The women’s football World Cup kicks off today (Friday), surrounded by what appears to be more fanfare and mainstream media coverage than the game has ever received before.
As the host nation, France are in action tonight. England, who are currently ranked third in the world and are managed by former England and Manchester United full-back Phil Neville, take on Scotland in their first match on Sunday at 5pm. The defending champions, the United States, play their first match on Tuesday.
It’s the eighth time the event has been held and nearly one million tickets have been sold for the tournament, which involves 24 teams. The final will be held on Sunday, July 7.
Women’s football has come such a long way since the early 1990s, when I was the only girl playing football at lunchtimes in my primary school playground. I played because I loved it, and although I wasn’t amazing at it, I was never the last to be picked when we all lined up against the wall so the captains could choose their team.
When I went to secondary school, I captained a new football team which was set up by one of the technology teachers and we played a few games against other local schools. I went for a trial at Arsenal, but realised I was out of my depth and the only one there who didn’t already play for a club. There weren’t any clubs for girls near my home. Today, football is the biggest women’s team sport in England, with almost three million active female players. It’s so much easier for girls to play football if they wish.
At university in the early 2000s, I played hockey and Ultimate Frisbee rather than football, and it wasn’t until 2008, when lots of my friends moved away and I was looking to improve my social life, that I joined a local women’s football team. It was good to play again; there were few highs like scoring a goal or ‘nutmegging’ the opponent’s star player, especially in a cup match.
A serious ankle injury sustained in a league match in 2016 forced me to hang up my boots and I began to enjoy filling my Sundays in other ways. But a few weeks ago, concerned about how unfit I’d become, I seized an opportunity to play five-a-side indoor women’s football, or Futsal, and was delighted to find my ankle had stopped causing me problems when I tried to run around. I’m really enjoying my new weekly workouts, especially as in Futsal you don’t have to worry about whether it’s cold or wet outside and whether the game is going to be called off due to a waterlogged pitch.
I was interested in some of the statistics in a press release I received from Powerleague in the run-up to the women’s World Cup. It said that 88 percent of British women have never played in a football team, compared to 48 percent of men. In fact, 79 percent of British women have never played football and wouldn’t even consider it. Just 18 percent of females have ever been to watch a women’s game live, which is half the number of men.
And it said only 31 percent of British women believed they would watch the women’s World Cup, which is being televised by the BBC.
The press release said ‘only 31 percent’ but I bet that is more than ever before and it’s a figure that is likely to rise in future as women’s football continues to grow in popularity, helped in part by an increase in coverage in the media.
This blog post may be a drop in the ocean, but I’m proud to be part of the 12 percent of women who have played in a football team, part of the 31 percent who expect to cheer on the Lionesses in this World Cup and doing my bit to increase mention of women’s football on the internet.