The Lionesses have inspired a generation of young girls to believe they can pursue football and even make a career of it.
They are the role models girls now look up to and the names they put on the back of their shirts.
The events of 2022 have caused a significant shift in the right direction. But is the women’s game truly accessible to all?
I grew up in a football loving family.
My mum played for Millwall Lionesses as a teen back in the early 70s, my dad worked in a senior role at a football club for many years and my brother was a professional footballer until his early 20s.
I saw how football worked from all angles and I’d always felt like the women’s game, and women’s sport generally, was never taken that seriously.
Women’s sport has never had the limelight as much as men’s sport, especially when you look at the sport pages of newspapers or TV coverage, let alone funding and commercial sponsorship.
A Women In Sport research study from 2018 showed that in the UK, of all sports media coverage, only 4-10% was women. That may have gone up slightly in recent years, but the gap hasn’t significantly closed.
I played football at a grassroots level for many years and in the past two years I’ve moved into coaching and now work at a girls’ academy with an U13s group, alongside my day job. (That's our team, above)
It has opened my eyes to the number of challenges women’s football really faces.
One thing I’ve found most shocking, is the cost of playing for a team.
My mum, who grew up on a council estate in southeast London, wouldn’t have been able to afford the costs that clubs today ask for, neither would her teammates.
How many kids are missing out today because of that?
Many girls’ academies are run by community trusts at football clubs, which are charitable foundations.
Therefore, the funding model differs to that of the Premier League and EFL run boy’s academies, where travel and accommodation is often provided at the top level for young male players.
Even at a grassroots level, parents may be required to pay for their children to participate and become a member of a club. This cost can vary between £200-£700 a season, with signing on fees often required on top of that too.
Some teams positioned as academies, utilising the club badge of their Premier League or EFL counterparts, will also charge per session or per season for girl’s teams.
The cost will inevitably rule out families who cannot afford the payments.
In comparison to the men’s set up, the women’s side is still receiving relatively little investment and parents are having not only to pay monthly subs, but also to contribute towards pitch hire, kit, and refereeing costs.
The FA’s recent announcement that they are developing the player talent pathways to provide greater opportunities for aspiring women and girls, is much welcomed.
It’s encouraging to see their ambition set out, which aims for every talented player, regardless of their background, to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
The increase in the number of Emerging Talent Centres is a positive step and will hopefully provide greater access and progression opportunities for young girls, regardless of where they live.
Success, for me, will be if they can back up this ambition with the data to prove that more diversity is coming through the system and to the top level of the game, and that it is sustainable for low-income families.
I’d also love to see more female coaches in the women’s and girl’s game.
At a grassroots level, coaching roles are still very much dominated by men, I see this on a weekly basis.
And in the WSL, only a third of current managers are female.
The FA has a target of 75% of female coaches to be in manager or head coach roles, through growing the current talent pipeline and improving pathways to the top of the game. We want to see this come to fruition.
The growth of the women’s game over recent years has been phenomenal.
I for one never thought I’d see a packed-out Wembley Stadium for a women’s football match, like the Euro 2022 Final, and it was an unbelievable experience.
I hope now that we can use that momentum to continue to inspire the next generation of young girls and female coaches, who regardless of their background, can be part of the next stage of the journey of women’s football.