England will round off a transformative year for women’s football in front of a sold-out Wembley against Germany on Saturday, with the Football Association hoping the World Cup boom will have a long-lasting legacy.
The record attendance for a women’s game in Britain of 80,203 for the 2012 Olympic final between the United States and Japan is expected to be smashed, with 90,000 tickets sold for the clash between World Cup semi-finalists England and the Olympic champions.
The attendance for the friendly will also obliterate the previous record of 45,619 for an England women’s home fixture, against Germany in 2014.
On the back of the Lionesses’ run to the last four in France this year, attendance records have already been broken in the opening months of the Women’s Super League.
Boosted by the hosting of selected matches at larger stadiums normally reserved for men’s football, the opening weekend of the WSL attracted 62,000 supporters compared with a reported 92,000 across all 110 games last season.
But the impact of the World Cup is not just being felt by bigger crowds. According to figures released by the FA this week, there has been a spike of 850,000 women aged 16 or over playing football in England since the tournament, taking take the total participation figures to 2.6 million.
“The growth we’ve experienced is proof of the ‘see it, play it’ mantra which is at the heart of our ethos to inspire participation across all age groups,” said Louise Gear, the FA’s head of women’s development.
“In the Lionesses we’re fortunate to have a wonderful group of role models performing at the highest level of the game, who inspire females of all ages to have the confidence to get out and give football a try, be it for fitness, competition or fun.”
A television audience of more than 11 million tuned in to watch Phil Neville’s England’s agonising semi-final defeat by the United States in July.
The task for the FA is to maintain that interest over the next 18 months until England host the Women’s European Championship in 2021.
– Euro 2021 impact –
“Euro 2021 will be the next big game changer,” FA executive Marzena Bogdanowicz told the recent SportsPro FAN Conference in London.
“Euro 2021 will take this country in the same way as the 2012 Olympics did and I think it will have the same impact on women’s sport.”
In an effort to promote the game further, the FA announced the first Women’s Football Weekend in November, with a men’s international break creating a pause in the Premier League and Championship calendars.
The FA is calling on supporters to attend a women’s match at any level in the pyramid on November 16 and 17.
But pressure is also building for the FA to follow the examples of Australia, New Zealand and Norway and adopt equal pay and conditions deals for England’s men’s and women’s teams.
“Australia have taken their first step and hopefully many more teams will join in with that,” Chelsea and England midfielder Beth England told the BBC.
“If that was to happen with England as well it would be amazing because we still train, we still do all the hard work the same as the men do.”
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