Women’s football still has a way to go despite new records and sellout crowds

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 20: General view inside the stadium prior to the UEFA Champions League group E match between FC Barcelona and Dinamo Kiev at Camp Nou on October 20, 2021 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

It’s appropriate to celebrate recent milestones in women’s football, but the road ahead is still long and winding.

FC Barcelona recently announced they had sold an incredible 70,000 tickets for their Champions League semi-final against arch rivals Real Madrid. Fans from across the globe will travel to watch El Clásico at Camp Nou in March. This journey was previously only made by those hoping to catch sight of Pique or Isco.

Tune into BBC One at midday on Saturday and you’ll find seven-time FA Cup winner Alex Scott presenting Football Focus. Meanwhile, Michelle Owen appears on our screens regularly whilst taking part in Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that women’s football is finally on the road to equality, that things are finally starting to change, but they haven’t. Not really. You only need to scratch under the surface to see that things aren’t quite as they seem.

I don’t mean to seem ungrateful. I’m overjoyed that we can watch the WSL on both free and PPV television. I jumped for joy that the Lionesses’ quest for European glory was mentioned during the New Year fireworks — but is that really the best we can do?

Let’s face facts. Football is no longer just a sport. It’s now a big business. The only way to improve a business is with good leadership — here’s to trailblazers like Hope Powell and Emma Hayes — and serious investment. Just ask fans of the Newcastle United men’s team.

Money talks

The financial gap between male and female teams is astronomical. In 2017, PSG shattered the men’s record transfer fee by forking out more than £198 million pounds to capture Neymar. With that much cash, they could have bought 99 Pernille Harders.

Last year, Leicester City beat Chelsea in the men’s FA Cup Final and won nearly £4.6 million in prize money. To put that into context, Manchester City women collected £39,000. That’s less than 1 percent of the total pot collected by their male counterparts.

Unfortunately, the progression of the women’s game is very much at the mercy of club owners, who often see female teams as a marketing opportunity or even worse, a ‘box ticking exercise’.

But it isn’t just about the money. It’s been five years since the women’s game went professional and we still have part-time referee’s, shared stadiums and kick-off times that clash directly with the men’s teams — with no roadmap as to how this will improve.

We’ve only just begun

The last 20 years have seen some incredible advancements in football for women.

We’ve seen the first Olympic competition in 1996 and the birth of new competitions like the Continental Tyres Cup. We’ve seen former players receive MBEs and OBEs.

The merging of social media channels and increasing coverage in new broadcast deals have taken the sport to new heights.

It has been an incredible journey and one that I’ve been proud to be a part of. But if these steps forward have taught us anything it’s that we’ve still got one hell of a way to go.

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