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By Lydia Pearse
This Saturday 26th March, Arsenal will face their rivals Tottenham in the hotly anticipated North London derby. Arsenal tops the table of the Barclays FA Women's Super League, but typically play their home matches in a 4,500-capacity stadium in Borehamwood. On Saturday, in an important step towards equality, the team will play at The Emirates Stadium (get your tickets here).
Women’s football is finally getting the attention it deserves. But as the teams get bigger and the demands on the players increases; the resources, facilities, and sponsorship in the game will need to level up.
In anticipation of the North London derby, The Stack takes a look at how women have been locked out of the historically male dominated world of football, and asks what changes still need to be made.
“Women’s football was the sport of the wartime working class in Britain”
The Fifty-Year Ban
Women’s football was the sport of the wartime working class in Britain. To support the war effort in 1916, hundreds of thousands of women entered into the workplace for the first time. Over the following years a nationwide football league was set up, consisting of teams of women from different munitions factories.
By the end of 1920, a popular team called The Dick, Kerr Ladies played the first ever football match to take place under spotlights. They also brought the sport onto the international stage by organising exhibition matches with French teams. The team once amassed a record-breaking audience of 53,000 supporters, but their popularity embarrassed the male game and threatened male society during the time of the Suffragettes.
The women’s teams raised the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pounds for hospitals and charities in the post-war years. When the league began raising money for striking coal miners in 1921, the sport began pushing at major social and political boundaries, and garnered the attention of the government. The female players became the antithesis of Conservatism in post-war Britain.
On the 5th December 1921 the Football Association placed an all-out ban on Women’s football. Teams like The Dick, Kerr Ladies were consigned to inferior facilities, makeshift pitches, and eventually into anonymity. It wasn’t until 1971 that the ban was finally lifted, with fifty years of football history completely erased.
The Pay Gap
UEFA has announced the prize fund for the Women’s Euros 2022 at £13.7 million, which will be shared between the final 16 teams. Yet, last summer at the Men’s Euros, a prize fund of £317 million was shared between 24 teams.
The problem of the pay gap persists at club level; where a footballer in the Barclays Women’s Super League can expect to earn in a year what her male counterparts in the Premier League can earn in a week. There are huge disparities in the funding, wages, and sponsorship of teams who play under the same name.
In 2017, Arsenal changed their name from Arsenal Ladies to Arsenal Women, but really, they’re just Arsenal. The small details in the language we use can make broad differences in how we think about sport. If we constantly put the word Women’s before the names of our teams and leagues, we create covert biases, compartmentalise the players and place limits on their ability.
“Women participate in team sports on average 1.5 million times less than men on a monthly basis”
Like so many other historically male dominated networks, the barriers between women and the sporting industry are built up early.
Currently, only 63% of schools offer girls’ football in PE lessons, and only 40% of schools offer girls regular extracurricular football. The lack of accessibility in early life is perhaps the reason why in later life women participate in team sports on average 1.5 million times less than men on a monthly basis.
The UEFA Women’s Euros 2022 will be hosted by England this summer, with games set to take place in iconic stadiums across the country. It is hoped that the final at Wembley Stadium will break the record attendance for a women’s football match, with 90,000 fans expected to fill the stands.
Tickets for Arsenal Women’s game against Tottenham this Saturday start at only £12. By showing up and supporting the games, women can regain their rightful place in the sport’s history. Kick off is at 2:15pm, see you there.
#OldRivalsNewEra @arsenal and @arsenalwfc
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