how England became a stronghold of women’s football

Whatever the outcome of the first semi-final between England and Sweden, next Tuesday, July 26 (9pm) in Sheffield (UK), the European Women’s Football Championship to be hosted on English grass pitches this year is sure to be a win for the host nation . From the first matches spent crushing Norway (8-0) or Northern Ireland (5-0), to a possible final in the mythical enclosure of Wembley (90,000 seats), Sunday 31 July, the “Lionesses ” always sold out at this European Championship.

A sign that in the country where modern football was born, supporters are only asking to live to the rhythm of the round ball, whether it be led on the pitch by a man or a woman. Never devoid of emotion by the former, both in the club and in the selection, where the players reached the final of the last European Championship for men a year ago, the fans have long been bitten when it comes to women’s football.

The blame, in part, of the Football Association (FA), the English football federation, forbidding women to practice this sport considered dangerous to their health, from the 1920s to the 1970s. And despite a first Women’s Euro organized with a low resonance on English soil in the summer of 2005, the discipline is being abandoned by the institutions, which mainly regard it as an adjustment variable when closing budgets. Already warned by the good results of its selection at the 2015 World Cup, finishing in third place, the federation changes feet as the Euro 2021 award ceremony looms (eventually postponed to 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic), which it will pocket will have.

Major Reform of the National Championship

Five years ago, a major reform was launched, “which is mainly about the development of Women’s Super League (WSL), the English national championship, notes sports economist Luc Arrondel, a specialist in women’s football. A championship had been around since the 1990s and was a little more structured in a semi-professional way from 2011, but it was contested over the summer period, so with very little visibility. » The 2017 growth plan sets in motion the process of professionalization: independent governing body of women’s football is established at the FA and the twelve clubs that receive a professional license must pay their players for at least sixteen hours a week and acquire a women’s section for their training center .

The vast majority of clubs rely on the facilities of their men’s division, which usually play in the Premier League, the English first division, although the women have their own stadium. “We have two assistants, a mental coach (…), two physiotherapists, a masseur, a doctor. The bars are a little wider? (only in France) and then we are in a huge center in terms of infrastructure. We have three gyms, an indoor synthetic turf field. It’s England, what! », recently excited French international Kenza Dali, today at Everton after moving to London’s West Ham, quoted by Agence France-Presse.

The reform also affected the format of the championship, where the number of clubs relegated to the lower tier at the end of the season was reduced. “The WSL is more closed, which has brought more stability to the clubs and strengthened their competitive position,” Luc Arrondel notes, in particular, he specifies that: ‘The players of the English national team will receive a substantial income to be able to continue participating in the English championship’ and that foreign players have found it more difficult to settle in the UK since Brexit, fostering the emergence of young English talent.

Growing attendance, flooding sponsors

As the level of the game has logically risen, crowds have followed in the stadiums, which were on average filled with a few thousand supporters before the start of the health crisis. A push that led to the influx of sponsors and the arrival for three years of broadcasters such as Sky Sports and the BBC, for the record amount of 8.1 million euros since the start of the 2021 school year, three times higher than television stations’ rights. of the French First Division. “Contrary to what is usually done, this media coverage and money inflow is the result of a near-political reform of English football.” emphasizes Luc Arrondel.

With the European Championship, English football wants to strengthen its self-reliance in the coming seasons. Our goal is twofold: to organize a record tournament and leave a tangible legacy to develop women’s football.”ahead of the event Sue Campbell, director of women’s football at the English Federation, in comments sent by the British daily newspaper the guard. In particular, the euro, like any major competition, could promote an additional leap in vocations and would allow for the retention of audiences across the Channel for good. The prerequisite for the progress of English women’s football will be reflected at club level on the European stage next season, still struggling on their side against their French, Spanish or German neighbours.

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