Katy Sandalls: They tried to ban it, but women’s football is here to stay
PUBLISHED: 18:55 17 January 2018 | UPDATED: 19:53 17 January 2018
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Katy Sandalls will be writing a new monthly column on women’s football, one of the fastest-growing participation sports on earth. In her first piece she discusses how she came to love the game.
Welcome to the my first column looking at all things women’s football in Suffolk and beyond.
I hope to discuss what’s happening in the local leagues as well as the WPL, WSL and the Lionesses as they wrap up their World Cup qualifying campaign.
If you’re not quite sure what all of this means just yet then don’t worry – but if you know a bit more or are an absolute fanatic then you too are in the right place!
I hope this column will cater to all levels of interest and help increase knowledge of the game more generally.
In this first column I thought I would introduce myself a bit more fully and talk about my relationship with the game as well as how women’s football has developed.
I was never a sporty girl at school, I was terrible at running, hopeless at swimming and had the gymnastic flexibility of an iron girder.
Picked last for the team and always out of the action, one of my most infamous moments was scoring an own goal in hockey.
Basically I was the sort of pupil that the PE teachers dreaded!
Football, at that point in my life, was something the boys threw their jumpers on the field to play and something we would try to avoid getting hit by.
It didn’t really change as I grew up. I came to accept my inadequacies as a player and realised that I could be better placed as a supporter.
Still now my parents struggle to sit and watch any kind of sport with me as I get far too ‘into it’, shouting and screaming at whichever team or individual has gained my backing.
In terms of football I find myself interested in and actively supporting the sport in a way never appealed to me as a youngster.
I’ve commentated on second tier games, met Mo Marley – the interim England manager – and become part of a group promoting the women’s game on social media for UEFA.
The transformation has been rather large and in a way the game, much like me, is going through a journey of discovery.
That’s a horribly clichéd sentence, I know, but a description which is more than apt.
Women’s football has had to learn fast how to keep growing its fanbase and get more youngsters involved from grassroots level up.
The game has benefitted massively from the internet – helping to connect fans globally and to increase awareness about the game.
Whether it’s about a local side or releases about the American NWSL, the women’s football tag is picked up as frequently as any other on Twitter and Facebook.
Yet everyday social media continues to be full of people want to pick holes in the developing game, those who feel the need to say “women’s football is rubbish.”
Often they do so with reasoning, no explanation. Just a single handed smackdown of the entire sport and everyone involved in one foul swoop.
These users seek to belittle the game as “not something you should worry your pretty little head over”.
They wouldn’t be the first to try and stop women’s football.
The FA tried in 1921. It effectively banned the sport for 50 years after a very successful period towards the end of World War One.
Teams like the world famous Dick, Kerr Ladies once attracted huge crowds to games – indeed, in 1920 a Boxing Day match between them and St Helen’s Ladies was watched by 53,000 fans at Goodison Park!
Back to the present day, and the interest is growing all the time. Last summer, audiences of over three million tuned in to watch the England national team, the Lionesses, in their European Championship semi-final game against the Netherlands live on Channel 4. Despite the result of the match, the game gained something new; a feeling of acceptance.
Of course, there is still a way to go – gaps between league standards and the money available to both players and clubs threatens to limit growth and success in way which is not a problem for similarly tiered men’s teams.
The closure of top tier Notts County Ladies last year remains a stark example of this particular problem.
Despite everything though, the growing identity and presence of women’s football in people’s daily lives is something that deserves recognition – and that’s what I’m here for!
So, if you have news to share about your local women’s or girls team, please do get in touch!