What Next for Women’s Football?
More than 11 million people tuned in to watch England’s women face off against the United States in early July, making it one of the most-watched sporting events of the year.
In a summer without a men’s World Cup or European Championships, English football fans of both sexes watched on as the Lionesses bravely battled through to the World Cup semi-final, only to fall at the last hurdle, just as the men’s side had a year before.
It capped off a year in which Manchester United and Spurs finally entered teams into the WSL, amidst talk that the Premier League could take over the division in three years’ time. Check out our Sportsbook for the latest football odds at Coral!
Four years after reaching the World Cup semi-final in Canada, the Lionesses were hoping to go one further this summer. With former Manchester United man Phil Neville at the helm, they started brightly in France, beating Scotland and Argentina in the group stage as well as a fine win against reigning world champions Japan.
Brushing aside Norway and Cameroon, the latter in an ill-tempered affair, they set up their third major tournament semi-final in succession. Standing in their way, the might of the United States, the pre-tournament favourites.
In a thrilling encounter, the Lionesses bounced back from conceding an early goal to level through Ellen White, only to fall behind once more through Alex Morgan’s strike. Chances came and went, not least a late penalty, which captain Steph Houghton missed, before they finally went out of the competition.
They then lost the third-place play-off to European rivals Sweden but came home with a much wider appeal and profile than before the tournament kicked off.
Next up for the Lionesses will be the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 before the European Championships in 2021. They’re due to be held in England and present a great opportunity to further raise the profile of the women’s game at home.
2021 European Championships
UEFA’s Women’s Championship will be held in England for a second time, having first been brought to these shores in 2005. Back then the Lionesses finished bottom of their group and failed to capture national attention, but there will be hope of a much better showing in 2021.
Matches will be played across the country, with top-flight grounds such as St Mary’s in Southampton and Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United, set to host some of the games. The final will take place at Wembley Stadium, with Brentford’s Griffin Park the only other London-based stadium to host matches.
The Netherlands are likely to be amongst the favourites – they’re the reigning champions having beaten Denmark in 2017 final. Germany, who won the previous six tournaments, are also likely to be challenging for the trophy.
Sweden will be another side to keep an eye on. They surprised Germany in the quarter-finals at the World Cup, as well as taking the Netherlands to extra time in the semi-final. If they keep the bulk of their squad together, they’ll be hoping to make their first final since 1995.
England will look to put home advantage to good use and the experience of appearing in three semi-finals in a row, especially if these four players are fit and ready to feature:
32-year-old Scott is a domineering midfielder, standing at 5’11 tall. She currently plays for Manchester City, but emerged with the successful Sunderland side that also delivered many of her colleagues.
She caused quite a stir ahead of the World Cup when she pulled out of the She Believes Cup, a four-team round-robin tournament held as a precursor to the summer’s main event, won by England.
She also praised England’s psychologists after the chaotic last 16 games with Cameroon in France, during which the opposition walked off on two occasions amidst VAR controversy.
Well-travelled striker White was the focal point for the Lionesses attack in France, finishing as the joint leading scorer alongside Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe of the USA. She was awarded the bronze boot by virtue of having fewer assists.
White has recently completed a switch from Birmingham to Manchester City, having scored 23 times in 26 matches for the Blues, coupled with 35 goals in 88 matches for her country.
She was recently granted the freedom of her hometown, Aylesbury, and is seen as the talisman of the England side in much the same way as Harry Kane is for the men’s team.
Full back Bronze is another former Sunderland player, beginning her career on Wearside after being brought up in the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
The 27-year-old is arguably one of the most successful members of the England squad, having signed for European heavyweights Olympique Lyonnais in 2017. Whilst in France she’s lifted the Champions League twice, as well as the domestic title twice.
Bronze has battled extreme anxiety and serious injury to get where she is today. As a youth player, she snapped her kneecap in half and rehabilitated herself by doing laps of her local park with her dog in tow.
Houghton is another former Sunderland player and perhaps one of the most recognisable faces of the England team. She was the first female footballer to appear on the front of Shoot! Magazine and is seen very much as a trailblazer for the women’s game.
Houghton is a centre back who currently plays for Manchester City, having previously represented Arenal and Leeds. It was her late penalty agony that saw England eliminated from the World Cup against the USA.
With 106 caps to her name, she’ll be hoping to put right that miss in the home tournament in two years’ time.
The Women’s Super League (FA WSL) is the highest level of the women’s game in England. It features 12 teams, including Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
It was formed in 2010 and has been won by Chelsea and Liverpool twice, Manchester City once and Arsenal three times. The Gunners are currently the reigning champions, having beaten Steph Houghton’s Man City to the 2019 title.
It’s believed that the Premier League are looking to take over the competition from the FA in three years’ time, a move that will further aid the development of the women’s game.
If the Premier League do take over, it opens a wealth of fresh broadcasting and sponsorship opportunities.
Games could be played at Premier League grounds and there has been talking of ‘double-header’ fixtures, with a women’s game and a men’s game taking place on the same day, fostering more attention for the female stars.
Women’s Champions League
The pinnacle of the club game in Europe is the Women’s Champions League, rebranded in 2009 after starting out as the UEFA Women’s Cup. English sides have struggled to make an impact on the competition, winning just once with Arsenal lifting the trophy in 2007.
Lyon have won six of the last nine tournaments, including three in succession, making them the most successful club it the competition’s history.
It’s structured differently to the men’s tournament, with 10 groups forming a qualifying round, Only the group winners progress to the knockout stages, where they’ll meet a mix of seeded and unseeded teams that includes Manchester City and Arsenal.
Despite the World Cup heartache for our Lionesses, 2019 has been a great year for women’s football, with promising developments to the game both on the international stage and domestically, it is exciting times for football fans.