What difference a month makes! When the FIFA Women's World Cup started in early June, there didn't seem to be much excitement or buzz from the media or football fans. However, the hardcore few - whether they are fans who attend matches or watch when it is on TV - knew this tournament had the potential to spring change in the ladies game.
As the England team progressed, taking on each challenge and coming through one test after another, the response (from who?) got greater. Whereas at the start of the tournament some keyboard warriors would post sexist or derogatory tweets about the World Cup and women's football, those out-criers slowly vanished. In fact, more and more people were talking about how they had been very impressed by the girls and enquired where they can get more information on the domestic game.
A lot has been said about how this tournament will be as important to the ladies game as Italia 90 was for the men's game. Back then, football was strife with hooligans and seen as a working class sport, whilst much of the English public looked on to America for their cultural influences. From England's performances and Gazza's tears came the Premier League, world class players and facilities and a renewed interest that had wavered. Euro 96 topped off what was a rise back to the top for English football.
The current women's team has inspired a generation with their excellent results, showing the determination to succeed just like Bobby's Robson's boys did. We also had tears from one of our best players in the tournament as a nation wept with Laura Bassett as we went out in the semi-finals.
But this has been no accident. The work that has been put into the women's game over the last couple of years is now starting to pay dividends.
The creation of the FA Women's Super League and having the season run across the summer has given the domestic game some validity. There is now a clear defined structure and branding in place much like the men's Premier League. With this new league has come sponsorship and television deals. It has also helped that some of the big clubs have decided to put the effort in to their ladies teams as well as the mens - we will be forever thankful for the likes of Doncaster Belles and Croydon for paving the way but the profile has been raised with the top of the league being battled by Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester CIty. The FA Cup, which at one time was your only chance to watch a women's game on TV, will be played this year at Wembley Stadium. There is a real possibility that the attendance will be much higher than the 15,000 at Stadium MK for last years final. If that can happen then maybe the problem the WSL is having with trying to break the average attendance of 1,000 at each game could happen in the near future.
Now is the perfect time to get on the bandwagon. As more people become disenfranchised by the Premier League and the ludicrous amounts of money being splashed about at the top of the men's game, more people have been inclined to attend and follow the lower league teams or other sports. Although this is great for them, the women's game offers a unique opportunity. Where else can you watch a team representing the club you have always supported, for less than a tenner and be able to approach the players after? We can see by the England squad that just achieved third place at the World Cup how relatable, likable and down to earth they all are. Every pundit and fan tells you the that rapport between the players and fans is great. We are all envious of our parents or grandparents who tell us stories of meeting players or knowing their relatives who owned the local butchers and the like. Those days may be over in the men's game, at least at the top level, but in the women's game it is still there. How long for we are not sure, because the game continues to grow.
Up to the World Cup the women's game was starting to get more coverage in the media. As well as live games on BT Sport and a highlights show on BBC, we have seen Shoot magazine have a female player, Manchester City and England captain Steph Houghton, on the front cover for the first time and international women's teams being included in the FIFA computer games. The World Cup has now more than likely sped up the progression of women's football in this country.
Whilst this is going on we can look at the great example the new World Champions USA have made in football (soccer) with both the men's and women's teams. The women's game is so big there that when one of the national teams play there has to be a distinction between whether it is the men or women who are playing. They are often referred to as the USMNT (US Men's National Team) and USWNT (US Women's National Team). When you hear that England are playing most will immediately think that we are talking about the men's team and have to tag on 'women' or 'ladies' after so people know you are not talking about Rooney and co. Someday it would be nice to see us have the same equality.
It will take a while to get there but the tide is changing. The change can be pinpointed to one comment from England manager Mark Sampson when he said, after the victory over hosts Canada in the quarter-finals "they have joined the 1966 and 1990 club". Those years are the only two times England have reached the last four in a World Cup. It wasn't just about the women's team reaching their best finish in the finals it was about English football achieving something it has done only twice. We can now say we have reached the semi final stage three times at a World Cup.
How nice would it be in 25 years time to see the women's game featured more prominently in the press and on TV, with better facilities and a national team that can challenge at major tournaments. The hope is that this crop of players have inspired generations of young girls to play football. Two statistics that came out this week show that there is a lot of work to be done. Sampson said in a post game interview this week that there are more professional female players in the state of New York then there is in the whole of England. It is no wonder that is true when the results of a study by the FA showed that fathers only ranked football 7th as the sport they would encourage their daughters to play.
Football is the most loved sport in this country so surely we should watch and support all of our national teams. Considering how football mad the English are surely it would be a dream to see our children, sons and daughters, play the sport and have the chance of playing in a World Cup for their country.Suggest a correction