Guest Blog by Sheridan Robins – Women in Football
To celebrate Girls Football Week we asked Sheridan Robins, sports journalist and writer for The Football League Paper, to write a special guest blog for us on how women’s involvement in football is evolving particularly on the coaching and business side of the sport.
With Girls Football Week now in full swing – the weekend’s football could not have set it up any better. The champions of the Women’s Super League were crowned and, significantly, the only female coach at the top level of the women’s game was victorious. Chelsea ladies sealed the title on the final day with a convincing 4-0 win over Sunderland.
With the women’s game gaining some much needed exposure, following the incredible World Cup, interest in girls taking up the game has never been stronger. Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Laura Bassett and Fran Kirby are the role-models that girls are looking up to. But there are a million and one other ways to get involved in football that are seemingly not being taken advantage of.
Emma Hayes has secured the league title and the FA Cup but why is she the only woman at the top? The game is ever evolving at all levels and only recently have we seen the women’s game been given a fraction of the coverage of the men’s game. This shows that with success breeds change.
The heroic third place finish of our lionesses no doubt had a significant impact on the media exposure of the sport – so with two promotions for two female coaches this season, maybe this is the time for change in that area.
In WSL2, Reading Women have been promoted to the top flight under the leadership of Kelly Chambers. She will take to the dugout alongside Hayes next season – doubling the number of female managers in the top flight.
Girls need to know that they can play the sport but they must also know that they can be immersed in the game in a range of other ways. Unfortunately, we cannot all be the next Fran Kirby but we can all make a difference. Whether you are writing about the sport (which I can say in this exciting time is getting more and more rewarding), coaching up and coming players, or working behind the scenes to get clubs to where they want to be it, all the new roles are at the most exciting time the sport has ever seen. Both the already successful women’s clubs and the established clubs need the support, stability and volunteers to help move forward.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is the backing of the men’s clubs. Say what you want about John Terry but the Chelsea ladies President was on hand to witness the side lift the trophy. As captain of the men’s side that goes above and beyond his call of duty and indicates his passion for the side. The Chelsea and former England centre back even invested his own cash to keep the ladies side going. Surprised? I was too but influential people like that can be the difference between success and failure.
Yet arguably the biggest club in the world- Manchester United- do not even have a women’s team – let alone a youth side which allows girls to develop their skills. In this day and age this is frowned upon and quite rightly so. That in itself is progress but when and if the club develops a women’s team, the road to success will not be easy but expect it to be sooner rather than later. Chelsea ladies have just picked up their first league title 23 years after their first match and now have the strength in depth both on and off the pitch to continue to succeed.
From an outsider’s eye the top two of Chelsea and Manchester City – who will both qualify for the Champions League – seems to mirror the success of the men’s teams. But this could not be further from the truth – it is all about the support from the men’s team and the running of the club from a business point of view.
Notts County and Yeovil Town are just two of the lower league clubs that boast women’s teams in the Super League thanks to investment, off the pitch facilities as well as the women performing strongly on the pitch. But we could also now have the same problem we have in the men’s game with other “big name” sides still struggling to break in to the top level. It is unlikely you will see national back page stories about Notts County or Yeovil, unless they play one of the “big” teams in the FA Cup.
So what about the Women’s Premier League, which is a very high standard of women’s football, but gets next to no coverage in comparison to , now established, Super League. Brighton and Hove Albion sit top of the south division and Sporting Club Albion (associated with West Bromwich Albion), head up the north division. If they are to see out the rest of their season and secure their league title, they will still have to take part in a play-off to decide which club will be rewarded with a WSL2 side. However, once again there is a “but” – they also have to meet requirements off the field to take their place in the top two tiers, despite the high status of their male counterparts.
The challenges are huge and there are many of them but involvement in the women’s game is now respected and meaningful. Every club at the lower level has aspirations to receive the plaudits Chelsea, Doncaster Belles and Reading have, thanks to their success this season, and it cannot be underestimated how important that is. This extra motivation means that the opportunities are ever increasing for women and men in the women’s game.
The Women’s Football Show is now live after Match of The Day Two on a Sunday and who would have said that a few years ago?
Girls Football week should not just be about the opportunities on the pitch, though they are crucial, it should be about women feeling strong enough to coach, referee, report or make a difference in the business area of the beautiful game.