There was a record crowd at Wembley stadium last week, as 35,000 people turned up to watch the women’s FA Cup final, which was won by Manchester City.
The FA gave out free tickets to children and the game was also live on BBC as people tuned in to watch City convincingly beat Birmingham 4-1.
Thirty-five thousand might not sound like much, but this was a big step forward: it is only the third time the women’s cup final had been held at Wembley. Not long ago the same fixture was being played at Doncaster in front of less than 5,000, and the FA regards this season’s tournament as a great success.
In the media, female players or ex-professionals are being given more coverage. Lucy Bronze, current Manchester City and England defender, recently featured as part of BBC Radio 5 Live’s Monday Night Club, whilst Steph Houghton, another Manchester City and England player, appeared as part of Sky Sport’s coverage of Manchester City against West Brom on Tuesday evening in the men’s Premier League.
Through all of that, there is one key theme: Manchester City. The Etihad club are the leading light in the women’s game, and whilst it is important to recognise the good work of other clubs too (Liverpool, Everton, Arsenal and Chelsea among others), it is clear that they are the gold-standard that other sides are playing catch-up to.
This season ended with the Citizens’ women’s side winning the treble. As well as the aforementioned FA Cup victory, they also won the Women’s Super League title and the Continental Tyres (League) Cup earlier in the campaign.
They have World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd and PFA Player of the Year Lucy Bronze, one of seven England internationals in the squad, and are the only professional women’s team to have their own stadium.
They play at the seriously impressive Etihad Campus, with their own stadium next to the Etihad Stadium, home of Pep Guardiola’s first team. It has a capacity of 7,000; again, if at first that seems small, everything is relative.
The Etihad Campus is a world-class facility, shared by everyone associated with Manchester City: men, women and academy. That the women share the same standard of facility as the men in 2017 should not be a surprise, yet very few other teams, if any, offer the same privilege.
Manchester City’s investment in the women’s squad has been handsomely rewarded with this season’s success. They also have the highest average attendances for league matches for the women’s game in England, and are inspiring the next generation of female footballers.
They narrowly lost out in the Champions League semi-final to Lyon, who are widely regarded as the best women’s team in the world at present and the current holders of the title; they will play Paris Saint Germain in the final in Cardiff on June 1st. Adult tickets for the game are £6 – again, everything is relative.
Despite all the positivity coming out of Manchester City, there are still a number of issues elsewhere in the game.
Just last month, top-flight team Notts County went out of business, and yet no one batted an eyelid. Most football fans would probably admit they did not even realise such an event had taken place, which seems odd considering the size and the impact it had on so many people.
Completely out of the blue, and with no prior warning, just two days before the start of the new Spring Series, a top-flight football team containing several England internationals like Laura Bassett, who has been a senior professional since 1997, was wiped out; removed from existence.
With the chairman facing a near £1million bill to keep the club afloat – a very small sum of money compared to what goes on in the men’s game – where it was recently alleged Paul Pogba’s agent alone made £41million for his transfer to Manchester United – he felt there was no other option but to leave the players facing an uncertain future.
The players had trained at the University of Nottingham’s facilities whilst the club was still alive, and continue to do so for now, but have no club to play for. It is unclear how long that arrangement will continue, or how many will find another club straight away.
Just imagine if one of the Premier League teams had done the equivalent: West Ham, say, simply removed from existence, as if it had never existed in the first place. Instead, there was barely a ripple in the national media.
For all the positive moves made by Manchester City, this example shows that there is still a long way to go for the women’s game, and it does not end there. On the red half of Manchester, a women’s team doesn’t even exist.
Manchester United, one of the most famous clubs in the world, who recently announced that they anticipate record revenue of more than £550million for this season alone, refuse to form a women’s team because it would not be able to generate income straight away, and would be little use to them financially.
They are an exception in terms of not having a team at all, but many other clubs who have teams make the women far from a priority. This is in stark contrast to Manchester City, who are one of the few to be able to hold their heads up high over the matter.
For all the good things that many football clubs do, some are letting the game down. Football is not all about money, but inspiring people to get out and play themselves.
Perhaps the biggest surprise here is that there is no pressure from outside for Manchester United to form a women’s team. Just like with the situation with Notts County, the media and the general public are oblivious.
It’s about time the women’s game got even more recognition, and Manchester United have the capacity to be a big part of that.