Last week’s World Cup Match against Scotland received more than six million people tuning in, viewing figures which smashed the audience record for women’s football.
In light of these amazing statistics, I spoke to former Lioness and Arsenal Women F.C player Faye White, who got 90 caps playing for England, most of these as captain.
When asked about the significance of these figures, Faye emphasised how much the interest in the Women’s World Cup is growing.
She said: “This is off the back of a lot more media interest prior to the tournament starting as well, and I hope the games will only start to get more views, now that they’ve got off to a good start with a win, and I think it should only grow as the tournament goes on I’m sure.”
Faye had an extremely successful career, she played in a European final back in 2009, was in the starting eleven in three World Cups, and made it to two World Cup Finals – in 2007 and 2011. Additionally, she won 31 trophies with the gunners.
She revealed that during her time playing, she did notice the media take more and more interest in the women’s game.
The former Lionesses captain said: “When I first joined England, the media really had no interest, there was no media television, and we really had to drag on the doors for press people to get interviews for us. It was often a lot of trying to keep persevering and keep putting yourself out there as a team and as individuals to be willing to do the interviews.
“But as my career went on, in the 2007 World Cup we got world coverage, although not TV, but then in the Euro’s, the final in 2009 was shown live. Obviously not all of our games in the tournament were shown, and no other teams games were either, and this is why this year’s World Cup is so amazing, we’re seeing games such as France versus Korea shown live, and other matches are available to view on the website and via iPlayer.
“In the 2015 World Cup, nearly two million people watched one of our matches at midnight, so who knows what the figures could have been like if it was an evening game.”Embed from Getty Images
It really does feel like this year’s World Cup is starting to get the media coverage that the Women’s game deserves, but what has been the change?
Faye credited the 2012 Olympics as a landmark occasion which changed people’s perceptions of women’s football because Wembley was filled with 70,000 spectators to watch the Lionesses play Brazil.
She continued: “It was like the proof to the media that ‘oh actually people will watch it’, that the demand was there. It was a marker which we’ve been able to lead on, the FA now hosts the FA final at Wembley, and England games are put on there as well, they’ve played there already and they will play Germany there again in November.”
When asked whether Phil Neville’s appointment as England manager had helped to spark media attention, Faye responded: “It was a clever appointment as far as the calibre of people that he’s able to now get interested in the game, and also I think the fact that he’s involved gives it credibility to some of those more mainstream male journalists that only really want to cover the men’s game, it’s made them turn their heads, they think – oh if he’s involved well we know about him and we can maybe follow his journey through the women’s game as well.
“Phil has a lot of experience from his playing career and also from his coaching journey. The players respect what he’s achieved and I certainly would have loved to have someone like that as a manager.
“Lots of celebrities are additionally interested in the women’s game but I do think that’s off the back of all of the hard work that’s been going on for years as well as Phil’s appointment.”Embed from Getty Images
Discrimination and sexism towards women in football has been a prominent issue, with 271 incidents reported in the 2017-2018 season. Faye said that she never received any sexism from teams or associations she was playing in, it was more comments from people who didn’t watch the game or understand generally.
She continued: “I got the odd degrading comment such as ‘oh do you trade shirts?’ and things like that, but by that time I was just so used to knocking down barriers and kind of taking those comments on that it just fuels you on to say – no, we’ll carry on and we will get the game to where it needs to be.”
But this World Cup is proving that there is no place for sexism in the women’s game, football is a sport belonging to men and women equally.
The success of the Lionesses will only make the women’s game continue to grow, the gaps between the lower and top nations are closing, making the tournament more tense and more exciting than ever before.
When looking forward to England’s next match against Argentina on Friday, Faye said: “Argentina are solid, compact and disciplined in their defending, they don’t have the traditional flare of South American teams, but we have the ability to change the game if we need to.
“We’ll get chances against Argentina, and it’s about putting them away and not getting frustrated. We will be much more deadly in the air and on crosses, with players like Ella White as targets, so we should expect to win the match.
“In the previous match against Scotland, ultimately if a couple of goals weren’t disallowed and the runs were timed a little bit better we could have been three or four nil up. They took their foot off the gas in the second half, but I do think Scotland were a tougher test than what Argentina should be, as far as the technicality of their players, but we’ll just have to make sure we’re switched on at the back and don’t allow Argentina to counter either.”
The Lionesses’s success, and the media interest in their games is sparking young girls to watch and be inspired by the role models on the screen. As well as this, there are increasingly now more opportunities for girls to play, with the SSE putting on more programmes and sessions for them to take part.
This is beginning to look like the century for the women’s game, where more talented ladies like Faye can make their mark and have stellar careers. Come on you Lionesses!
Featured photograph/ Women in Sport