This summer Britain made history, not only did we celebrate the Queen’s jubilee but we also hosted perhaps one of the most successful Olympiads in living memory. It is doubtless that everyone will have a particular memory that they will take from the games, whether it involves Mo Farrah, Usain Bolt or Jessica Ennis, however in my case that Olympic moment came through a sport that many said should not be part of the games at all; football.
Footballers often get bad press, especially when compared to other Olympic athletes however I would like to reiterate that my Olympic moment came not from watching stars like Ryan Giggs or Craig Bellamy but from a relatively unknown footballer, Stephanie Houghton, when she scored her third goal of the tournament against Brazil at Wembley in front of over 70,000 fans.
I was lucky enough to be inside the stadium for the game where the support for the girls literally took my breath away. Having experienced crowds at women’s football games first hand playing for Millwall a few years ago I was shocked given that we were lucky to have our parents turn-up, let alone thousands of supporters.
I made the assumption on my way to the game that it would be a pretty quiet affair with perhaps few thousand women and children present, yet not only did the numbers surprise me but also the demographic; granted the stadium had its fair share of women and children but the amount of men present really threw me. I saw groups of young boys chanting players names that before the games they might not have known and getting behind a sport that a few weeks ago they perhaps would have ridiculed – Most importantly for the future of the game though I saw dads taking their daughters to watch football for the first time. Parental support is crucial for any athlete and for women footballers it’s no different, certainly if the sport is to be truly accepted into the mainstream of society then the correct attitude and support of parents is the first step toward a lasting legacy.
Research completed by the FA and WSL, the Women’s Super League, suggests that the Olympics did have a significant impact on the women’s game despite the fact that we crashed out in the quarterfinals. Research suggested that out of one-thousand participants fifteen per cent said that after the Olympics they would be more likely consider watching a live women’s football match and a massive forty-five per cent more would be more likely to take part.
These figures suggest that the Olympics was a watershed moment for women’s football, however now the Olympics are over and the fever that had gripped the nation has subdued will there really be a lasting legacy? The signs may appear positive but what about the actual results.
Clearly the long-term impact of the games will not be felt for another few years but immediate figures do not look promising; the average attendance for the first game back in the WSL after the Olympics was a poor 382 and the most recent figures put average attendance at 425 for fixtures on 9th September 2012. This does not represent a legacy but rather more of a hangover. Women’s football, like any other sport, can only develop with investment but with poor attendance figures at the top end and lack of media support investment is not readily available. On the other hand, whilst elite women’s football may lack support grassroot clubs and teams are thriving.
Women’s football is the third highest participation sport in Britain behind men’s football and cricket, placing in front of men’s rugby. This is a huge achievement but it cannot be realistically attributed to the Olympics as this trend began long before London 2012. In this regard one might argue that women’s football hasn’t moved much further forward than where it was three months ago but clearly things have changed, people may not be digging in their pockets to follow women’s football but at least they are no longer insulting it. This shift in attitudes can only lead to greater opportunities for female footballers to excel and to represent their country in front of tens of thousands of fans on a regular basis.
If you want to be one of those girls, if you want to be a part of the legacy then join women’s football at Royal Holloway today. We train on Tuesdays at 7 till 9pm and Fridays 5 till 7pm, and we accept players of all abilities. We have two competitive teams but we also encourage social players who just want to get fit and enjoy the sport. If this sounds like something you may be interested in and you like the idea of one day playing in front of over 70,000 fans then we urge you to come and see us at the Sports Fayre or to come along to our informal trials on Saturday 29th September from 10 am that will last midday. For those who would perhaps rather just watch come and show your support, you can see us in action at our annual charity tournament on Wednesday 10th October from 2pm on Nobles field. Why not be a part of the legacy?