How has women’s football developed in the UK?
By Mert Ahmet
- The FA introduced the Women’s Super League in 2011
- The FA’s “The Gameplan for Growth” strategy launched in 2017
- The Lionesses reached the World Cup semi-final in 2019 and won Euro 2022 against Germany
Women’s football in the UK has improved massively due to many important factors affecting the sport. One of these factors was the introduction of the Women’s Super League in 2011.
This league began with eight teams in the competition and in the WSL’s first two seasons, there was no relegation from the division.
Figure 1 - "England Women 0 New Zealand Women 1 01 06 2019-342.jpg" by jamesboyes is licensed under CC BY 2.0
It was originally played through the summer (from March until October) but the FA wanted to replicate the men’s football system into the Women’s Super League. After the tournament’s first six years, it turned into a winter league and became fully professional in the 2018-19 season.
This was a monumental leap in the development of the female game as it started to gain more attraction. It significantly increased the quality of the sport in England as women can now be paid to play football for a living.
In order to gain participation in the WSL, the FA stated that all 12 teams in the competition must offer their players a minimum of a 16-week contract and form a youth academy. This enhanced the professionalism of women’s football and benefited the FA’s “The Gameplan for Growth” strategy.
The Gameplan for Growth, published in March 2017, was a formal strategy for the development of women’s and girls’ football in England. The FA set out to achieve three goals by 2020 which was double participation, double fans, and consistent success on the world stage.
Figure 2 - Graph by Mert Ahmet
As you can see from the image above, the FA have hit and exceeded their targets which points to the direction that this vast increase in women’s football is still to continue.
The director of women’s football, Baroness Sue Campbell, said that The Gameplan for Growth strategy aimed to reach some challenging targets for 2020. It also wanted to establish an infrastructure around which the game could flourish at every level.
There are multiple reasons which allowed the targets to be reached but a valuable development is that many grassroots clubs are running women’s football teams to mirror their long-standing men’s teams. This has created several opportunities for girls to be a part of the sport due to the new professional look in the women’s game.
One of the main outcomes of the development of women’s football in England is the success of the Lionesses. They became the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-finalists, inspiring football fans across the nation. Soon after the tournament, a record was broken as an attendance of 77,768 watched England women face Germany women at Wembley.
Furthermore, England’s Lionesses won Euro 2022 after beating Germany 2-1 in extra-time at Wembley Stadium. This became the country’s first major trophy since the men’s side won the World Cup in 1966.