The women’s game is on a roll, let’s not ruin it.
Heather Alderson reports from The Football Supporters Europe (FSE) Congress in Manchester. The event was held at Manchester Metropolitan Business School and was hosted by the FSA. Read the report from the first few days here:
On the opening evening of the congress FA Chair Debbie Hewitt said that the women’s game should be covered by the remit of the upcoming independent regulator. At present it will not be, as there is a review of the women’s game taking place led by former player and journalist, Karen Carney
The final day was devoted to the women’s game.
The meeting was led by Deborah Dilworth of the FSA Women’s game and coordinator of the Free Lionesses fan embassies for England internationals.
It was an opportunity to hear stories from fans from around Europe. By comparing stories, we were able to surface things that need addressing and identify opportunities to take.
It seems like a few decisions around the women’s game have been made without thinking about fans. For example, the fact that there is no obligation to sell designated away tickets for women’s fixtures. As a result fans sit together unsegregated. That might be conducive to a friendly atmosphere, and indeed, when I have been to Oakwell for Charlton Women’s games, I have had friendly chats with opposition supporters standing or sitting next to me. However, the feeling of the meeting was that fans should have a choice because fan rivalry is an important part of the atmosphere at football. The Finnish national team supporters’ group was particularly persuasive in this subject. Finland had around 1,200 supporters at every Finland game during the Women’s Euros Finals last summer. They arrived at the ground together and located themselves behind the goal at the stadium in Milton Keynes where their games were played. Throughout the match the stewards kept telling them to sit down and shut up because, if they were too noisy, they would distract the opposition keeper! I was tempted to make some assumptions about the MK stewards having never been to a proper football match in their entire lives and having no concept of the 12th person. However, just as I was about to say something inappropriate about the MK Dons, other fan groups shared similar stories. Overall, it was felt that supporters should be given a choice about where and with whom they sit.
The people attending women’s games are not exclusively women and young girls. In fact the crowds are approximately 50:50.
There was quite a debate about the record-breaking crowds being an aim for some clubs (eg Barcelona or various WSL clubs). As a narrative this is good for the women’s game as it shows that lots of people are going and having a good time at women’s football. However, just like our Fill the Valley initiatives, fans felt that more should be done to convert these records into regular attendance and season tickets.
The conference felt that the women’s game will be strengthened most by getting fans in the ground rather than just focusing on the TV spectacle. All that means making sure there are away allocations and affordability remains central. I recalled coming back from the women’s FA Cup Final in May and overhearing a group of male Chelsea and Man U fans discussing what they get from going to the women’s game. For the United fan (who was wearing a Rashford flag round his shoulders) it was a chance for even more Man United in his life. For the Chelsea fan (who was there with his father and daughter) it was value for money. “I’d rather pay a tenner to watch Sam Kerr bang six goals in than pay a fortune at the Bridge to watch rubbish. And she (pointing at his daughter) loves it”. For some groups, the women’s game is acting as a gateway into the game of football. Football will benefit as a whole.
It’s now more than fifty years since the ban on women playing football was lifted. As Deborah Dilworth said, ‘it’s about time women stopped being grateful’
The Football Supporters Association AGM was also held during the weekend. Here is a round up: