Why women’s footy is winning over fans

By Heather Large | Grassroots | Published:

Modern-day women's football has never been so popular.

Wolves Women - the Premier League Midlands Division One winners

Not only are more female players taking up the beautiful game but it is also attracting increased attention from spectators and sponsors as well as national television coverage.

The FA has declared that football is now the biggest female sport in England while UEFA reports that there has been a 'tremendous rise' in the game during the past 15 years.

There are now more than 1.27million registered female players across Europe with 106,910 in England alone where participation is up by 19 per cent from 2011.

And earlier this year, the FA announced ambitions to double the number of women and girls taking part in football by 2020 with Baroness Sue Campbell, the head of women’s football, describing the game's potential as 'exciting'.

If successful, we could see a repeat of scenes witnessed during the First World War when crowds of more than 50,000 would regularly turn out for a women's match before the FA declared the sport was not suitable for women. A ban lasted until 1971 leaving the female sport decades behind the men's.

But flash forward more than 40 years and up to two million people are expected to tune in during the on-going television coverage of the England Lionesses' Euro 2017 campaign in the Netherlands on Channel 4 and Eurosport.

The tournament, which kicked off on July 16, has seen the national team beat Scotland 6-0 in their first group match and win 2-0 against Spain on Sunday.

England's Jodie Taylor celebrates scoring at Euro 2017


Attendance at games in England has also been steadily growing while almost 33,000 attended the FA Cup final - more than the average crowd at a Championship match last season.

While the national team has been riding high, there has also been success for club teams such as Wolves Women who clinched the FA Women’s Premier League Midlands Division One title last season. This means that they are now one rung below the highest league in women's football - the Women's Super League.

While Shrewsbury Town Ladies FC have been runners-up in the Shropshire FA Women's Cup for the past two seasons.

Manager of Wolves Women, Tim Dudding says women's football has benefited from more exposure in recent years.


"Channel 4 are broadcasting all of the Euro 2017 games, the Super League is getting exposure on BT Sport and there is a women's football show on BBC - all of this exposure is making it happen and raising women's football to the position it should be.

"There is a still a long way to go and we've got to get the balance right. My players are now in the top 30 teams in the country. To put that in perspective, if it was the men's, they would be on full-time contracts and be getting thousands upon thousands a week. But my team has to get sponsorship from local businesses to play," explained Tim.

More girls are taking to the pitch

To capitalise on the excitement surrounding Euro 2017, the FA is also running its Girls Football Week Campaign August 6 to showcase female football at every level and inspire new players and volunteers to take up the sport.

There are currently 130 girls and more than 80 women's teams registered with Birmingham FA which covers the Black Country as well as the city and parts of Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

Football development officer Rafe Turner said: "We are definitely seeing a rise in participation, as well as clubs being able to create new teams we are also having an increasing number of girls and women looking for a local opportunity to play football.

"Some are looking to start for the first time, others have been out of the game due to education, work or other commitments but have a passion to get involved again.

"I couldn’t say it’s down to any one specific reason that the game is growing. The success and visibility of the Lionesses has definitely inspired more females to take up the game, as well as the work of other campaigns such as This Girl Can.

"This has then led to more local promotion and networking from girls clubs or organisations offering female football to try and reach out to more people, this is where the positive impression they make with participants helps as word of mouth plays a big part in bringing new people in to the game," he added.

Bethan Woolley, a football development officer with Staffordshire FA, said she believed there were many reasons contributing to the rise in the number of women and girls taking to the pitch.

Across the county, more than 100 teams are expected to compete in the Staffordshire Girls and Ladies League, which covers under-8s up to open age, next season, compared with 68 last year. The number of youth teams has also risen from 47 in 2013 to 65 in 2017.

"There are lot more girls and women getting involved in football now. Whether they are playing at school or outside school, we are working to ensure there are opportunities for them to do that.

"The Women's World Cup in 2015, which saw the England team finish third, has been a driving force behind more women and girls wanting to play football and people getting behind the team.

"There has also been a push from the FA to make women's football ten times bigger than it was 10 years ago," said Bethan.

Wolves in action

Across the border in Shropshire, there has been a similar increase in participation with the number of girls and women playing regularly increasing by 20 per cent.

There are nine ladies clubs including Shrewsbury Town Women FC and AFC Bridgnorth Ladies as well as 17 mini-soccer and youth clubs for girls.

Football development officer Eve Bailey said three Wildcats Girls’ Football Clubs has also been set up in Shrewsbury, Telford and Ludlow aimed introducing girls aged from five to 11 to the game.

She also believes Lionesses' World Cup success helped to threw the sport into the spotlight. " The World Cup was brilliant and the team are being shown on TV more.

"Channel 4 have got the rights to the Euros and the BBC will be covering the next World Cup. There is definitely a lot more publicity of the women's game now.

"There has also been a lot of work to make the game more 'girl-friendly' and the FA has got a website now purely for women and girls with information about how to find your local clubs.

"The FA wants to double the number of players by 2020 so we are in consultation on how to do that in Shropshire," added Eve.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.


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