Our journey into women’s football started properly at the Olympics in 2012. While we’d watched matches, when available, on TV, Team GB against Brazil in Wembley was our first proper foray into the women’s game. This was just one year after the inaugural FA Women’s Super League season. How things have grown!
The last ten years have had their ups and downs, with numerous iterations of what is now the Barclays FAWSL. Some days, while shivering on the side-line on a wet and windy November night, we do miss the summer league. Clubs have sadly fallen by the wayside, unable to compete with the bigger commitment and higher standards of other teams. Equally, new sides have entered the fray, willing to take a risk on a sport that is still not yet able to provide a return on investment. It isn’t something that will happen overnight, but the changes in the last ten years have been significant and that long-term vision is becoming ever more tangible with each season.
There have been many memorable moments over the years. Like that day in 2014 when the FAWSL trophy had to travel down the M62 between Manchester and Liverpool with a standby trophy in Birmingham. It came right down to the wire as we all awaited the final whistle to see which of the three clubs would ultimately win the league.
Obviously individual games stand out – Arsenal coming back from 2-0 down at Bristol to win 4-2 thanks to a Kelly Smith hat-trick in the second half; or Bristol coming back from 3-0 down at Doncaster Belles to win 4-3 to keep their 2013 FAWSL title hopes alive. Last year’s 3-3 draw between big hitters Manchester City and Chelsea was a quality, nerve-wrenching display of football with some world class strikes. (Please don’t ask us to pick our favourite goals from the last 10 years. There are far, far too many crackers to choose from.)
More recently, matches in the big stadia have raised the bar. The opening day of the 2019/20 season saw crowds flocking to Stamford Bridge and the Etihad. The first ever women’s football weekend saw over 74,000 fans out across the country, with the FAWSL record broken by the North London Derby at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. This is a moment that is remembered particularly fondly by Kelly Simmons, the FA’s Director of the Women’s Professional Game: “The crowd was phenomenal, but the atmosphere was incredible. You could hear the Arsenal end; you could hear the Spurs end. It really created a special atmosphere, spine-tingling really. I was sat in that game and I thought that’s what, over the next 10 years, women’s football can become regularly; we can’t let this be a one off.”
So many people have to be acknowledged and thanked for their contribution to the journey that English women’s football has found itself on. Those like Simmons, who has worked for the best part of 30 years, believing and striving to push it onto another level. The players who took the leap into semi-professional and full-time football with so much uncertainty, who have given all they have to give to develop the best possible product for usto enjoy. The clubs, the volunteers, the media, the fans…the list goes on.
Sometimes you really do have to pinch yourself to realise how much things have changed. All of the memories mentioned above, amongst many others, still give us goosebumps. But we are still only seeing really half of what this league can achieve. The next big step for Simmons is for it to become self-sustainable, so it no longer has to rely on funding from the male side of the game and be valued on its own worth: “I think the big change for me will be that the women’s game should be able to generate enough revenue in 10 years to stand on its own two feet. At the moment, it’s growing revenue…Obviously, we’ve seen Barclays; we’ve seen the multi-million pound TV rights announcement we made a couple of weeks ago. But it’s not yet sustainable. It can’t survive without money made through men’s football. And I think over 10 years, we’ll see that change – revenues will grow and ultimately, we should be looking at a sustainable professional league in its own right.”
With everything the game has given us, and the experience of the last decade, we can’t wait to see what comes next. You can bet that we will still be in another 10 years to celebrate yet another milestone in this beautiful game.