I am by no means an expert on seeing professional women’s soccer in England, as I have been to just three games in the Women’s Super League and Women’s Champions League. But I have been to well over 100 men’s football games in the UK, so I think I can at least begin to draw some comparisons.
So let’s talk about why, if you’re on a groundhopping trip, you should not ignore women’s soccer. The simple starting point is, there’s really no reason to ignore them!
For a history of women’s soccer in England, and a bit more about the leagues and cups, check out our post, Taking a Look at Women’s Football in England.
Support Your Club — and the Cause
If you’re an Arsenal fan, why ignore the women’s team? They’re proper soccer royalty, after all. Same for Chelsea, Liverpool, United, City, all of them. They are all part of the club you support, so why not support the entire club. A decent-sized number of the typical crowd at women’s games are men who also attend the club’s men’s games; I know, because I’ve spoken to many of them. Some of them also go to reserve team matches. It’s easy to plan a groundhopping double-header as the English women’s leagues play on Sundays.
And then there’s the bigger picture: Women’s football was ignored and suppressed for years, but they love and support the game as much as the men do, and they inspire little girls all over the world. So get out there and support them.
Women’s Football Crowds: More Pleasant and Diverse
There is actually very little danger at men’s football games anymore, although some derbies get a little testy. But there a lot of lads, a lot of white skin, and a lot of drinking.
But take a look at the picture, above, of the crowd at the Arsenal Women’s game I attended. This is much more what England actually looks like! And trust me, they were a lot less drunk.
Women’s Soccer is Smaller
I mean this in a good way, even though the whole reason the game is smaller — as in, smaller crowds in smaller grounds — is a long history of discrimination by men. The (men’s) Football Association effectively banned women’s teams from their clubs from the 1920s to the 1970s, and the men running the media world simply ignored, or made light of, the women’s game.
However, this means that seeing a women’s football game is, off the pitch, fundamentally a different experience from seeing a men’s game. The grounds, the crowds, the prices, the queues, the hassles — it’s all smaller. In a good way. You’re also much closer to the players, many of whom in England are of world-class skill and pedigree. And I have been told they are much more accessible to the fans than the men, who kind of live in a security bubble.
Women’s Soccer is Friendlier
I am always struck by the animosity in men’s football — often from supporters towards their own teams. All that is not perfect is “shite,” and I won’t even bother to repeat some of the things shouted and sung at opposing fans. It’s shocking, even if it’s also part of the fun in a way.
And it does not exist at women’s football: In three games, I have heard not one curse word, no insults, and few complaints about the play, even when I saw Man City get destroyed at home by Chelsea. To the end, the City crowd was encouraging the players, even while obviously being disappointed. I think I heard one “idiot” and a couple of “stupid”s the whole time, but nary a “shite” was shouted.
Also, fans tend to use players’ first names, hence there’s a lot more “Come on, Allie,” instead of “F— off, Turner.”
World-Class Players in English Women’s Soccer
As in the men’s game, the best players go where the money is, and increasingly that’s England. All the top clubs in England have squads littered with World Cup winners, European Championship winners, and stars like Steph Houghton, Leah Williamson, Toni Duggan, Jordan Nobbs, Beth Mead and Tobin Heath.
Women’s Football is Cheaper
As stated above, the games are much cheaper and easier to get into. Arsenal have won everything in the world, much of it in record quantities, and a home game is around £12 for adults, £4 for kids. Very few games sell out. At Manchester City, who play in a wonderful, modern stadium, I paid £13 for a comfortable reserved seat.
I saw Chelsea Women host Wolfsburg in the Champions League — that’s the defending English champs hosting two-time European champs from Germany — and paid £12. And it was an absolutely cracking 3-3 game!
The Game is Old-Fashioned
I also mean this in a good way, because I have no doubt that old-fashioned men’s football was awful in many ways, especially on the terraces.
On the pitch, one moment I experienced at a women’s game spoke volumes to me. A player dribbled into the box and was challenged by a defender. The referee called for a penalty, the defender slammed her hand on the pitch in frustration, and then got up and got ready for the penalty kick. Her team’s captain said something to the referee, got herself an immediate yellow card, and then … they all lined up for the penalty kick!
I replayed that scene in my head a few times, and I realized: the player didn’t dive, she didn’t appeal for a penalty that I noticed, not one other player said one word to the ref, and the goalkeeper didn’t engage in nonsense to throw off the penalty taker. They just got on with it.
If you don’t like diving, screaming at the ref, or “look at me” behavior in general, you’re going to love women’s soccer.
See the Game Develop
And finally, we are still in the early stages of the women’s football story, and while it mirrors the men’s game in structure, and is headed the same way in results, it is still its own world. Manchester United didn’t even have a women’s team until 2018, for example. Reading and Birmingham City are in the top tier. Liverpool are in the second tier after being relegated.
So while the Women’s Super League is coming to be dominated by the same names as in the men’s world — and for the same reason, money — there is still a sense that it’s not all quite as predictable as the men’s game. Go see it while this is still the case.
Internationally, the US and northern Europe have dominated the women’s game for decades. The Germans have won eight of the 12 Women’s Euros ever held. Two clubs — Lyon of France and Frankfurt of Germany — have between them won 11 of the 20 Champions Leagues. The U.S. has won four of the eight Women’s World Cups, and Germany two.
My point is, what you’re seeing right now in England, especially, is the rise of a new world class. In the men’s game, the big players are set, but the women’s game is evolving right before our eyes. I think seeing that happen in person is pretty cool.
Bottom Line: It’s Football!
Honestly, I could summarize this whole post by saying you should go see women’s football because it’s football, and it’s brilliant. But if you want to see the game played at a very high level with great sportsmanship, in small stadiums with crowds that look like the real world and don’t act like louts, while not spending a whole lot of money, get yourself to a women’s football game.