THE Women’s World Cup this summer was a dream come true for many supporters of women’s football. Not only was every game either televised or available online, but newspaper coverage and public support soared as the Lionesses progressed further and further into the tournament, eventually returning to England with a well-deserved bronze medal around their necks.
There were fears that this attention would quickly die out, but it hasn’t. Attendance at FAWSL games has dramatically increased, with the FA announcing a 48% rise in the attendance of league games in 2015. The Women’s FA Cup Final was held at Wembley for the first time. The growth in coverage of the women’s game has even extended to gaming, with FIFA 16 finally featuring female players.
These achievements looked unlikely when the Women’s Super League started in 2011, but the professionalism of the league has played a big part in helping women’s football grow. Investment from Premier League clubs has allowed teams to introduce professional contracts, improve facilities and therefore attract international players from all around the world. A prime example is Manchester City’s women’s team. They joined the WSL in 2014 after receiving funding from the men’s team, and drew in top players such as Steph Houghton, Jill Scott and Toni Duggan through their ability to offer a professional contract. The team play at the £200m Etihad Campus in a 7,000 capacity stadium, the quality of which far surpasses any other team. City finished second in this season’s WSL. Whereas Arsenal Ladies used to completely dominate the women’s game, the league is now much more competitive.
However, there has been a downside to the increase in funding and coverage of women’s football in England. Bristol Academy, who reached the FA Cup final in 2011 and 2013, finished bottom of the WSL and so will play in the second tier of women’s football next season. In an interview with BBC Sport, Chairman Simon Arnold attributed this to the vast difference in budget between teams such as Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea, and his own, which has no affiliation with a men’s team. This gulf can be seen when considering wages; Man City captain receives £65,000 a year while Arnold claims that his players don’t receive a wage or get “£35 a week”. When this is realised, it is easy to see why smaller clubs are losing their best players to the richer teams, and how in a few years, paradoxically, the WSL may once again be dominated by a select number of clubs.
Therefore the world of women’s football is currently facing a difficult dilemma. The investment from affiliated clubs is excellent for those who have it, but for those who don’t, it is becoming increasingly difficult to compete. Therefore, some kind of financial limit akin to ‘Financial Fair Play’ may need to be put in place. Without this, women’s football may actually start going backwards.
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