Well done Emma, but come on United

The Football League Paper - - WOMEN'S FOOTBALL WEEKLY -

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

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