Women’s football is undergoing something of a renaissance, with increasing attendance at games and the significant press interest indicative of growing popularity for the formerly-marginalised sport.
One clear sign of the improving status of women’s is the calibre of those involved. A notable example of this change is the figure of Julian Dicks, the former West Ham defender affectionately known as ‘The Terminator’ for his strong tackling and steadfast physical presence, returning to the London club as manager of West Ham Ladies. Appointed as the result of a social media campaign by West Ham Ladies captain Stacey Little, Dicks has made use of his experience in the women’s game, having previously coached in America.
One of only two former Premier League players to manage in the women’s league, the other being Newcastle United Ladies manager Trevor Benjamin (formerly of Leicester City), the presence of Dicks is in of itself indicative of increasing integration between the men and the women’s games. Last year Liverpool Ladies, in the run up to the start of the FA WSL, trained with the Liverpool first team, and credited the experience among the reasons they defied expectation to win their first league title. Buoyed by the performances of top scorer Natasha Dowie and the arrival of England international Fara Williams, Liverpool Ladies demonstrated the benefits of further cooperation between the men’s and women’s sides.
Those benefits for the domestic league have reaped similar rewards on the international stage. England Ladies have qualified for the upcoming 2015 Women’s World Cup, winning all nine games and totalling an impressive goal difference of 41, scoring 42 goals and conceding just one. Picking up high scoring wins including a 6-0 in their opening game with Belarus, 8-0 at home to Turkey and 9-0 at home to Montenegro, England’s women’s side has demonstrably benefitted from the steps taken to improve the quality of the domestic league.
While the improvement of England’s league is clear to see, some of England’s players are finding success playing abroad. While Anita Asante currently plies her trade in Sweden with FC Rosengård it is the USA which has provided the best foreign opportunities. Currently five of the players present in England’s recent international squads play in the American women’s league, including young up-and-comers goalkeeper Lizzie Durack, who plays for Harvard, 22 year old Demi Stokes with the South Florida Bulls, and established veteran Lianne Sanderson, who currently turns out for the Boston Breakers. In addition to the first team players, recent squad additions Rachel Daly (LA Strikers) and Jodie Taylor (Washington Spirit) too play in America. The significance of this is that women’s football is becoming a viable career in its own right. In the recent past the pay for women’s football may had been a challenge to support oneself, leading to the sport being viewed as a second career or hobby rather than a legitimate and gainful occupation. Movement abroad clearly shows that this situation has improved recently, allowing players greater freedom to commit to the sport. The improved focus on football produced by this financial peace of mind is another factor contributing to the improving quality of the women’s game, and the resultant improvements in its popularity.
Another important component in the popularity of the women’s game is the sportsmanship. Though prepared to put in a hard tackle where necessary, the area where the women’s game truly exceeds that of the men’s is in its response to diving. On the topic of the prevalence of diving at the recent World Cup, Arsenal and England Ladies captain Casey Stoney described it as herself as thankful of its rarity in the women’s game, calling attention to the readiness of referees in ladies games to produce red cards for simulation, which Stoney believes “sets the right standard”.
The advancement of the women’s game seems destined to continue apace, with improving gameplay and increasing recognition providing the sport the attention it deserves.
What further steps might be taken to improve the profile of women’s football?