective for me to conduct a survey via Twitter than to stand at the Tube station asking commuters random questions. They’re always in a hurry and they give me funny looks. Then they say, ‘Are you who I think you are?’ and I have to decide whether to say, ‘I have no idea who you think I am’ or, ‘yes, I’m Sue Barker, now answer my sodding question.’ All in all, Twitter is safer.
The answers came in a variety of flavours. I shall categorise them as follows:
1. Vanilla – the might go, might not brigade. Got to be better than our useless men. Example tweet: ‘being an Arsenal fan I should go as it’s our ladies that win the trophies! #girlpower’
2. Bittermint – the absolutely not, women are useless brigade. Example tweet: ‘nah I saw a few including their cup final yrs back. it’s like watching paint dry’
3. Cookies ’n’ cream – curious enough to try something different and keen to discover more. Example tweet: ‘Where is the best place to read up on it? I want to know the PLAYAS…!’
4. Butterscotch – the superfans. Example tweet: ‘women’s football is excellent and could argue a better game than men’s!’ and, ‘The women use more skill than the men, less time on the floor – more time playing proper football’
5. Mint choc chip – those who have tasted a bit of Olympic atmosphere and want more. Example tweet: ‘would definitely. It’s great to see women’s football getting a high profile. Wish it had been like that when I was younger.’
6. Chocolate – I hate chocolate ice cream and I hate homophobia but it’s always there, sitting unloved in a carton on the right. Example: ‘you on the Pull Claire Lol!’ LOL indeed. Learn to spell my name right, idiot.
There were some other really good questions about women’s football such as, ‘why are there only eight teams?’ The answer is that the pool of talent is not yet deep enough to sustain a bigger league. Not all of the major clubs in the UK have women’s teams. Manchester United, for example, don’t but Arsenal (the most successful women’s team of the lot) does. The FA’s five-year plan, launched earlier this year, will see the WSL expand to 20 clubs. There have been 33 applications from clubs. Manchester City Ladies is on the list and will have benefitted from the announcement last summer that MCFC have officially partnered with the women, ending years of apathy.
Yes, I’m Sue Barker, answer my sodding question
The big clubs around the country need to support their female counterparts for women’s football to flourish. I have said before that I think the success of women’s sport is dependent on the three I’s: investment, imagery and information. The WSL, which is still only semi-professional, is getting more investment from the FA and will be more attractive to sponsors now that the BBC has committed to showing a selection of matches. Social media has allowed the players themselves to promote their image. The England captain Casey Stoney (who plays for a very strong Lincoln Ladies team) is among the many on Twitter. Steph Houghton (Arsenal Ladies) is a frank and willing communicator as is Kelly Smith, who is back at Arsenal after three years in America playing in Women’s Professional Soccer.
If you go to a WSL match this season, prepare yourself for disappointment. You won’t see any diving or swearing at the ref. There won’t be any racist chanting from the fans or homophobic abuse. There won’t be any hopeful hoofing of the ball halfway up the pitch and there won’t be any feigning of injury. However, if you enjoy a quick, sharp style of football, the kind that relies on skill rather than power, you will love it. You’ll also find the players stay on the pitch after full-time to sign autographs and pose for photos.
Football is the most popular sport in the country and it has the potential to be the highest profile women’s sport. Personally, I’m not mad for the tag ‘Ladies’ so many of the clubs use. It sounds dated. But when you look at the history of women’s football, you’ll see how popular it was in the 1920s. I believe that well before the 2020s it will be again."
FA WSL coverage on TV: Saturday 14 April Chelsea Ladies vs Birmingham City Ladies at 2pm on ESPN
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Additional image credit: Rex