Sunday’s fixture between the English and German women’s football teams is being hailed as a crucial turning point in the development of women’s football and after even a cursory glance at the ticket sales, it’s not difficult to see why.
With 55,000 tickets sold, the game will be better attended than the last friendly the England men’s team played against Norway in September, a fact made all the more impressive by the revelation that this is the first time that the English women’s side have been permitted to play in their national stadium. Indeed, this figure could very well have risen even higher were it not for the limit the FA was forced to impose on ticket sales due to engineering works being conducted across transport networks surrounding Wembley Stadium. The FA has rightly acknowledged the significance of this almost unprecedented show of support for the sport, citing: “To have achieved ticket sales of 55,000 shows just how big an audience there is for women’s football and what a landmark occasion it will be for the women’s game”
Women’s football has been gathering momentum for a number of years, helped along by such events as the 2012 London Olympics where 78,000 spectators flocked to see Team GB’s female footballers triumph over Brazil. Additionally, 2011 saw the establishment of Britain’s first professional female football competition, the highly competitive FA Women’s Super League (WSL). Women’s football is currently the nation’s 4th most popular sport behind only men’s football, rugby and cricket, although at its current rate of growth, the sport is projected to rise to 2nd place by 2018.
It is unfortunate then that inequality continues to skirt the peripheries of women’s football. The FA continues to maintain a controversial ruling capping the annual salaries of WSL players at £20,000, a miniscule sum compared to the earnings of their male counterparts in the Premier League. It is also abundantly clear that Fifa’s upper echelons have yet to accredit women’s football with the recognition it deserves. In 2004, FIFA President Sepp Blatter remarked that the best way to promote the women’s game would be to ensure players began to wear “tighter shorts and low cut shirts … to create a more female aesthetic”.
With luck, the Wembley ticket sales will serve to accelerate the total legitimisation of the sport while simultaneously raising its profile. Granted, female footballers do not yet enjoy a level prestige or financial prosperity comparable to that associated with men’s football, however, the Wembley ticket sales have been seen by many as evidence of a ‘grassroots revolution’ that advocates of women’s football have long sought after.