I am sure many football fans will have a view on who they would like to see as the victors in tomorrow’s FA Cup ‘clash of the titans’ at Stamford Bridge. In many cases it will be which of Chelsea or Manchester United do you dislike less in determining whom you hope will emerge victors. But that big Cup match isn’t the only one on this weekend.
Today sees some key ties in the fifth and sixth round of the FA Women’s Cup, but unlike their male counterparts, there is very little publicity for the fixtures nor much prize money involved if the girls get through these crucial matches. I’d be surprised if many folk even knew that Forest Ladies were taking on the Gunners today, let alone that Lincoln are playing Leeds or Sunderland playing Liverpool.
Women’s football remains amongst the fastest growing sports in England and the GB women’s football team were an inspiration in the London 2012 Olympics with 660,000 people turning up to watch women’s games around the country. And yet it has all fallen silent again. England’s recent win in the Cyprus Women’s Cup final raised barely a mention in the press and the start of the new FA Women’ Super League season went equally unremarked.
I don’t doubt the commitment of the FA in principle to promoting the women’s game, indeed the launch of ‘Game Changer’ the women’s football strategy last October and subsequent promotion of the fabulous Kelly Simmons MBE to be Director of Women’s Football and the National Game were great strides forward by the governing body. But fine words and even finer people only go so far.
It remains the case that, with the valiant exception of Arsenal, the parent clubs who give their name to the women’s sides invest little else and without that support – particularly in building a supporter base and the commercial income that follows it – the women’s teams remain minority side show. Similarly, and this may be a ‘chicken and egg’ challenge, without the strong endorsement of the parent clubs, the media take minimal interest in reporting on the women’s game.
I passionately believe that the more people who see women’s football at first hand, the more the game can grow and develop into a mature, commercially successful, highly competitive sport. For that to happen there needs to be a marketing campaign to re-engage those who bought tickets to Olympic women’s football to get them to support their local women’s side as well as our national team and that requires the parent clubs and the media to get on board.
Until then, the FA Women’s Cup will remain a minor side show, watched by the few hundred loyal supporters who brave the cold today, whereas tomorrow’s capacity crowd at Stamford Bridge and the millions watching on TV will consider that their competition is the only show in town.