Women’s Football in 1991

Kicking against the chauvinists

Women’s Football is finally gaining status in Britain reports Joanne Early 

(from Socialist June 1991*)

“WOMEN’S football is purely a novelty. That’s how it started and that’s how it’s going to finish in the near future.” This Stockport County supporter, speaking on World In Action last year, could not have been more wrong. The number of women’s soccer teams in the UK has doubled since 1989. But while men are arguing over the finer points of creating a premier league for their first-division clubs, the Women’s Football Association has already formed a national premier league, set to kick-off next season. 

The national league will replace the ten regional leagues currently in operation throughout England and is a step closer to turning women’s soccer professional. But Linda Whitehead, secretary of the Women’s Football Association (WFA) admits there is a long way to go. “It would cost thousands of pounds for women’s soccer to turn professional, because we’d have to include factors such as paying staff and players. We would also need stronger teams and more sponsors.” 

Although the women’s game originated in England, British players still have a lot of catching-up to do with European counterparts. 

The Italians are the first country with a professional women’s league, in which the average footballer can earn up to £15,000 per season. Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Germany also practise semi-professional women’s football. 

During the past three years, British media interest in the women’s game has slowly increased, with Channel 4 providing most coverage. But former West Ham defender Alan Wooler, manager of this year’s WFA Cup and Greater London League champions Millwall Lionesses, says it’s not enough. . 

“I can show you loads of press cuttings from local papers, but tabloid newspapers such as the Mirror and Sun just aren’t interested,” he says. 

“Women’s soccer is still at the promotional stage and I’d like to see more publicity now that we’ve introduced a national league.” 

The major problems with the new league have been lack of finance and poor-quality grounds which need to be updated to accommodate crowds. And currently only eight teams out of a total 336 are good enough to qualify for places. 

Some of these have declined the invitation to join the league, as sponsors are few and far between. 

But Millwall Lionesses may have found a solution. Alan Wooler is looking to Millwall Football Club, for financial assistance and use of the ground. 

“Millwall has been most helpful and footed the accommodation bill for the WFA Cup final. But the national league will mean more training, entertainment facilities at the ground for sponsors, and proper changing rooms,” he said. 

Wooler, who has managed the Lionesses for a year, hopes the new league will attract more men and women to the game. 

“People only have to sit down and switch on the TV to see what an attractive game it is,” he adds. 

* (July 2020) Socialist was the short-lived fortnightly newspaper, edited by Denise Searle, of The Socialist Movement; it ran from Autumn 1991-Autumn 1992 and was succeeded in 1995 by Red Pepper (which is very much alive today!). I hope I may write some more about this history at some point.

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