In her exclusive column for GiveMeSport, England and Manchester City superstar Lucy Bronze discusses the magic of the FA Cup and why the prize money disparity needed to change.
I have very special memories of the FA Cup. Aside from winning it twice with Manchester City, I also played for Sunderland against Arsenal in the 2009 FA Cup Final.
Sunderland were giant killers that year. We were in the second tier of women’s football at the time, and we knocked out two teams in the league above us – Bristol City and Chelsea. It was brilliant.
The final against Arsenal was incredible. I was 17 years old at the time, and around 25,000 turned up to watch the match. It was the biggest crowd I’d ever played in front of. I still remember that moment and just being completely amazed by the amount of people there.
Unfortunately we lost the final, but it means I’ve had every experience in the FA Cup. Winning the final, losing the final, being a young player, an older player, a player nobody knows about, and a player who is well known – I’ve done it all!
Manchester City vs Nottingham Forest
We played our first game of this year’s FA Cup against Nottingham Forest, a side in the third tier of women’s football.
In terms of the calibre of opposition, it was the biggest game they’ve played so far this season. It was just as significant for us though – we never take anyone we play for granted.
I know that’s a bit of a cliché, but teams lower down the pyramid are determined to be giant killers. Just one goal could see them through into the next round.
Sometimes it’s a disadvantage to be drawn against a team you’re unfamiliar with, too. I know players from Arsenal or Chelsea like the back of my hand, whether from facing them in the league or on the international stage.
I know what their traits are, whether they’re left-footed or right-footed, quick or slow.
Obviously, we did a complete analysis of Nottingham Forest before we played them. But when you’re up against an unknown team, there’s a higher chance of someone taking you by surprise, by being stronger or faster than expected.
We kept to our high standards, though, and managed to win the match by a big scoreline. A special shout-out to Georgia Stanway, who hit a hat-trick and became Manchester City’s all-time top scorer!
Magic of the FA Cup
Everyone who loves football grew up watching the FA Cup, especially the men’s final at Wembley. The women’s tournament is so much more special now a final at Wembley is on the cards for us too.
Even teams in the Women’s Super League don’t get to regularly play at big stadiums or go to Wembley. It’s not just the lower league teams like Nottingham Forest – every side wants to have that moment where they’re in the spotlight, playing in a stadium with a big crowd.
I’m optimistic about Manchester City’s chances this year. We’ve started the second half of the season well. We’ve already scored more goals than we did in the first half of the season!
A lot of our key players are back from injury – we’re nearly close to a fully fit squad again. We’re playing well and with confidence, as individuals and as a team on the pitch. So I think we fancy our chances against any team.
We’d like to get our hands on silverware and the FA Cup is a huge possibility for us.
FA Cup prize money disparity
If we did win the FA Cup, we would understand why we wouldn’t be given £1.8 million in prize money. Men’s football has a bigger audience and more sponsors right now. We know we have to grow the game a lot more to get to that point.
However, the fact that we would currently receive less than two percent of the men’s winnings is outrageous.
I’m glad this is now being addressed. The FA recently announced it is going to significantly increase prize money for the Women’s FA Cup from next season, and, for me, this is the logical step.
Looking at it solely from a women’s football perspective, the prize money has been the same since 2016. Since then, the Women’s FA Cup has gained a massive sponsor. Around 40,000 people pack out Wembley to watch the final each year. They are buying tickets and showing up.
Women’s football has grown significantly. In fact, it’s grown at a faster rate than men’s football. But this growth hasn’t been reflected in the FA Cup prize money.
People are always going to focus on what the winner gets, but the disparity is there in every single round. Sometimes, in the earlier rounds, the winnings don’t even cover the cost of playing the game. It’s not even worth it.
Obviously, I want the prize money to go up at the top end. But I think if it’s increased at the bottom end as well, it’s going to have a positive knock-on effect.
Teams are currently struggling to make each game and to cover costs, but with increased money comes more incentive and an improved standard, which will then continue throughout the FA Cup.
Even for the likes of Chelsea, the money they won last year – £25,000 – is not really going to make a dent in the cost of what it takes to run a high-performing women’s football team. It doesn’t even scratch the surface.
It’s an area of women’s football which has come to a standstill. If we want our game to become more competitive and grow, the FA Cup prize money disparity has to change. I’m glad this is starting to happen.