This time two years ago, the idea of 91,648 fans filing into the Nou Camp to watch Barcelona Femení was unimaginable.
This was not because of the perceived obscurity of women’s football. In fact, 2019 was a year for bumper attendances in the women’s game.
Around 57,900 fans packed out the Parc Olympique Lyonnais for the Women’s World Cup Final, while 38,262 spectators broke the Women’s Super League attendance record by watching the North London Derby at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
But just months later, the COVID-19 pandemic began and sport around the world came to a standstill. When it did return, events took place behind closed doors, in empty, soulless stadiums.
This is why a world record attendance for a women’s football match would have been so hard to envisage in May 2020. The idea of 91,648 people crammed together in one venue would have sent shivers down the spine of medical professionals everywhere.
There were understandable concerns about the pandemic’s impact on women’s sport, particularly because it wasn’t just women’s football that was experiencing a boom in the immediate months before the global health crisis began.
Only a few weeks before the world started to shut down, Australia played host to the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup. The final was held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground packed with 86,174 spectators, an attendance which broke numerous records.
It was the largest attendance for a women’s cricket match, for a women’s or men’s T20 World Cup final and for a women’s sporting event in Australia.
Once the pandemic started, there were those who wondered whether women’s sport would ever regain the momentum from events such as the FIFA Women’s World Cup and Women’s T20 World Cup.
Fast forward two years and it has really started to feel like women’s sport is truly back, and better than ever.
The stunning world record attendance at Camp Nou, broken twice in just one month, is just the tip of the iceberg.
The total attendance figure for the Women’s Champions League semi-finals was an astonishing 179,733, with a raucous 43,254 fans packed into the Parc des Princes to watch PSG take on Lyon.
Elsewhere in football, Newcastle Women attracted a crowd of 21,737 for their first ever match at St James Park.
It was the biggest crowd for an English women’s league match this season, despite Newcastle sitting in the fourth tier. The largest before that had been the 20,241 at Old Trafford for Manchester United against Everton.
There was a record attendance of 2,347 at the Dripping Pan as Lewes stunned Liverpool in the Women’s Championship, with the crowd even treated to a stunning goal from keeper Tatiana Saunders.
Away from football, Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano contested a historic fight at the iconic Madison Square Garden.
The 19,187 spectators in attendance were so loud that the referee couldn’t even hear the bell at the end of the third round.
Attendances have also been impressive in women’s rugby, with Italy and France the only two countries not to break an attendance record during the Women’s Six Nations.
England pulled in a crowd of 14,689 when they beat Wales in a third round clash at Kingsholm. Two weeks later, they smashed this with 15,836 fans for their encounter against Ireland.
It was a new record for a women’s rugby match in England, and just shy of the world record attendance for an international match, which stands at 17,440.
Perhaps momentum was lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there now seems to be a new era dawning for women’s sport.
Fans are turning up in their thousands, surpassing attendance figures set at men’s sporting events. They are proving to brands, sponsors, broadcasters and the media that people do have a real interest in women’s sport.
It’s now impossible to claim “no-one cares about women’s sport”. The statistics are here to show that simply isn’t true.
Of course, there are still numerous issues within women’s sport that need to be addressed. Whether it’s full-time contracts, pay, facilities and resources, media coverage or online abuse, there is still a long way to go before female athletes are treated correctly.
But to look at the sporting calendar for the remainder of this year would fill even the biggest sceptics with hope and anticipation.
Euro 2022. Savannah Marshall vs Claressa Shields. The Women’s Rugby World Cup. The Hundred. The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. All of these events are likely to continue bringing in fans in their thousands, setting a new benchmark for women’s sport and female athletes.
The dark days of the pandemic are now behind us, and women’s sport is truly thriving.