Written by Jen Offord

Health

Balls to the stadium walls

What’s that noise? It’s our Jen Offord whooping with joy at the bumper ticket sales for tomorrow’s women’s FA Cup final. Not got a ticket? You’ll be missing out. She explains why.

a football stadiumIt is with much joy that I continue the recent theme of triumph over sporting adversity, as I share the excellent news that the beautiful game of women’s football continues to grow like the behemoth of sporty brilliance that it is.

This Saturday will mark only the second year the women’s FA Cup final has been played at Wembley, with finalists Arsenal and Chelsea lining out to kick balls. Last year said ball-kicking happened in front of a record crowd of 30,710 people (compared to fewer than 5,000 the previous year at Doncaster’s Keepmoat stadium).

With initial ticket sales of more than 30,000, this year looks set to welcome a bumper crop of women’s football fans and/or people who fancy a cheap day out to a national landmark.

If you’re at a loose end on Saturday, you should probably go, even if it’s only because you want to visit Wembley Stadium for £15. And here’s why. Not only will you get to visit Wembley Stadium for £15* but also because you will learn how good women’s football is.

*Seriously, it’ll cost you up to £65 to watch the international friendly between the England men’s team and Portugal on 2 June. A game most likely kicking off full of the allure of promise, only for hopes to be dashed and dreams to be shattered. Just eight days before the Euros start. Why not just wait until then to have your heart broken from the comfort of your own sofa? I digress…

Look I’m going to be honest with you: the first time I watched women’s football, I wasn’t expecting much of it. Not because I think women are inherently less able to kick balls, but because there is undeniably a smaller talent pool for most women’s sports, purely because sport is still so far from being the ‘normal’ (I mean socially acceptable, obvs) domain of women and therefore there are more barriers to participation.

“The women’s super league players aren’t there because they’re getting paid £200k per week – they’re there because they bloody love football and they want to win, and that’s one of the things that’s so infectious about it.”

It’s also fair to say there have been instances of women’s sports being televised – for admirable and legitimate reasons – before the talent pool was big enough to boast a quality that would have us lining up for more. And it’s probably also true there will be a lot of people out there saying, “But I’ve seen a women’s football match and it was shit.” Again, not because women are inherently less able to kick balls, or run – or even dive face-first at the turf in order to win a completely undeserved penalty – but because some football matches are simply shit.

There’s a reason for that bumper crop of fans heading to Wembley on Saturday, and for anyone in any doubt, I must point them in the direction of BBC 2’s The Women’s Football Show.

It’s an interesting show to watch, given that the Women’s Super League (the women’s equivalent of the Premier League) games are predominantly played at their home club’s training ground because of the typically much lower turnout of fans than for men’s Premier League games. Arsenal Ladies, for example, are not playing at the Emirates Stadium – they’re playing on a small site in Boreham Wood.

The imagery therefore jars for someone who’s used to watching Premier League games – it’s almost like you’re watching the Harwich and Parkeston Sunday Shrimpers on the BBC, which is odd. But if you don’t mind me saying, Harwich and Parkeston Sunday Shrimpers, the women’s super league players are a damn sight better than you.

Apart from the skill and precision and pace you might expect from the men’s top flight (LOL) the other thing they have, the thing that I often find to be the case with smaller clubs, is heart. They’re not there because they’re getting paid £200k per week – they’re there because they bloody love football and they want to win, and that’s one of the things that’s so infectious about it.

As we’re on the subject of commitment and heart and coverage of women’s sport, we should also big up the BBC which, above interest and profit and all sorts of other murky business reasons, has been a pioneer of the women’s game (admittedly a little earlier perhaps than they needed to be but whatever, it’s all worked out for the best) for well over 10 years – 10 years that have turned the women’s game into more than just something you found when you accidentally pressed the red button rather than standby on your digibox remote.

@inspireajen

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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen