Being the women’s football governing body, you might think that the Football Association (FA) would be the top organisation trying to grow women’s football.
The FA has developed some strategies to grow the women’s game and had some success. The Gameplan for Growth strategy is an example that aimed to double participation in women’s football. As part of this, the FA Girls Football School Partnerships (GFSP) scheme was set up to help schools make football part of the girl’s curriculum by 2024. I undertook research into current English school PE which supported these strategies and it showed that girls and boys have equal football opportunities in the curriculum and extra-curricular activities.
The governing body hasn’t always been on the women’s side. In 1921, the FA banned women’s football for 50 years and declared it ‘unsuitable’ for women in an attempt to defend the masculine image of football.
Society at the time demanded everyone to follow gender roles and as a result of stereotypes, sports had become gendered. Men were encouraged to participate in masculine sports whereas women were encouraged towards feminine sports. Women’s football, therefore, seemed to fall victim to prevailing gender norms.
Women weren’t new to football when the FA placed the ban. In WW1, women were encouraged by their bosses to play football during their breaks, while working in munitions factories. Teams such as Dick Kerr Ladies were established and attracted large audiences. As the popularity of women’s football grew, it began to threaten the men’s game.
The ban was lifted in 1971 but it wasn’t until the 2018-19 season when the Women’s Super League (WSL) became fully professionalised, however for me the restructuring hindered women’s football. The tier one criteria became based on club financial stability and professionalism level. This meant that skill and ability were absent from the criteria and clubs that earned their place at the top but lacked in finances, were relegated to lower tiers. A semi-professional women’s footballer suggested that this was poor governance stating, “too much investment into just one league will hinder the game.” MP Damian Collins supported this by stating that the FA board “gives too much power to leagues and not enough power to the FA as the governing body”.
I would have liked to have seen women’s teams being supported financially during the pandemic. While the decision to cancel the WSL and Championship season in 2019/20 whilst continuing the men’s Premier League and Championship continued was wrong.
While the FA have done a good job at establishing the Women’s Super League and generally growing the women’s game, can they be doing more and faster? I think so.
ess is the founder of Darkhorse, a creative freelancer and student. More of her work can be found at jessportchcreative.wixsite.com/portfolio
Photo: Harriet Lander