England is known for the home of football, however, women’s football still receives very little public recognition. Unlike countries such as Norway, Germany, and the USA, which are considered to be some of the leading women’s football nations, Women’s football in England receives much lower status, popularity and recognition. This essay will look into the history of women’s football, how women’s football is exposed to the media, the relationship between women’s football, government and economics and finally the impact that women’s football has on society today.
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Update 18th August 2023: England have qualified for the final of the Women's World Cup against Spain. No matter the outcome, Women's football in the UK is at an all-time high, and finally the sport will receive the attention it deserves. With England as 21:11 favourites to take home the trophy, this will be a match to remember for decades to come.
The first English women’s football team, The British Ladies, was founded in 1884. However, the real foundation stone for women’s football was laid during World War 1. By the end of the 19th century, there was a multitude of new jobs for working class women who were called up to work in factories and who played in organised teams to raise money for the war effort. Dick Kerr’s ladies went on to be one of the most successful ladies football teams in the 19th century. Pfister et al (1999) explained that “The development of Dick Kerr’s ladies exemplifies that the standard of women’s football had risen considerably since its early years and players now trained regularly and systematically not only in order to improve their condition but also to refine their ball skills and practice tactical moves”.
In 1920, Dick Kerr’s ladies were appointed to become England’s national football team, the popularity of women’s football continuously progressed and by 1921 there were 150 women’s football teams in England. As a result of the growing popularity of women’s football, it was seen as a threat towards the domination of football by men. This led to FA campaigning against women’s football. The FA lead false accusations towards the women’s game, accusing them of misuse of charity money and poor financial management as well as having opinions on medical and moral factors that should prevent women from playing football. The following resolution was adopted;
“Complaints having been made as to Football being played by women, Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged” (Williamson, 1991).
In December 1921 women’s football in England was finally banned. They were banned from playing on FA league grounds and any officials, trainers and clubs were suspended for being involved in women’s football. Between 1921 and 1972 the women’s game was forced underground and the women continued to play without a league structure.
As a result of the England men’s team winning the world cup in 1966 the renaissance of women’s football started to begin and on the 1st November 1969, the Women’s Football Association of England was founded as the successor of the English Ladies football association. In 1985, the women’s England team triumphed in the Italian “Little World Cup” and then won for a second time in 1988. However in 1991, due to the rapid growth of participation, the increased administrative requirements, and the strong tradition of volunteerism, the downfall of the WFA began. In November 1993, the FA merged the WFA. As a result women’s football began to improve under the FA. For example, Umbro and Adidas began to supply women’s teams with equipment, players started to receive a daily allowance of £15, and the leagues became more structured.
In 1993 when the FA took over there were approximately eleven thousand registered female footballers. Today, there are over 100,000 registered female footballers. Yet despite this rise, it still lags behind countries such as the United States where there are 7.8 million players. For a country which claims the beautiful game as its heritage, why is it that the US women are more revered to women’s football than our own? (Dhaliwal, 2005)
One of the main issues with women’s football is the lack of media exposure. One of the most influential elements of the mass media is Television, however it has generally denied power to women through its exclusionary approach, in particular it has neglected women by its failure to televise women’s team sports.
In the women’s football season 20011-2012, only 5 league games were shown on ESPN and the FA Cup final which was shown on Sky Sports. Controversially the FA cup final which took place on 26th May 2012 between Birmingham City Ladies and Chelsea ladies was cut short as Sky Sports chose to switch from live transmission of that match to the build-up for the League One play-off final. A scheduling blunder by Sky meant that when Birmingham City Ladies scored a late equaliser in extra time to take the match to penalties meant that it would clash with the build up to the Men’s League one playoff final. The men’s league one play off build up was deemed to be more important that the women’s FA cup, which in men’s football is one of the biggest competitions in English football. The Liverpool Ladies captain, Vicky Jones (2012) expressed her views questioning “Would this have happened for the Men’s FA Cup Final!”
Another issue with the media in women’s football is the lack of female presenters. Woodhouse et al (2005) maintain that “sky’s live coverage is too important to be given up to female presenters who may fracture the strongly masculinity and technocratic discourses set up by the ex-players and current stars who provide the background debates to live matches. Men here are simply assumed to be experts”. It was only in 2007 where Jacqui Oatley became the first ever female commentator for the BBC. However, again there was controversy when Dave Basset (2007) a former footballer and manager declared “i will be changing channels when Oakley’s voice comes on air because in order to commentate “you must have an understanding of the game and tactics, and in order to do that you need to have played the game”.
