There is an evolution happening in women's football.
Have you noticed it? No? Don't worry, you are not alone, because most people won't have noticed it. The thing is, it isn't for the want of trying. Those who work in the clubs, those who play the game and those who are devoted with their support, are doing absolutely everything they can to try and raise the game's profile. Sadly though, they just aren't getting the much needed support that they truly deserve.
I often talk with people about Palace Women. When I go to work, the guys who run the car park I use, know me and my car, because of the CPLFC scarf on the dashboard. The common point that always gets said to me, when I say that there needs to be more investment in the women's game, is this:
'No one will bother because it will never make money like the men's game does'.
I am sure, some who will read this article, may think the exact same thing. Well, let me just say this. Of course the women's game does not make as much money as the men's. The men's game has had well over a hundred years being one of the biggest sports in the world, that has grown and grown and grown. It gets the sponsorship, it gets the media coverage, it gets the TV deals, because it has been so big, for so long. The women are having to play a massive game of catch up, and it is a near impossible task, because they are not getting the help and support needed to do it.
Let's be honest now, for most of us, it has been drummed into us by society, that women just don't play football. Actually, let me rephrase that. Society has allowed us to know that some women DO play football, but we are just told that they are crap at it. When I was at school(many years ago now), that was how things were. Most girls didn't play, and pretty much every boy didn't want them to, because we were told that they were no good at it. It was one of those stereotypes that was just shoved in front of us, and so people did not see things differently. Girls can't play football. I heard it back then, I still hear it now. In junior school, we had one girl in our class who at times wanted to play. She was a good player. She was a better player than a fair few of the boys, myself most definitely included. When she played though, and teams were picked, can you guess when she was picked? That's right, she was picked last. She was the unlucky pick for one of the teams, despite the fact that she was actually better than several of the players!! It was a crazy mindset, a garbage mindset, yet sadly, it is one that still seems to exist among some today.
So, because of this, the women are having to play catch up. They are still having to break down those barriers, having to change the mindsets engrained into so many, before they can even begin to just let their football do the talking. There are men in the professional game, who are just damn awful at it, yet are earning great money. There are men who just leach off clubs, stealing a living and providing very little return(#JimmyKebe). There are managers who have secured their financial futures for life, courtesy of being poor at their job, but getting good payouts for being sacked(#AlanPardew). All the while, there are women who bust their arses on the pitch, who are great at what they do, who fight for the shirt they wear, and get almost nothing for it. So much so, that they need to work a full time job to actually live. It is just madness.
Now, don't get me wrong, I am not saying that the women's game would be bigger than the mens(although in America I believe it was for a while). I am not even saying that one day they would be on the same level, as this just isn't possible. The men's game is such a juggernaught now, it can't be caught. To use a wrestling comparison for a moment, the WWE(WWF to the oldies), is the biggest company in pro-wrestling. It has dominated for so long, without competition, that now, nothing will ever catch it. Their product has deteriorated massively, yet it will never get caught. The industry is finally learning that, and now, other companies aren't trying to catch it, they are just aiming to offer a great alternative. The men's game is the WWE in football, it won't be caught. Yet, I doubt for one second, any of the women think it could be, or even contemplate that. What they want(in my opinion), is to be the best that they can be. They want to raise the women's game to as high a level as they possibly can. They want to be able to actually earn a living from the game they love, just like the men do. Is that too much to ask? I don't think so. Is THAT possible? Personally, I think so. For it to happen though, they need a fair shot at doing it, and that, sadly, is something I feel they are not getting.
For me, this responsibility falls upon the FA, it falls upon their partners, and it falls upon companies that don't have the courage to take a chance. There is basically no money put into the women's game. The clubs have to sink or swim on their own, and it is a constant struggle. Now, I am sure some will say, that's just how life is. However, if it was a fair playing field, I would agree. My issue, is that the FA will know that the women's game does not have the draw yet to be self sustainable, yet the clubs are left to it anyway. They are effectively encouraged to make it from one side of the river to the other in a paddle boat, but aren't given a paddle, and the boat has a small leak.
