This Saturday brings the ninth FA Women’s Continental League Cup final with London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea set to go into battle at The City Ground in Nottingham.
The last three finals have been keenly contested with just one goal scored in normal time and the other two ties being decided by either extra-time or the drama of a penalty shootout.
Despite recent finals having been nail-biting affairs, the showpiece is yet to become a real hit with the fans. Ahead of the latest final, we take a look back at the attendances of the previous eight finals which sadly, makes for pretty grim reading as the competition continues to struggle to win any kind of popularity vote.
The 2011 final saw Arsenal and Birmingham City go into battle at The Pirelli Stadium in Burton upon Trent. The Gunners won 4-1 in-front of a crowd of 2,167. The two clubs met again in the 2012 edition at Underhill Stadium in Barnet. A small increase was recorded in the attendance with 2,535 fans attending the match at a ground which had enjoyed an affinity with Arsenal Football Club for a number of years.
In 2013, the final again saw Arsenal make an appearance, taking on a Lincoln Ladies side at another venue close to home in the form of The Hive in Edgware. The occasion attracted another increased crowd of 3,421.
The Gunners again appeared in the 2014 showpiece as Adams Park in High Wycombe hosted it’s first of two finals. The attendance was 3,697-strong, however, only the 2011 final had produced a lower percentage stadium fill with Adams Park being used to just 36.47% of the total capacity.
The highest final attendance to date came back in 2015 when Arsenal faced Notts County at Rotherham’s New York Stadium. The Gunners were 3-0 winners in-front of 5,028. That victory was the North Londoners’ fourth in five FA Women’s Continental League Cup finals.
Manchester City and Birmingham City contested the first ‘non-Arsenal’ final in 2016. The match was held at City’s traditional home of The Academy Stadium, allowing the fixture to attract another relatively high crowd of 4,214. Nick Cushing’s side won the match 1-0 after extra-time.
Since that fixture, there has been a further decline in attendances for the final. There was no 2017 competition due to a restructure of the women’s calendar but the 2018 final between Arsenal and Manchester City produced a crowd of just 2,136 as a midweek fixture was played out in-front of a stadium which was less than 22% full.
Last season saw a new tactic implemented as a bigger venue was selected in the form of Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane. The final was also made a lunchtime kick-off on a Saturday afternoon. Again, the competition failed to inspire many with just 2,424 fans passing through the gates on an occasion which was played out in-front of 30,278 empty seats.
This season’s final will take place at another big ground, in another historic footballing city. It feels as though the FA Women’s Continental League Cup has yet to have it’s day, although it’s days may be numbered as the competition continues to struggle to attract crowds and throws up several mismatches in the group stages. It would be sad to see the competition become extinct in the not so distant future but serious consideration must be taken to determine how to inject a new lease of life into a tournament which is well-hidden in the shadow of the ever-growing Women’s FA Cup.