In 2011 a similar incident occurred when Richard Keys and Andy Gray had made sexist comments made about female referee Sian Massey. They had later been sacked from sky for these comments.
Sexism has always played a huge part in football in England ,this is because football has always been seen to be a “typical mans game”. On the other hand in many other countries such as Italy, Sweden and the USA women’s football is accepted and football is seen as a national sport that is not male dominated or controlled. Jackie Bass (2012) Regional Club Partnership Manager of football stated “Sexism in football is like its the final discrimination act that not only exists but is deemed acceptable to exist”.
Newspapers- female journalists, how much is published?
Currently, the women’s football premier league main sponsorship is Tesco, and the main sponsorship for the FA Cup is Eon. The national team receives their funding from primary sponsors such as Umbro which is shared across the senior, under 18 and under 16 teams.
As a result on the FA being responsible for the funding of all areas of English football, it is hard to find specific funding on women’s football. However, head of the national game Kelly Simmons (2012) stated;
“FA spends approximately six million a year on England, FAWSL pyramid, FA Women’s cup and talent development. Sport England receives the funding from the lottery good causes scheme. Approximately two million pounds a year is provided for the centres of excellence, however they have also invested 25 million over four years into grassroots which is for both boys and girls. The FA invests 50m a year into children’s and grassroots and its all boys and girls and therefore impossible to split out. The Government also gives Football Foundation 10m a year for grassroots facilities. Again this is very difficult to divide out as it mainly goes to big pitch sites and school sites where all men, women, boys and girls play.”
“Although the English FA’s financial support for the women’s game has increased over the years (from 150,000 in 1993, £310,000 in 1995, £530,000 in 1997, and estimated up to a Million will be funded in 1999), this amount is still one hundred and thirty times less than the FA sends on men’s football.” (Lopez, 1996)
Some women’s football teams also receive great support from men’s clubs financially, however some clubs are not as supportive offering little help other than with provision of team kit.
One of the most supportive clubs is Arsenal FC, they not only provided great financial support but also enabled the women’s team to have access to good facilities, the men’s training grounds and occasional use of the Emirates stadium. Faye White (2006) recognised the financial commitment from the men’s club as having been “very good over the years and always improving, which had been a factor in the team’s success”. On the other hand there are a number of men’s professional clubs such as Manchester United and Fulham FC, which have withdrawn funding from their respective women’s teams.
Minister of sport, Hugh Robertson (2006) believed “clubs which were in a position to pay high wages and which benefited from substantial funding from sponsorship and broadcasting rights deals had “a bit of social responsibility” to share some of those proceeds with women’s football clubs”
In October 2012 the FA launched a new initiative for the development of women’s football called “The Game Changer”.
This is due to the incredible year of women’s football that has driven t a lot of interest into the sport. The GB Women’s football team made their way to the quarter finals in the Olympics. in addition to this the England Women’s team qualified unbeaten for the 2013 UEFA European Championship Finals in Sweden, with the final two home games broadcast live on terrestrial television. Finally, the second season of The FA WSL was completed.
FA Chairman David Bernstein said; “Women’s football is the area with the most potential for growth in the nation’s favourite game.
The FA will make these key commitments such as Creating an Elite Performance Unit (EPU) and appoint a Head of Elite Development, the EPU will develop the best young players via the talent development pathway of 31 Centres of Excellence, 29 player development centres and elite performance camps. The game changer will also Deliver a new commercial strategy for women’s football For the first time in FA history there will be a distinct commercial programme for women’s football to help the game have a clear identity and become financially more sustainable. The commercial rights for England Women, The FA Women’s Cup and The FA WSL will be sold separately from rights for the men’s game to establish a clear identity in a crowded sports marketplace. Finally, more broadcast coverage will be secured and strong commercial partnerships forged to elevate the profile of the women’s game.
Another of “The game changers goals are to expand the FA WSL. To do this the FA will introduce an FA WSL2 in 2014 to enable promotion and relegation, expanding a competition format.
Finally “the game changer” will aim to Grow Participation. FA Chairman David Bernstein (2012) expressed that he wanted women’s football to become the second largest team sport (currently fourth behind men’s football, cricket and rugby).after men’s football by 2018 based on independent Sport England research, with 253,600 women playing football each month .
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