Women's football continues to grow in popularity and, following the Lionesses' success at Euro 2022, England has been gripped by the talent on show at the Women's World Cup. But what does this mean for the future of football?
The soar in interest from media outlets had led to the splashing of the Lionesses squad across the front and back pages of national press and every game of the 2023 tournament was shown on terrestrial television.
Does this renewed engagement with women's football mean there are more opportunities for women across the game? In other words, is the future of football female?
Not so long ago, women in football were a novelty. Women’s teams such as Doncaster Belles inspired 1990’s TV show Playing the Field and opportunities—or the lack of them—for females were highlighted in the award-winning 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham.
This was an era where fictional women playing the beautiful game were attracting viewers but even the most ardent football fans would struggle to name England’s international women’s players.
The surge in interest in the women’s game since the Euros has brought Lionesses such as Lauren James and Leah Williamson advertising and sponsorship deals, making them some of sports most recognisable stars. Young girls with dreams of making it in the game now have visible role models to look up to both on the pitch and off it.
"Young girls with dreams of making it in the game now have visible role models to look up to both on the pitch and off it"
Greater exposure for women’s football has also given female managers a platform. Lionesses’ manager Sarina Wiegman has become a household name, as has Emma Hayes whose tactical nous and knowledge of the game has led to her becoming a well-respected pundit alongside her managerial role at WSL team Chelsea Women.
Hannah Dingley is another trailblazer in the game, and League Two’s Forest Green Rovers naming her as caretaker manager is arguably this summer’s landmark moment.
No other woman has ever been in charge of a professional men’s team in the English game and, although her tenure was short-lived, her appointment will be an inspiration to female coaches around the globe who previously couldn’t envisage a role at that level of the men’s game.
In an interview with sports website The Athletic, Dingley said she believes there are lots of opportunities for female coaches and managers in the men’s game, especially within the academy structure and that it frustrates her when females think working with women’s teams is their only option.
Gareth Taylor, manager of Manchester City Women, agrees. “If you are the best person for the job, regardless of your gender, you should get it.”
Encouraging women to gain the qualifications enabling them to coach is the first step and vital if there is to be gender parity in coaching and management roles throughout the football pyramid. Not only that, with the women’s game growing exponentially, there is a desperate need for more coaches to meet the demand at grassroots level.
"With the women’s game growing exponentially, there is a desperate need for more coaches to meet the demand at grassroots level"
UEFA have taken a proactive approach, financially supporting promising female coaches who want to gain their coaching badges through a scholarship scheme which pays up to 90 per cent of the course fee. Since 2016, this has benefited more than 1,250 women.
UEFA also run a mentoring scheme for female coaches holding a UEFA A or Pro license.
When it comes to running a football club, the imbalance in gender equality is apparent. In 1993 Karren Brady made history when she became Managing Director of Birmingham City—the only woman in a position of authority at a high-profile British club at that time.
Boardrooms are still male-dominated spaces, with 2022 research from the Fair Game group showing only 11.1 per cent of board members at Premier League clubs are women, dropping to just over four per cent in the Championship.
One area that has made clear strides towards gender equality is football broadcasting, with former England players Alex Scott, Karen Carney and Sue Smith being given more airtime since the Lionesses Euro 2022 victory. A new wave of female football reporters including Courtney Sweetman-Kirk are breaking through and giving a fresh take on the sport.
"A new wave of female football reporters are breaking through and giving a fresh take on the sport "
But is the future of women’s football as bright as it looks? Those on the inside seem to think so. “The growth of the [women’s] game in recent times has been absolutely incredible, even during my three years so far working in women’s football,” says Taylor.
“Success for the national team on the world stage will only help it to continue on that trajectory in every area, both on and off the pitch.”
Banner credit: The England women's football team from October 2022. by James Boyes
Read more: How women's football is reclaiming the pitch
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