Record attendances, thrilling matches and last-gasp goals made for a highly exciting Women’s Football Weekend.
Saturday’s hotly contested North London Derby, which finished a 1-1 draw as Spurs came agonisingly close to beating arch rivals Arsenal for the first time, was followed by five more compelling matches on Sunday.
Thousands travelled to stadiums across the country to watch the games in person, while even more tuned into BBC One and Sky Sports to enjoy the Women’s Super League from the comfort of their own sofas.
Others chose the pub as their viewing location of choice. This was once impossible for fans of women’s football – matches were either not on TV, or if they were, requests to put the game on the big screen were met with looks of confusion.
This is now slowly changing, and Sunday was proof of that. Matches were broadcast at pubs around the country, including Sports Bar & Grill in Clapham, which hosted its very own WSL watch-along in collaboration with We Love Sport.
The football on TV was not just the main attraction. England’s most-capped player Fara Williams was also in attendance, watching her old team Everton hold Manchester United to a 1-1 draw.
The 37-year-old Williams, who formally announced her retirement from football in April, told GiveMeSport Women who she was backing to take the WSL title this season.
“Chelsea. I said Chelsea from the beginning. They’ve now all played together for a while, and only made one signing last summer. So, the squad has the know-how.
“They know how to win games when it’s ugly, they know how to take control of the game when they go a goal up. Chelsea will be the team to win the WSL, but Arsenal will push them all the way.”
The Gunners are currently top of the WSL table after defeating Chelsea on the opening day of the season, and Williams conceded she “wasn’t necessarily expecting Arsenal to be so good.”
The North London outfit has not been the only surprise of the season so far, however. Manchester City have struggled to get going due to an injury crisis and currently languish in ninth.
Everton, who were expected to challenge for the top three after a busy summer in the transfer window, are level on points with Manchester City in 10th.
“I thought Everton would be doing a lot better, but I know that when you invest so heavily and buy so many players, it takes time,” said Williams, who played for the Toffees alongside Chelsea, Charlton, Liverpool, Arsenal and Reading during her career.
“I think the Manchester City situation, that’s been the biggest shock. I know injuries have been a factor, but even with the starting 11 they have now, they should still be beating teams.”
Manchester City’s poor performances have been of benefit to a number of other teams, including Brighton, Spurs and Manchester United.
These three sides are now seemingly in a battle for third place, but it is yet to be seen whether they can maintain their form throughout the season.
“Brighton under Hope Powell and Tottenham under Rehanne Skinner are both very organised teams,” Williams explained.
“They will always give themselves a chance in a game because they’re very defensively organised, and they stick together in their approach in doing things. If you don’t concede goals, you’ve always got a chance of getting a result.
“I imagine when Manchester City get some of their players back fit in the next couple of weeks, they will start picking up points again as well. I think Chelsea and Arsenal will get the two top spots, but it’s wide open for third place at the moment.”
Williams also looked forward to Euro 2022, which is set to be held in cities around England. The midfielder played in four European Championships while making 172 appearances for the Lionesses, but she revealed next year’s edition would be the “most competitive yet”.
With the popularity of women’s football fans on the rise, does Williams think the country will turn out in support of the Lionesses?
“It’s a home Euros. England basically hosted the men’s tournament last summer, and I’m hoping the women’s event is just as big as that.
“Even if people can’t make it to the matches in person, they’ll be able to watch games in the pub. Hopefully it will be a really good showcase for women’s football, and it will lead to a rise in gate numbers for the next WSL season.”