I was excited to get tickets for the England Women’s Euro 2022 opener at Old Trafford. I was even more excited to take my 7 year old son. He’s just finished his first season as an under 7’s goalkeeper. His favourite keeper is Mary Earps. I should be clear when I say this that she isn’t just his favourite female keeper. She’s his favourite keeper. Her powerful kicks, diving saves and a dose of entertaining Tiktoks have secured her place as Oliver’s favourite pair of safe hands.
So he too was excited to see her in action in an England shirt.
A 1-0 victory over Austria was job done and while far from the most exciting of the group games, the atmosphere was electric. A late save from Oliver’s idol got the biggest cheer of the night from him.
The momentum in the women’s game is phenomenal to see right now. The Lionesses have drawn crowds for every game in this home turf tournament. And even games that don’t feature England have sold impressive ticket levels.
Record Attendances at Women’s Football Games
The opening Euro 2022 game attendance was 68,871. That’s a record for a women’s Euro tournament.
The final, to be held at the 90,000 capacity Wembley ground, is a sell out.
But even 90,000 bums on seats for the final won’t surpass the record for any women’s game set this year. That was set at the Nou Camp in April 2022 when a whopping 91,648 fans watched Barcelona take on Wolfsburg.
This just beat a record that had been set in the same stadium just a couple of weeks earlier when Barcelona took on Real Madrid (91,553).
It really is incredible.
But let’s not forget there’s still a long way to go in the women’s game.
It’s hard to believe that the women’s game was actually banned by the FA 101 years ago. That ban would last half a century, not being lifted until the 70s.
Here’s how that came about.
The Women’s Game in 1920
The women’s game was thriving in 1920. At the centre of the momentum the game was enjoying was Dick, Kerr, a women’s factory team from Preston.
In 1920, Dick, Kerr embarked upon a tour which would see them play the same French team in several locations:
- Deepdale (Stockport)
- Stamford Bridge
- Le Havre
The tour has built up phenomenal momentum. Their next game back on home turf would be a charity match against St Helens Ladies at Goodison Park.
Let’s just repeat that. 53,000 turned up to watch a women’s game in 1920 with thousands more reportedly turned away at the gates.
This was a charity game, which also raised a record breaking sum of money at the time. The Lancashire Evening Post covered this:
Cause for celebration, you might think?
But apparently not.
The FA Ban on Women’s Games
Long before 53,000 fans turned up to watch the Dick, Kerr ladies, moves had been made to attempt to ban the women’s game from being played at FA affiliated grounds.
Many within the FA were watching the surge in popularity of the women’s game with a degree of mistrust.
Politicians and people within the FA were of course watching the success of Dick, Kerr ladies. The sums of money now being raised on the gates for these games were significant. And the organisations these sums were being raised for (working class organisations and many outside the jurisdiction of many of those concerned) also raised eye brows.
While it was impossible to ban women from playing football altogether, banning them from playing in FA affiliated grounds would limit opportunities significantly. So one year after 53,000 people watch Dick, Kerr ladies win 4-0 at Goodison Park, the FA’s Consultative Committee concluded:
“Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, Council felt impelled to express the strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged. Complaints have also been made as to the conditions under which some of the matches have been arranged and played, and the appropriation of receipts to other than charitable objects. The Council are further of the opinion that an excessive proportion of the receipts are absorbed in expenses and an inadequate percentage devoted to charitable objects.
“For these reasons the Council requests the Clubs belonging to the Association refuse the use of their grounds for such matches.”
The women’s game could no longer be played at FA affiliated grounds.
The ban would not be lifted until the 1970s.
“Quite Unsuitable for Females”
The FA’s ultimate ruling that football was “quite unsuitable for females” was a devastating blow to the women’s game. A half century ban on women’s games at FA affiliated grounds simply has to be a contributing factor to the gap between the men’s and women’s game.
One thing we can hope, as the Lionesses march into a Quarter Final against Spain tomorrow, is that the excitement that so many of us are feeling for the women’s game during Euro 2022 lasts long after the final whistle.
And just a heads up, a season ticket for your team’s women’s side still represents phenomenal value against the men’s tickets. I’ll certainly be taking my sons to Leigh Sports Village to watch the Manchester United women next season.
Particularly because I love the football. And, of course, partly because my 7 year old will not give up until Mary Earps signs his goalkeeper glove.