Well done Emma, but come on United
CHELSEA manager Emma Hayes’ first words after lifting the FA Cup at Wembley in front of a record crowd, after losing out so agonisingly on the FA Women’s Super League title last year on goal difference, said it all:“We were due some silverware after coming so close.”
Speaking to the BBC after winning the first Women’s Cup Final to be played at the home of football, cementing her place in history, Hayes had the air of someone who also knows this is her time. And what a time for the women’s game in England.
The national side’s third place at the World Cup in Canada, a highest-ever finish, followed up with record attendances for the first games back in the FA Women’s Super League.
And that’s not to mention the England team taking breakfast with Prince William, the president of the FA – just one of the past month’s highlights for the Lionesses.
There is, however, still plenty of work to be done.When the final whistle blew down Wembley Way, one of the first players to run on to the pitch and form the customary celebratory bundle was Fran Kirby. Chelsea’s record signing had to sit out the game as she wasn’t registered in time, a victim of the rules.
Notts County, too, suffered the same fate. Just the one goalkeeper in Carly Telford, who had been struggling with a dislocated shoulder, the club were denied the opportunity of an emergency replacement because players had to be registered 16 weeks before the final. Sometimes rules need to be rethought.
Then there’s the prize money; £5,000 for Chelsea, dwarfed by the £1.8m in the men’s game for the FA Cup winners – and even the £25,000 the FA Vase winners are handed. A fair comparison to make?
Former England keeper Rachel Brown-Finnis joined me on BBC 5live at the Cup final and insisted though the potential is there to up the financial ante, for the players on the pitch it’s not the be-all and end-all. That is the true beauty of where women’s football is at the moment.
Creating memories and history, not monetary gain. Playing for pride, it has soul. That’s not to say the financial rewards shouldn’t come. They should but women’s football also understands, it seems, the long game.
Growing support is going to be a gradual thing and it is unrealistic to expect otherwise. But the crowds are growing and with increased support comes increased attention and sponsorship.
But what will make a difference is the competitiveness of the league. Chelsea went into the World Cup break looking like they were on for a league and cup double.
Now, four teams are still in with a sniff of the title with two thirds of the season done. Last year’s WSL 2 champions Sunderland, Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea could all take it.
So the edge is there, but the season could expand, too. To build new support for the game there need to be regular games, more competition, more rivalry.
Which brings me neatly on to Manchester United. Isn’t it about time they came to the party?
With City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal in the Women’s Super League, United are conspicuous by their absence. The feeling they should be involved has ramped up a gear this week with the sports minister Tracey Crouch wading in.
I remember, when at BBC Radio London 94.9, hosting three hours of calls when Charlton ran into trouble. Mums, dads and daughters distraught at their uncertain future. Female teams are vital.
Crouch called it “incredibly disappointing”, pointing out to the BBC that United “have an excellent centre for girls but they don’t translate that into a ladies’ football team”.
Crouch is not alone. Out in Canada a couple of the players voiced their desire to see Manchester United get involved.
As for Emma Hayes and Chelsea? There’s a future England manager right there. She’s said in interviews to me before she wants to be seen as a trailblazer for women’s football and I’m sure there are plenty more domestic trophies to be won first.
WINNER: Emma Hayes