On Saturday, Notts County LFC take on Chelsea LFC in what will be the first ever Women’s FA Cup Final hosted at Wembley Stadium. The location for the match between the two sides, who are also battling near the top of the Women’s Super League table, represents another groundbreaking if overdue development in the women’s game. The fact that English women’s football’s biggest match will be played at Wembley and aired on BBC One is another positive chapter in what has been a momentous and unforgettable year for women’s football across the globe.
Though the success of the England women’s national team at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada has undoubtedly won over a lot of sceptical and reluctant fans, such was the increasing popularity of women’s football in England this year that the decision to host the FA Cup Final at Wembley was taken back in March, two months before the start of the Women’s World Cup. The decision was in part swayed by the success of the England women’s match against Germany last November at Wembley, which attracted a record crowd of 45,000. And it seems that the FA’s decision to reward this increase in popularity with a such a large stadium as Wembley will be immediately vindicated.
A crowd of over 30,000 is expected for Saturday’s Final. If this weekend’s match was to be played at last years stadium, Stadium mk, only half of the 30,000 people who have bought tickets would be able to attend. This goes to show that the increased capacity is totally merited and necessary on two counts. Not only does it make sense economically, but also symbolically – to grant women’s football the same stage as men’s football is to send the message that women’s football deserves the same praise, popularity and support as the men’s game.
As groundbreaking as Saturday’s final will be, this year has been particularly encouraging for women’s football outside of England too. This summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup was a resounding, record-breaking success. Disregarding England’s third place heroics, the tournament was historic for several reasons. Not only did 24 teams compete in the Women’s World Cup for the first time ever, but there were records set for total attendance (1,353,506), total goals scored (146), and tv audiences (25.4 million in the US).
The expansion of women’s football this year has not been restricted to the pitch either. It has now permeated the virtual world, where for the first time ever women’s football will feature in the hugely popular FIFA franchise. On top of just feature in the game, the stars of women’s football such as Alex Morgan and Stephanie Catley also appear on the cover of their respective country’s version of the game.
Though it’s easy to disregard this development because it doesn’t directly affect what happens on the pitch, the online world often fosters discrimination and outspoken bigotry (largely due to the anonymity of users). The more barriers of prejudice and inequality that can be broken, the better, and giving women’s football the same coverage, limelight and support as men’s football is the best way of doing this.
Thanks to the popularity of the Women’s World Cup, along with the Women’s FA Cup Final and UEFA Women’s Champions League that get underway shortly, the popularity of women’s football in 2015 is set to skyrocket. And there’s no better launchpad in world football than Wembley.