The Women’s El Clasico proved unequivocally that there is a demand for women’s football.
A total of 91,553 packed the Nou Camp for the Women’s Champions League quarter-final second leg last month –– eclipsing the previous world record of 90,185 set in 1999 when the USA faced China in the World Cup final at the Rose Bowl, California.
But the atmosphere inside the Nou Camp last month was like nothing seen at any women’s match ever. As Barcelona ran out comfortable 5-2 winners on the night, shouts of “Alexia, Alexia”, in reference to Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, permeated the stadium.
Barcelona have already confirmed they are hosting their European semi-final against Wolfsburg at the same venue. And in just 24 hours, tickets sold-out, suggesting another record attendance may well be on the cards.
This alone should be enough evidence to spark other clubs to offer opportunities to their women’s teams. For too long, there have been excuses as to why women are forced to play in separate, smaller stadiums and not afforded the honour of playing at some of the world’s most esteemed grounds.
Yet, given the Nou Camp is the biggest stadium in Europe and one of the largest on the planet –– if that can be filled to full capacity, then others most certainly can as well.
A memorable night for women’s football
Barcelona’s European clash with Real Madrid had long been predicted to make history, but the match was more memorable, more mesmerising and more meaningful than anyone could’ve imagined.
The previous domestic attendance record for a women’s tie had come in 2019 when 60,739 watched Atletico Madrid’s game against Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano. Last month’s Clasico didn’t just break this record, it shattered it.
Even before the start of the match, the streets of Barcelona were flooded with fans. Team buses were swarmed as they arrived. Drums blared, flares glared and the noise was like nothing compared to any women’s game in history.
Considering some tickets had been given away for free, there was a suggestion that the anticipated 90,000 may end up being considerably less. In reality, there was barely an empty seat inside the stadium.
And by the time the match ended, all remained glued to their seats –– transfixed by the talent of the irreproachable Barcelona Femení.
Indeed, if you shut your eyes and listened to the noise, one could be forgiven for thinking it was Barca’s men’s team who were in action.
Fans, noise and a lot of singing. pic.twitter.com/t34G2OgjKv— Anton Toloui (@SkyAnton) March 30, 2022
Record attendances everywhere
It’s not just Barcelona who have seen record attendances of late. A total of 180,648 fans attended the eight quarter-final matches in the Women’s Champions League and this season’s competition as a whole has amassed an aggregate audience of almost 400,000.
On the same night as the Clasico, a crowd of 27,262 watched PSG knock out Bayern Munich at the Parc des Princes, which marked the highest ever attendance for a PSG Women’s game.
Kylian Mbappe was there in support and was seen congratulating the side afterwards –– a subtle reminder that male stars supporting their female counterparts goes a long way.
Kylian Mbappé showing his support at PSG’s Women’s Champions League match against Bayern Munich.— VERSUS (@vsrsus) March 30, 2022
A record attendance of over 27,000 make history at the Parc des Princes 📍 pic.twitter.com/ZeTIXR06AG
Elsewhere, in the Women’s Championship, 5,752 made the trip to Ashton Gate for Liverpool’s match against Bristol City –– a new record for the league by a considerable distance.
That more than 5,000 people were in attendance for a fixture in the second tier of English Women’s football says all you need to know about the growth of the game in recent times.
Remarkably, the record set at the Nou Camp could be broken in a matter of weeks, with tickets already sold out for Barca’s clash with Wolfsburg in the Champions League semi-finals.
Thousands waited in online queues and it took less than 24 hours for all available tickets to be scooped up.
If the record is to be broken again, it would surely quash any notion that last month was a one-off.
No more excuses
There have long been excuses regarding why women’s teams are not afforded the right to play at the club’s principal stadiums.
The main contention has long been that hosting women’s matches would not align with the schedules of the men’s teams. For this reason, matches at big stadiums in the UK, such as the Emirates and Old Trafford have typically been reserved for when it’s the men’s international break.
Another argument is there is not a big enough audience for women’s football and that it would be impossible to fully fill some of these huge stadiums.
Yet, the recent El Clasico proves this is not the case at all. Rather, the reason for some of the struggles in enhancing women’s attendances stems from the lack of promotion, not the lack of interest.
The Lionesses’ match at Wembley against Northern Ireland last October received pretty feeble promotion in the build-up, which goes some way to explaining why the attendance was lower than expected.
Many clubs may well have perfected how to promote men’s matches but Barcelona highlighted that different tactics have to be applied when it comes to women’s football.
The club promised a party atmosphere, and it delivered. Sure enough, just a week later, people are desperate for more and demand has been even higher than before.
What this shows is that it can be done. It’s just that most places, up until now, have not been doing it right.
How often should big stadiums be used?
To suggest we should be seeing all women’s matches at big stadiums is still more of a dream than anything else at this moment.
But nonetheless, there needs to be more confidence and faith that enticing women’s fixtures can produce big crowds.
Last year, the Scottish Football Association announced that all 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualification home fixtures would be played at Hampden Park.
However, much to the annoyance of many Scottish players, only a handful of tickets seem to be on offer for the women’s qualifier against Spain later this month. This is despite almost 19,000 watching Scotland play Jamaica in a friendly back in 2019.
In most of Europe, there are no longer Covid-19 related restrictions on capacity. Barcelona believed they could sell 90,000 tickets and they did. Women’s teams must be brave enough to try and do the same.
The women’s game as a whole is continuing to go from strength to strength. El Clasico proved that and Barca’s semi-final against Wolfsburg will do so again.
Perhaps though, if more clubs take a chance on their own respective women’s teams, these extraordinary crowds will become less historic, but instead commonplace.