Equality? Women’s football needs to be run BETTER than men’s football to truly thrive

John Nicholson
Fran Kirby with the women's football Euro 2022 trophy

If women’s football apes its male equivalent then somebody has failed. This has to be different and that means the economics and culture must learn from mistakes…

A new day has dawned, has it not?

So this is what it’s like to win a tournament. Good, isn’t it? To say the very least it was and still is emotional. But wipe away the tears, Sunday wasn’t the end. It was the start. Whatever the future holds for women’s football, it will not be like the past.

The naysayers and cynics have been swept away by this wonderful team of inspirational, likeable players and their fantastic, understated, calm manager. We have embraced them, embraced the game and it feels like freedom from an oppressive past which crushed so many dreams for so long by saying ‘girls don’t play football’. Yes they f*cking do.

It was wonderfully, amusingly ironic that in recent weeks some have complained that the delights of the women’s game were being used as a stick to beat the men’s game with, when that is exactly what the same people used the men’s game to do to women’s football for literally decades. But the temptation to rub their noses in England’s glory can be resisted; that is a culture war we no longer have to indulge in.

Women’s football in England will never be the same again after this glorious Euro 2022 victory

Those crowds on Wembley Way said it all. 87,000 people said it all. The happy smiling faces of the children said it all. This is part of how we make a fairer, better world.

But this is where the hard work starts. Those with the power to shape the future – primarily the FA – have got to decide what the future looks like, now that it has begun to garner big crowds and TV audiences. Many issues are in play and it’s complex.

The worst thing would be to look at the men’s game for the direction of travel, certainly for economics. It is a financially unhealthy, inflated, foetid, greedy, selfish world, perpetuated by huge TV rights money from companies that radically limit the game’s audiences and cash injections from appalling people from appalling states and appalling organisations. A structure that has grotesquely hoarded money at the top, while others starved.

To walk that route is to walk the road to perdition. It must not happen. We cannot allow the Premier League’s hands, dipped as they are in the blood of innocents, stain the women’s game.

Several strands are in play. There’s the short term, medium and long term. What works in the short term may not be appropriate in the long term. It is clear that right here and now, women’s international football is the big brand leader and is what everyone is interested in.

There is no shortage of tournaments with the World Cup, Olympics and Euro 2025 all upcoming in the next three years. That could be where the focus resides in the short term while money is invested in growing the strength and depth of the leagues.

Women’s league football has yet to consistently match the level of fan attendances in international tournaments, though it does pull decent TV audiences. The crowd numbers for these games may radically change post Euro 2022 if the needs of fans are given priority. Games must be played at times for the convenience of the fans, not the TV. Everything must be done to maximise attendance.

But there are also deep structural questions to answer. Do we want women’s teams to be part of an existing club as they are at present? It works at Barcelona where 90,000-plus turned up to a Champions League game because it was Barcelona. You support the club, you support all their teams.

That’s one model. The problem is that in many cases it relies on the crumbs from the table of the financially replete men’s game to hand funds to the women’s team. The women’s game is being handed pocket money by Big Daddy. And where that money comes from can also be extremely problematic. That cannot be the long-term solution.

The long-term future must surely involve clubs being financially self-sufficient, generating their own income to pay their own bills.
The first time someone with some money sets up an entirely new club and staffs it with top players, something that right now would cost little more than the price of a mediocre male reserve team striker, will be a game-changer. Given the high profile such a move would give anyone who chose to do it, it is surely an inevitability.

There’s the issue of diversity to address which means more accessible centres of excellence placed within major cities. The whole infrastructure of the development of the youth game needs to be coordinated and be well funded because starting today, there will be an exponential growth in the number of girls wanting to play football and they must be accommodated, not put off or turned away for lack of facilities.

It will be a crime having been inspired by this summer’s football, if girls in every community, in every school, cannot go out and play play play, now now now. That cannot be allowed to happen and we must hold politicians who do not provide the relevant funding to account for their negligence.

There are already high-profile sponsors for international football and more will be queuing up to do so at domestic level. Advertisers love an inspirational role model and England is not short of them. If there is an increase in income across the board it will mean more players can be professional and can work as a footballer for a decent wage.

England lift the Euro 2022 trophy

That is not too much to ask, but it doesn’t have to mean anywhere near the insanity of the destructive wage inflation that has driven the men’s game into the arms of some terrible people in search of ever more money to pay ever higher wages. That is clearly stupid and does not benefit the game, quite the opposite.

Big money risks corrupting the soul of the women’s game the way it has done to the men at the top level, where many see a game dancing to the tune of the highest bidder, its soul for sale to the richest incubus in the room. The women’s game mustn’t walk that road. Sure let’s make them really well paid, but in the real world, that means £200,000 per year, not per week.

To that end, the FA really needs to make sure that it always has a substantial if not exclusive presence on terrestrial TV. We know paywalls lose three-quarters or more of any potential audience and that is nothing but destructive to an expanding game.

This is why the authorities need to formulate what the future looks like in terms of structure and economics and set in place legislation to shape, guide and contain it. The easiest thing to do would be to let the sort of unfettered free market capitalism rip through the game, handing out big money and making everyone addicted to their wealth. The game needs a financial injection, it doesn’t need its morals being flushed down the toilet to get it.

It is the time to put in place realistic wage caps and club spending caps to prevent massive financial disparity between clubs, reducing competition.

Player welfare needs to be put on a professional basis for all players at all levels. Never again can someone be homeless and play for England, as Fara Williams was for seven out of 18 years she played international football. That was an utterly disgraceful situation for the sport, for society.

There’s no ready-made perfect model to follow here, which is why principles need to be established now and the game shaped to them. This is a new land to settle. The international team is already such a progressive unit, full of open minds and open hearts, we must not losethat, not least because it’s such a positive USP for the game. So many have loved this tournament, seeing it as a pure form of football, blessedly free from ugly coked-up maleness. No angry twisted faces. No abuse. No mocking opposition fans. No booing anthems. No fear. No violence. No flares put up arses; genuinely the beautiful game. Please never lose this.

There is no doubt that it will be a complex and difficult development and things will not always be smooth, but basically if women’s football uses men’s football economics and culture as a guide as to what it should definitely NOT look like in five, 10 or 20 years time, it will not go far wrong.

It already has its own unique character, it must look to forge its own unique future to match its own unique character.

England. Champions. Get in!!!!!!!