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Women’s football set to be the “next big thing”

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The English Football Association sets out its five year development plan.

The English FA has set out its commitment to the development of women’s football by publishing its five year plan – “Game Changer”.

I have been an enthusiastic advocate for women’s football for some time, but I have to confess that it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I went to see my first live match: Birmingham City Ladies versus Arsenal Ladies.

The game took place at Birmingham’s home ground; no, not St Andrews, but Stratford Town FC, and broadcaster ESPN was filming its highlights show from there.

And Jacqui Oatley, one of the first journalists to make the breakthrough into commentating on football on Five Live, was present to anchor the programme.

Tickets were £6.50. For that we got to see the likes of Steph Houghton, Kelly Smith, Karen Carney and Eniola Aluko.

A grand total of just over 700 saw a great game between the top two in the Women’s Premier League.

Arsenal had already won the championship, but Birmingham needed one point to secure a Champions’ League spot.

Great atmosphere, great skill and great commitment, but no diving, no rolling round on the floor as if shot and no ugly attitudes.

The game finished 1-1, by the way.

So here we are again.

The FA has just announced a new plan for the future of English women’s football.

Without trying to be sceptical, somehow I feel we’ve been here before. And yet, I still think we have to be positive – this time the will just might be there and it might just work.

The FA’s aim is to make women’s football the second most played sport in the country. Currently 253,600 women play football every week.

“We have to keep pace with the top female footballing nations both on and off the pitch,” said FA general secretary Alex Horne.

The FA is set to pump an extra £3.5 million into women’s football over the next five years. There is certainly some work to do.

In an interview with the BBC, England coach Hope Powell admits, “We have to remember that while we are doing things, the likes of Germany and France are doing things too, and at the moment they are ahead of us, it’s no lie. Germany have a complete structure in place that is sound and concrete but that has taken them 20 years. This gives us some direction but we are catching up.”

The FA’s proposals include:

  • The creation of an Elite Performance Unit
  • A new commercial strategy for women’s football to include more broadcast coverage
  • Expansion of the FA Women’s Super League to two divisions by 2014 with the introduction of promotion and relegation
  • Growth of participation and fanbase

There’s no doubt it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the investment in men’s football. The Premier League receives £3bn from television revenue alone, but it is a start, and for the first time I really get the feeling that the powers that be are serious.

The campaign was certainly given a boost the day after the launch when it was announced that Hope Powell has been shortlisted for FIFA’s Women’s Coach of the Year award.

Check out the “Game Changer” document.

It’s an interesting read, but don’t be fooled into thinking that changing the prevailing attitude will be easy.

Selling women’s football to the masses will be a massive task.

After reading the BBC’s article on the launch, I scanned some of the comments sent in by the great British public in response. While some were constructive and positive, the majority were at best sexist and at worst downright offensive, and these were the ones that had been moderated.

One of the main comments was that it will never be like the men’s game. This is undeniably true. But do we want it to be?

The women’s game is something different. It should be marketed as a totally different experience.

I know a lot of the women who visit this website think they loathe football. But can I put a plea in to you to reconsider? You may hate the men’s game, but try backing the women’s. It’s a quality product that deserves more support.

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