‘It’s great that clubs print women’s shirts’

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NOS News

  • Fleur Launspach

    UK and Ireland correspondent

  • Fleur Launspach

    UK and Ireland correspondent

Europe’s biggest ever women’s sporting event is about to begin. Tonight the European Women’s Championship kicks off at Old Trafford in Manchester. The 74,000 seats for the opening match are sold out and the 90,000 seats for the final at Wembley Stadium were gone within an hour.

The popularity of women’s football is increasing and with it the commercial importance in the sector is also growing. Women’s football has been highly professionalized in recent years, especially in host country England. And that also attracts European top players, including Vivianne Miedema and national coach Sarina Wiegman, who moved to England in recent years.

Football fan Liz Ward has tickets to the opening game and the Wembley final and actually hopes to attend all the games. She has seen the sport grow in England and is thrilled: “I think it’s such an important moment for women’s football. Great matches are coming.”

While women’s football wasn’t even broadcast live ten years ago, major stadiums are now sold out and clubs are printing their own shirts for the women’s teams.

50 year ban

But it wasn’t always this booming. The growth of women’s football, which only really took off about five years ago, has been held back for decades. ‘Football is not for women’ – decided the English Football Association in 1921. The sport was on the rise at the time, until the FA decided to ban women’s sports.

“It was very popular during the First World War,” said Craig Dobson of the National Football Museum in Manchester. “When the men were on the front lines, the women worked in the munitions factories. Big competitions were organized on weekends to raise money for wounded soldiers.”

After 50,000 spectators came to watch a women’s football match in Preston, the English Football Association took a tough stance: a ban was imposed. Women were no longer allowed to play matches and were not even allowed to train on the sports fields of the association. Doctors and other elite figures also sided with the ban; after all, the sport would be unsuitable for the female body and should therefore not be encouraged. “Imagine where women’s football would have been today if there hadn’t been a 50-year block on the development of the sport,” says Dobson.

Shirts with Miedema

Liz Ward points to the back of her amateur club t-shirt that reads 1921 in gold numbers. The year celebrates how far women’s football has come, she explains.

“As a kid, there wasn’t a women’s team I could cheer for,” Ward says. “Now football is a career for women – and not just as a player, but across the field.” She adds: “I see children walking around in football shirts with ‘Miedema’ on them. It is great that we have reached a point where the clubs have to print the women’s shirts themselves.”

Equal payment

In 2022, the gap between men’s and women’s football is getting smaller. Steps are also being taken with regard to equal pay for men and women. Since the beginning of July, for example, the Orange women have been paid the same as the men. A campaign that figurehead Miedema has committed to.

The English FA now also pays the same amount to national women’s and men’s teams. Furthermore, the Women’s Super League, the highest English women’s football competition, requires participating clubs to pay players a minimum salary. This has meant that many players no longer have to keep a side job next to top sport.

diversity

It is also special that lesbian and bisexual players in women’s football are open about their sexual orientation, something that is still difficult for men. When Blackpool FC footballer Jake Daniels announced he is gay a few weeks ago, he became the first openly gay footballer in the UK in 32 years. And that while 42 lesbian, bisexual and non-binary players already participated in the Olympic Games in 2021.

Although women’s football still has considerable catching up to do in many areas, the sector is definitely ahead of the men in terms of inclusiveness.