A step(over) in the right direction

It has been a little over two weeks since the conclusion of the Women’s World Cup and the impact this has had on the growth of the women’s game is undeniable.

We saw some incredible wins – like the USA’s 13-0 victory over Thailand – some shattering losses – like England’s late goal disallowed in their game against the USA (more upsetting for some than others) – and experienced the rollercoaster of emotions that all games of football should take us on.

The USA took home the crown once again. Finishing in second place was the Netherlands and Sweden beat England to finish in third and fourth place respectively.

Like most football lovers, I would have been hard pushed to tell you who the winners of the last World Cup were, let alone which two teams had made it to the final. The women’s game has grown substantially in the last four years and there’s been more publicity for this year’s competition than before. More people talking and more people watching.

Despite having to watch my home nation (Scotland) be unjustly sent home by VAR (yes, I’m still angry) in the early stages of the competition, I could have very easily stopped watching. I hate to sound like an anti-feminist, but the women’s game just isn’t as exciting as the men’s. Without players like Messi, Hazard and Ronaldo, it’s harder to stay engaged when the team you support is no longer playing.

However, as a woman interested in sport I felt a duty to stick with it, and, albeit different to the men’s game, it was still a joy to watch. I will admit that the skill level was not as high as that of the men, but neither is the money. Die-hard football fans will tell you that this is because the women don’t generate as much money as the men, but that’s simply because we won’t let it. We don’t watch it, we don’t go to the games, we don’t buy the kits, so it’s no surprise that there’s less money in it. You can’t expect a tree to grow if you don’t water it – you can’t expect the women’s game to grow if you don’t support it.

Nevertheless, there were some standout performances from a lot of the girls in the competition. Erin Cuthbert shone in Scotland’s game against Argentina. Nikita Parris was impressive throughout the whole tournament and let’s not forget Brazil’s superstar Marta who now holds the record for the most goals scored in any World Cup (male or female) beating the likes of Messi and Ronaldo.

I also felt equally as satisfied as I did last summer in watching England crash out of yet another semi-final. If you can’t take pleasure in watching your own team succeed you have to relish the failure of your rivals. Besides, you have the cricket now, I think you can let me have this.

Don’t just take my word for it. The viewing figures speak for themselves. In the 2015 competition, England’s quarter-final had a viewing audience of only 1.7 million people. This year, the England vs USA semi-final raked in a whopping 11.7 million viewers, making it the most-watched TV programme of the year in the UK. Even matches not featuring Scotland or England attracted millions of viewers across the country. In a country dominated by male football, it’s encouraging to see the women’s game finally starting to share some of the spotlight.

It’s very easy to forget that football is not an exclusively male sport. The more attention and press the women’s game can attract, the more it will be able to grow. This year’s Women’s World Cup has been a huge success for the women’s game and hopefully when 2023 rolls around there will be even more people watching. For now, it’s important to take note of the huge strides we’ve made, but also to know that we’re not quite there yet.

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