With the WSL coming to a close for the season after a memorable year for the women's game, what are the next steps to further advance ladies' football in this country? by AtTheMatch
You know you’ve made it in football when you have your own FIFA computer game avatar. Women’s football broke new ground this week when the massively popular EA Sports game console series finally included the leading teams and personalities from the fairer sex for the first time for FIFA ’16.
Eniola Aluko and Jill Scott joined the likes of Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling in having their playing styles, mannerisms and attributes coping for the computer gaming fraternity to play along with. In the game, women’s’ teams cannot play men’s’ teams – that is considered too far-fetched, though Leyton Orient romping to a fifth Champions League title in a row is completely achievable on a PlayStation 4 – but let us at least be satisfied that progress has been made this year, both in virtual reality and in real life. What is more, the last 12 or so months in the women’s game has been so dramatic that it has been a challenge at times to decipher what is real and what has been the brainchild of fictional gameplay artists. The best place to start would be the World Cup last summer in Canada. England, buoyed by a magical run through the knockout stages, having started in insipid fashion against the French in the group stages. A real Cinderella story seemed in the offing as they outplayed the then current World Champions Japan in the semi-finals. We all know what happened next. The fact in itself that we all knew what happened next was a watershed moment for female football in this country. Millions of television viewers stayed up till the early of hours to cheer on our girls against Japan, and a sport so derided and unfairly compared to the men’s counterpart finally came to its own. Despite the cruel concession of an own goal which denied England a rightful place in the World Cup final at the expense of a Japan side which would eventually be blown apart by the United States in the final, the Lionesses would deliver their crowning moment, returning home with the third-place prize after defeating their most bogeyish of bogey teams, Germany, in their third/fourth play-off. England, bronze medallists, with a player named Bronze in their squad. If only Lucy had the surname Gold, the wags ruefully wondered.
After the drama of the World Cup, it was to the bread and butter of the domestic game and the Women’s Super League to which captain Steph Houghton and co returned only a few weeks after their moment of glory against Germany. The WSL is a summer league, and in terms of marketing and standing apart from the all-dominant Premier League, it has been a masterstroke. Unprecedented crowds turned up to see professional women’s football continue to flourish in this country. Liverpool Ladies, who snatched the WSL title at the last in the final throes of summer 2014, look set to be usurped by Chelsea Ladies, who also won the Women’s FA Cup in front of a terrestrial television audience in August. With domestic football on the up, and the England team continuing to show encouraging form, the target for young manager Mark Sampson and his cohorts must be to win Euro 2017. Then, along with the open-top bus parades and royal appointments, we might have young girls and boys alike buying FIFA ’17 just to be Houghton rather than Rooney.
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