Witnessing Change – The Women’s Game

Although frustrations boiled over at the weekend in a match between Chelsea and Liverpool that was abandoned after just five minutes of play due to freezing pitch conditions, with many, stating that games shouldn’t be being called off for this reason in this day and age, women’s football is otherwise at an all time high. Progression over the last few years has been incredible, and it is largely thanks to the amazing England team which gave the nation a summer they will never forget, after winning Euro 22.

The women’s game has always been a sport that people have wanted to take off in Britain, but the foundations have never been there. Whether it’s the lack of money or even the lack of interest, the space for women to express their talent in the world’s greatest game has been a struggle.

The 31st of July 2022, a day that arguably changed the outlook and attitude on women’s football for the better. A sold-out Wembley Stadium, an iconic venue for two iconic football teams, England and Germany no two teams better to inspire the next generation.

Women’s football was well and truly alive after the conclusion of this game, player uptake across the country was at an all time high, media attention on the game for women had grown, the proof was out there that the legacy the tournament had created, is still growing long after the final whistle.

The English FA (Football Association) released a document showing just how much of a bounce recreational football for girls and women had taken before and after that wonderful July afternoon at Wembley.  “Since October 2021, there’s been a 17% increase in female affiliated players across all levels of the game, a 30% increase in female registered football teams, and a 15% increase in female youth teams – made up of girls aged between 5-18 years old.” (2022). To some, it may feel disappointing that it has taken this long for an obvious change, but now it has happened the foundations are there and it’s only going to get better.

Witnessing Change

Notts County Women’s captain Holly Fowler is currently a coach of the girl’s academy at Meadow Lane. Coaching before and after the recent women’s Euros, Holly has felt the buzz, and growth in numbers this season more then any other she has been involved in.

She said: “We held open training sessions for girls to come down. Some girls had been playing for years, some had never played before and there was a real buzz about it all. All the girls were talking about football.

“The Euros win had brought everyone together, everyone had something in common and it has been nice to see.”

Now at 24 years of age, Fowler has been in pole position to see the changes which she herself has had to deal with. As Holly was growing up, the opportunities for girls in grassroots football were hard to find. She explained how she went from playing in the garden with her older brother gave her a new passion. Soon Fowler was involved in an organised set up and started to dream.

“When I grew up playing football I had an older brother, so we use to play in the garden together, then when I wanted to start playing in an organised environment, I went down to our local football team, there was a girls option which was more of an hours’ run around, there was also a boys team which was my age group and I started playing for them as an under nine.

“It was hard to find a girls team for my age group, so I ended up playing girls football with an age group above mine. There were not as many options (girls’ teams) as there is now, which is why nowadays it’s so much better and easier for girls to find a team.”

The Challenges of not being professional

At this current time, only the top tier of women’s football (The Women’s Super League) is professional. This means that a lot of the ladies must balance their football with other commitments that help pay the bills.

Holly Fowler is one of those, Notts County Women currently play in step five of the women’s football pyramid. In her time outside of football, she has a lot on her plate. Balancing her studies around work, coaching and football. But hope there will be more leagues that become professional, so the future generation won’t have to deal with these long weeks.

“I work four days a week as an architectural assistant, The past couple of years have been tricky to balance it all, because I am also playing football three times a week, alongside coaching two days a week. Obviously by not being professional you must work, and I feel football gives me that outlet away from work to relax and do something I enjoy. After trying to balance it all over the past few years.

“I feel I’ve finally found that healthy balance of it all. I won’t lie, it is a struggle, and I wouldn’t recommend trying to fit so much into your life, but hopefully it shouldn’t be like this for the next generation, with hopefully more opportunities of professional football in the women’s game.”

Sky Sports and BBC combined In March 2021 to sign a deal worth up to £24 million across three seasons of Women’s Super League football (Odeyemi & Odeyemi, 2021).  This was the start of something special and adding this to what the country witnessed in the summer with the European Championships, Fowler feels that with all this exposure will come more advertisement, and more money being pumped in the game will make more teams professional in no time.

“I definitely see it happening (more teams becoming professional). You can already start to see it happening in a few of the lower leagues where some players are being paid to play or even just their expenses (travel food etc.) being paid for.  Although it doesn’t seem like a lot compared to the men’s game, it is a big step forward from a couple of years ago.

“If things like this keep happening, and with the bonus of the Euro’s championships win, its brought more sponsors and advertisement into the women’s game, there is slowly becoming more tv exposure with football pundits talking and advertising the women’s game.

“These small things are boosting the game massively and the more it is talked about, the more exposure it gets which makes people start to think they should support this or back this. You see how much it helps the men’s game in terms of sponsors and advertisement, so it can only help the women’s game as well.”

The future for the women’s game

The past year is just the start of an undoubtedly strong future for the women’s game. From grassroots right the way to the professional stage. The role models that the England side have become, players like Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Nottingham born goalkeeper Mary Earps, will live long in the memory of everyone involved in the sport. The Commercial side will play the most important role in helping women’s football stay alive. People are finally taking notice of how important the women’s game will be to the next generation of young girls. The more opportunities football clubs will give to their women’s senior sides, as well as the girls’ academies, will create the best foundations possible for everyone to have a successful future. It’s not going to happen overnight, and although the start has been perfect, there will still be bumps in the road for everyone to get onboard with how special women’s football in the future will be.

*Article provided by Dan Dodd (Football Correspondent).

*Main image @HollyFowler100 Notts County skipper Holly Fowler has seen improvement in recent years in the women’s game.

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