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Brilliant World Cup Is Just the Start for the Growth of Women's Football

08/07/2015 16:43 BST | Updated 07/07/2016 10:59 BST

Last weekend saw the end of two tournaments, with a fair few similarities - and a couple of whopping big differences.

Both were held on the other side of the world, necessitating a lot of late nights to watch the action. Both frequently featured commentators who feel like a power-drill to the brain, looking at you Ray Hudson and Jonathan Pearce. But one of them was actually fun to watch.

If you're particularly slow on the uptake, we're talking about the Women's World Cup and the Copa America, won by the USA and Chile respectively. We're going to stop talking about the Copa now though, because it was a bit dull and I found it incredibly hard to care about it at all.

The World Cup, on the other hand, was an absolute triumph. Barring a small handful of blowout wins in the group stage, every match was exciting and more importantly, competitive. It's all very well watching the best team in the world, but it's boring as hell if you're just watching them stroll to victory.

Possibly the best part of the tournament was the way that fans finally got fully engaged with it, at long last. The BBC audience for England's semi-final against Japan peaked at 2.4m. Nearly two and a half million people, up between midnight and 2am on a weeknight to watch a game of women's football!

The highlights reel of the tournament is almost too long to go through. Hugely unfancied Colombia beating world number three France, Nigeria coming back to stun Sweden and secure a 3-3 draw, debutants Cameroon lighting up the tournament with their fearless attacking play.

Later on came Lucy Bronze's thunderbolt shot against Norway to secure England's quarter-final berth, the drama of Laura Bassett's heartbreaking last-minute own goal against Japan and the breathtaking brilliance of Carli Lloyd and the USA in the final, ending their 16-year wait for a title.

The greater football community has to stop treating the women's game as some fringe interest and actually give it the respect it deserves. The one legitimate criticism that could be levelled at this year's World Cup is that the standard of refereeing was abominable - but is that any kind of surprise?

Fifa has pledged to invest $22million into the women's game between 2015-2018. For scale, they put $25million into a self-congratulatory film about the organisation, which made less than $1,000 on its opening weekend. It's an almost offensively small amount and there's no practical way to train and support refereeing staff on that kind of budget.

If Fifa won't help, then it's time for the rest of the women's game to capitalise on the hype that's been generated by one of the best tournaments in memory - but it can't do it alone. This is where we, the viewing public, have a vital job to do.

Show that you care about the game. Hammer it home in every single way you can, whether that's constantly talking about the WSL (Women's Super League, the English domestic league for the uninitiated) on social media, emailing TV companies asking for more coverage or - most importantly - going to games.

Seriously. Go to games. The WSL is mid-season right now and you can go and see England players turn out for their clubs this weekend. If you were to buy, say, an Arsenal Ladies season ticket right now, it'd cost you £28. It runs through until October. If you have a local WSL team and aren't in crippling financial debt, you have absolutely no excuse not to go.

Speaking to writers around the country, it's a nightmare to get an editor in most publications to greenlight a piece about women's football, even during England's run to third place this summer. Despite all evidence to the contrary, there's a universal feeling that people still don't care about women's football.

The lack of coverage is one of the biggest problems facing the sport, both in the long and short-term. Everything suggests that when the coverage is there, people will consume it. The BBC's viewing figures for England's midnight kickoffs show that. The only way to grow the game is to cover it more. The way to ensure more coverage is to fight tooth and nail, insist on it, read everything that's out there, and make it worth their while to cover it.

Women's football has its best chance in a generation to really get a foothold in the mainstream - we can't let it slip by.

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