The FA provided the clubs with a small budget to use, upon approval. I know that CPFC Women used it a couple of weeks ago on Women's Football Weekend, to provide a few extras to help draw a bigger crowd. The idea of providing such a fund is great. If it is only enough to cover one event however, that simply just isn't enough. The FA aren't exactly well thought of among fans in the men's game, and for me, it is doing very little to sway that opinion on the women's side either. Yes, they revamped the Championship two seasons ago, but in reality, they have done very little else. From an outside perspective, they care very little for any clubs outside the Women's Super League, and even then, I don't think they necessarily care about some of those in the WSL either. It would appear to me, that the FA is trying to get certain teams into the WSL, because they are the big teams in terms of name. Why do I think this? Well, you just have to look at last season, as Spurs and Man United were promoted. They had the two biggest budgets in the league. Hell, United didn't even have a team before last season, they hadn't had one for about fifteen years. Yet they were allowed to form a team and go straight into the second tier, at the loss of someone else. They went professional straight away, the only team in the league to be so, and had a £5million budget, which destroyed anything any other club in the league had. What kind of message does that send out, to all the teams that have been working hard, battling every season, only to be overlooked because United are the more fancy appeal to the FA? Meanwhile, Yeovil were left to fall into financial trouble, finish bottom of the WSL to get relegated, and then as punishment, were dropped down lower than the Championship. Something just isn't right there. While the United team was being bought, and their place in the Championship was being bought, a long standing big player in the women's game, the Doncaster Belles, had to withdraw from the league due to financial problems. For years, I didn't know much about the women's game, but knew of the Belles. Yet, they were left to fall away, probably because they didn't fit the bill.
The FA talks a good game. It is telling us that they want they women's game to grow, that they are trying to make it bigger. To me though, it is just lip service. The England Lionesses reached the World Cup Semi Final last summer, their games were drawing big numbers on TV. What has been done to capitalise on it? Nothing. They recently had a big push for the friendly at Wembley against Germany, and it drew a record breaking crowd. That is great news, of course it is. Will anything be done to follow up on it? No. There is no point in doing these one off moments, because that is all they are, one off moments. The women's game needs a long term plan. It needs investment, it needs a sustained period of promotion and support. After the World Cup, the Lionesses should have been everywhere. They should have been promoted heavily, they should have been used to try and push crowds to the games. It just didn't happen. I wonder how many fans who watched those World Cup games, could actually name the team now? Sadly, I feel it will be a low number.
Lucy Bronze was voted the third best player of the tournament. She has just finished runner up to Megan Rapinoe(let's be honest, based on politics not performance) in the Ballon D'Or. That is a huge achievement for an English player. It needs to be capitalised on, it needs to be used to push the women's game, to try and raise the profile. Sadly though, it won't be. Football has always been popular, but stand out stars like Messi, Ronaldo, Pele, Best to name just a few, have helped elevate it even further. In a player like David Beckham, we had a star that you could market the game on. This needs to happen in the women's game. We need to start pushing these players, their names need to get out there, be recognisable. Give the casual fan something they can relate to. That is always a good starting point. If you recognise a name, you are more likely to have some interest, than if you have no clue who anyone is, or reason to be bothered. There are so many talented women playing on pitches every Saturday and Sunday, leaving it all on the pitch, and getting no exposure. Meanwhile, Mesut Ozil gets column inches daily for failing to play games, and failing to 'turn up' when he does play, all the while earning about £350k a week. Something needs to change. If the FA truly want to raise the profile of the women's game, that is fantastic. The thing is, they need to actually commit to doing it. They need to go all in, they need to give it everything they have to get it done. If they don't, they are going to lose out on so many great players, who will either lose faith and give up, or be forced out of the game they love, because it just isn't financially viable to live within the game.
Now, this is where other parties need to come in. There is a huge market there to be taken advantage of, if people were to just take the initial gamble. Some big sponsorship companies could get involved, chuck some money into the game and then, if it starts to flourish and grow, they will reap the rewards and have prime positioning for future gain. The same goes for television. There is a great opportunity just sitting there, waiting to be taken, but with no one willing to do so. For me, this would be a great way for someone like the BBC to really get involved. They have four channels. How great would it be, if on a Sunday, on BBC2 they aired a game live? In fact, they could set up cameras at all the WSL and Championship games(which would only be about ten games given the league sizes), and you could choose which one you wanted to watch, via the red button? Would it draw big numbers? Perhaps not. However, it would be a big start in providing coverage and exposure to the players, to the games. It would given an opportunity to those who may be curious about watching, but not committed enough to attend a game, to then actually watch and maybe get drawn in. BBC2 telly on a Sunday is rubbish anyway, so what would they have to lose? Then, if the women's game did start to take off, the BBC would be in the driving seat for it. They cover the big international tournaments, so why not start putting more coverage on the domestic game too?
Now, these are just a few ideas from a dude, sitting in his chair typing away on a laptop. Could you imagine what could be achieved, by those in the FA ivory tower, who actually get paid to come up with ideas? The fact is, if the women's game is to grow, it is going to need the help and support of its governing body to make it happen. They are going to have to fully support their teams, their players, and not just a few. The women who I see work their socks off on a match day, deserve that. The women who have to spend all day at work, and then rush to evening training, deserve that. All those who dedicate their precious time to making sure the clubs survive, deserve that.
It is about time that people stop talking a good game, while in reality failing to do a thing, and actually deliver on what they say. Let us not talk about an evolution of the women's game, and actually create one!