The Women's Super League (WSL) took centre stage this weekend as it kicked off in style with world-class goals and record-breaking audiences, but what does the opening weekend mean for women's football in England?
Following a summer of World Cup football, players and managers urged fans of the women's game to get behind their domestic leagues and show support during the new season. There was a worry that the excitement generated by this summer's tournament would drop off and leave the new season without the same enthusiasm, however, this opening weekend has proved otherwise.
Over 65,000 people rolled out across the country to watch a Women's Super League game this weekend, with half of those attending the first-ever WSL Manchester Derby at Etihad Stadium. This weekend's crowds broke records and gave us a taste of what could be, but the pressure is now on to continue this new-found hype across the course of the season.
Looking to the future of women's football, this weekend's record-breaking figures confirm that the demand is there. The women's game has raked in fans and a whole lot of them. The Manchester Derby has taught us that fans are also willing to pay. Critics have often argued that the women's game cannot advance as fans won't pay to watch, however, 31,000 paying audience members at the Etihad suggest differently.
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The first set of WSL fixtures provided visibility. From playing at the men's stadiums to flooding social media with content, this weekend's six games made a magnificent advert for the women's game.
Nevertheless, an advert is not a sale.
It's challenging to predict the long-term future of women's football in England, as successful growth can only be measured through season-long consistency. What is known, is the challenge that now faces the Women's Super League. This weekend's figures must be converted into weekly attendances, otherwise, the record-breaking audiences will all be forgotten. As Manchester United's Abbie McManus put it, "I hope it’s not just the first game,” I hope it's the last game, too."
This weekend proved that the quality of women's football in England is higher than it's ever been. WSL-newbies Manchester United and Tottenham looked right at home despite challenging first fixtures which suggest there is no time to settle into our top-tier. With tight scorelines across the board, there is no room for error which makes for an exciting year of football.
Higher quality in our domestic league makes for a competitive national team selection, meaning the Lionesses can only get better. With a top-performing national squad and a world-class league, the women's game will not only move from strength to strength but will attract more fans in the process.
The opening weekend has affirmed that the WSL produces a whole lot of inspiration to the younger generation. Young girls from all over the country travelled to watch the women's game, and many were lucky enough to grab a picture or quick conversation with one of their idols.
The beauty of playing in smaller stadiums is the increase in fan interaction. Girls of all ages lined up to grab a high-five or sneak a selfie with the likes of Leah Williamson or Beth Mead, who took the time to encourage their fans to pursue football. As a young girl, having an idol is one thing, but being told by your idol to continue playing is a whole other ball game. Interacting with those in the top-tier will inspire a new generation to consider football as a career choice and ensure that the future is bright for the women's game in England.
The opening games were thrillingly entertaining and presented a glimmer of hope, but as Chelsea boss, Emma Hayes put so well, the pressure to continue this success is on.
For women's football in England, the journey has only just begun. The hard work starts now.News Now - Sport News