Bridgend, South Wales, UK – Women’s football has increased in popularity in recent years, with more people watching and enjoying the game. The Football Association – the national governing body of football in England – reported that football had become the top participation sport for women and girls in England by 2002.
But it wasn’t until recently that UK media began putting women’s football in the spotlight and increasing its popularity.
The number of people tuning in to watch women’s football broke a lot of records in 2019.
In 2019, Forbes reported that the Women’s World Cup that year had a live audience of more than 82 million viewers.
The BBC broadcast of the women’s semi-final match between England and the U.S. drew 11.7 million people, according to The Guardian. Attendance at Wembley Stadium, where the English team plays, reached a record 77,786 in its match with Germany, according to the Football Association.
From July 6 to 31, England is hosting the Union of European Football Associations’ Women’s EURO tournament. It consists of 16 nations and is one of the best-known football competitions in the world.
Again, fans are re-writing the record books with 68,781 spectators at Old Trafford Stadium on 6th July for the opening game between England and Austria – the highest attendance ever at a Women’s EURO game.
There is no doubt that the increasing publicity of the women’s game is inspiring young women and girls throughout the world.
Rachel Magill, 17, spoke about what it means to see record-breaking crowds attending the Women’s EURO and what’s next for women’s football.
Magill has been playing football since she was eight years old, and currently plays for Comber Rec Ladies, who play in the Northern Ireland Women’s Football Association Championship.
“Growing up, it surprised people that I played football, not everyone thought girls did or should play football,” said Magill. “I always remember comments from boys in school who didn’t believe girls should be playing football and girls can’t play football. When I played for a boys’ academy team, I always felt I was viewed as weaker and a lesser player than the boys.”
Asked how she thought attitudes towards women’s football have changed in recent years, Magill said, “The sport has been given a new respect and professionalism, especially shown through the development of leagues such as the WSL.
“Women’s footballers are becoming their own role models and stars,” Magill continued. “Young girls have female footballers to look up to rather than in the past when it was male footballers.”
Media exposure is crucial, according to Magill.
“It is majorly important that the Women’s EURO has the television coverage it has been receiving,” she said.
This year, the Women’s EURO games have been showcased on mainstream channels, making it accessible for everyone to watch.
Magill spoke about how the extensive ‘TV coverage has allowed people to enjoy women’s football and will increase the fans – and hopefully could be a pathway to more Women’s Super League on TV, explaining that the excellent media coverage made the Euros a highly covered event, building attention and suspense for the games and showcasing the players to a global audience.”
Magill understands the game as a player and as a fan.
“Going to the Northern Ireland v England match myself, I loved getting to be a part of the atmosphere. The fanzone and activities around the stadium were brilliant,” she said. “I got to meet a lot of people too. I have found women’s football is a community and the fans of all the nations have come together and are enjoying the tournament together.”
For athletes like Magill and fans, it’s important that the positive steps forward continue past the Women’s EURO tournament.
“Women’s football should continue to get the coverage and attention it is now. Having the sport be easily accessible allows more people to watch and partake,” said Magill.
Magill said she hopes the professionalism and media attention continue to increase.
“Role models and levels have been created that young women can strive towards. It is inspiring to see that the sport is so well-respected and the community is welcoming. I hope that this would mean more women think about joining and supporting women’s football.”
Holly Hostettler-Davies is a Senior Correspondent with Youth Journalism International.