Comment: What Next For The Women’s Game After Wembley Success?
UCFB’s Alicia Pryzsienak asks what’s next for the women’s game after the Lionesses broke the attendance record for an England women’s international match at Wembley stadium at the weekend.
This weekend witnessed the England women’s team break the record for the highest ever attendance at a Lionesses home game.
A staggering 86,500 tickets were sold and 77,768 fans turned up at Wembley Stadium to support the ladies as they took on a very strong German side. Even though they suffered a 2-1 defeat, the support in the stadium was the real winner on the day. The question now is how are these fans going to be turned into regulars and then keep coming back for more?
As England manager Phil Neville points out: “The biggest thing from this sort of circus is that these people come back.”
It’s all very well national teams gaining growing support, but it’s the league clubs who need more fans. Attendances are low, staggeringly so. Women’s Super League (WSL) teams play their home games on average 13 miles away from their club’s main stadium, meaning the travel commitment from fans to attend every game is unfair.
Arsenal play at Borehamwood, 12.2 miles from the Emirates Stadium; Brighton play in Crawley, 21.1 miles from the Amex; Chelsea play at Kingsmeadow, 7.3 miles from Stamford Bridge; the list goes on.
However, the worst offender has to be newly promoted Manchester United playing at Leigh Sports Village, 15 miles away from Old Trafford – with no train station. How do we resolve this? Quite simply, league teams should play in their respective main stadiums.
Helping attendances improve is not an easy task, but moving games closer to home and ensuring convenience for fans has to be the first step to success. The next will be allowing further use of the main stadium.
The Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium at the start of the season is the best example of this in England – the first ever clash between the two was played out in front of over 31,000 fans. Fans were charged for tickets here, whereas WSL counterparts Chelsea literally gave away 20,000 tickets to fans. Both strategies worked, but as Chelsea did not charge it can be said that they chose not to assign value to a growing, competitive, elite sport played by international-level athletes.
At Villa Park last season, the majority of fans asked about the situation stated that they would be there week in, week out if games were played there more often, stating that it would create a sense of strong relationship with their affiliated club. The infrastructure and match day experience is overall greater as the atmosphere of playing in the club’s main stadium can’t be compared.
Giving away free tickets? Perhaps not the best idea, but it’s an effective way of promoting the game and growing the fan base. Playing in main stadiums with access to greater facilities for both fans and players? The best idea yet. This will enable clubs to pitch to fans and pull in a crowd that will allow women’s football to gain the recognition it deserves.
Image: PA Images