It was only yesterday that I heard comments that “women shouldn’t play football” and that “it should be banned”.
Seven months on from the launch of the all-new ‘full-time’ FA Women’s Super League and in a campaign which has seen the competition attract a ground-breaking record sponsorship deal for next season, not to mention record attendances, the same half-baked opinions remain in some quarters.
I believe that the only way that perceptions can be changed and women be treated equally is what we can do out there on the pitch. As a small boy, I remember watching cup finals on television which were all too one sided, from memory, it always seemed like it was Arsenal who turned up, were challenged for a period then the opposition would fall flat and lose heavily.
Two decades on and there are so many football fans out there who still have those opinions and may have based judgement on what they have witnessed in a part-time, almost semi-professional environment years ago. If you go to a restaurant and have a bad experience or the food is just mediocre, you don’t rush back but new owners or a new menu could change opinions over time.
The women’s game in this country is very similar. The new menu for the FA Women’s Super League is full-time football, clubs willing to invest time and money into signing and developing some of the world’s best footballers, dedication to improve matchday experiences and in some cases, a shift towards hosting games in big arenas. The old ‘women can’t play football’ argument is beginning to look like a cup of tea with no tea bag!
This afternoon sees a new chapter in the history of the SSE Women’s FA Cup, a competition which has seen few upsets in the final in recent years. Manchester City, who have not tasted defeat domestically all season, take on a West Ham United side who have generally impressed in their first campaign as a ‘full-time’ top flight outfit.
As the red hot favourites to win the match, plenty of focus will be put upon Manchester City ahead of this showpiece, however, West Ham United also have a huge part to play, not only in competing to win the trophy but also to help the continuous fight to change perception and eliminate sexist views.
In truth, the last few seasons have only really seen one team turn up at Wembley. With the SSE Women’s FA Cup final being one of the most watched women’s sporting events on television, the lack of competition probably hasn’t really sold the sport to its biggest critics.
This season’s increase in media attention to the women’s game means that the spotlight is on Wembley this afternoon more than ever before and a closely contested final could go a long way to attracting new fans and investment to the sport.
In the league, West Ham United have lost both games against Manchester City, 7-1 at The Academy Stadium and 3-1 at Rush Green and Matt Beard’s side will be keen to set the record straight at the national stadium. Should The Hammers pull off a shock, I personally think that it might just act as a wake-up call to some of the dinosaurs who still pull our game down. It would highlight the increase in competition and that cup shocks do actually happen.
Whilst many will hope for a Manchester City victory, a surprise win for The Hammers may be the greatest moral victory for both the women’s game and society as the fight against sexism goes on. On their day with key players being fit to play, West Ham United are more than capable of causing that major upset and I really hope that we witness a stunning contest this afternoon which is nerve biting for everyone watching on at Wembley and around the world on television regardless of which side ends up victorious.