Flicking through a Nottingham in ‘years gone by’ book of photographs recently (things like this become of increasing interest to you when you reach a certain age) I was surprised to see a photo of a rather professional looking Women’s football team (Arnold Ladies F.C.) from the 1920s. Forgive me for my ignorance but I’d assumed that women’s football was a much more recent development. Even my dad was quite surprised when I showed him and it seems that the fact that women’s football was so popular was unknown by many.
Tonight’s Channel 4 programme about women’s football is timely to my thoughts about this and it looks like it will be a very interesting watch. The advert I saw revealed that women used to get crowds of over 60,000 and I think most will be surprised to hear that women’s football was attended by so many as far back as over 80 years ago. Claire Balding tells the story of how and why the FA banned the women from playing under their organisation.
Even more timely but no coincidence to the Channel 4 programme of course, is the fact that the Women’s European Championships are now under way.
I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the few games played so far but the standard looks good. In fact I knew it would be because I watched most of England’s matches in their world cup finals campaign and the level was worlds away from that of the FA Cup final match that I’d watched some years earlier.
There’s still a lot of people who don’t care about women’s football and assume the quality is poor but it wouldn’t matter much to most if there was the female equivalent of Lionel Messi playing for England. People just haven’t given it a chance and it’s not a talking point for most. Football, all sports in fact, become interesting when you buy into the stories and you learn about who is playing. And when you have a bet on it of course. This is perhaps most evident in boxing where most fights would go largely unnoticed without the hype and buildup. Just two random men punching each other.
At the same time I don’t think it helps that women (and male advocates of the sport too) compare the state of their game to that of their male counterparts. The best approach is to keep demonstrating they can play and to keep promoting it. The girls have had a rough time over the years but there’s plenty of people trying to do their bit now as demonstrated by Betfair’s Fairer Game Campaign alongside Rachel Yankey.
The TV coverage and advertising around the Women’s Euro Finals has admittedly been a little disappointing thus far. Many including myself, didn’t realise the opener was on Sunday and Channel 4 apparently only have the rights to show the England and Scotland matches. It’s still there on terrestrial TV for those that want to watch it however and it will still inspire young girls who want to play football.
There are a lot of English football clubs taking women’s football seriously now with more professional contracts than ever before but it will still take time to grow. Getting a sport talked about by the general public doesn’t happen overnight and I’m sure most women would have been delighted with today’s progress if asked ten years earlier. Women’s football is now the fastest going sport for females in England.
England’s male superstars are hugely overrated when it comes to the betting in international tournaments and at first glance this may seem no different for our women’s team, who are currently third favourites at a price of around 7/1. Only, England’s women are much more deserving of such a position, only losing 5 of their 25 matches since their 3rd place finish in the 2015 World Cup.
First up for the Lionesses in the Euro Finals are the Scots on Wednesday. Mark Sampson’s women, captained by Steph Houghton are huge odds on favourites to win that match at 1/4. Scotland are without their star player Kim Little who misses the tournament through injury and England are likely to win by at least a couple of goals by all accounts.
I personally am very much looking forward to watching England’s matches and following their progress throughout the tournament. With less focus on women’s matches perhaps betting opportunities are more easily found.