“Daddy, I think I want to be a goalkeeper.”
This was the heartwarming statement made by a young girl sat behind me as nearly 78,000 people watched the Lionesses take on Germany at Wembley at the weekend.
Despite being no older than six, she was fascinated by the events unfolding on the pitch, constantly asking her Dad questions about the sport before declaring that she wanted to begin playing when she got home.
It was our idea of #BeSeenBeHeardBeInspired playing out in front of our eyes. And it was brilliant.
While it was disappointing to see the team lose so late on, the result from this game will largely be forgotten. But the spectacle as a whole will live on for a long time to come.
While the crowd of 77,768 didn’t quite beat the record attendance for a women’s game in the UK – 80,203 saw a Carli Lloyd double clinch gold for the USA during the London 2012 Olympic final – it smashed the previous highest figures for crowds watching English and British teams on home soil.
Incredible scenes at Wembley last night! 😍
This is our idea of #BeSeenBeHeardBeInspired at its best 👏👏👏
Cannot wait for more games like these across many sports in the future! pic.twitter.com/Pw9l8T9Fui
— The 52 Blog (@the_52blog) November 10, 2019
However this wasn’t a one-off. Records have been tumbling all year as women’s football capitalises on the momentum surrounding it at this moment in time.
We’ve had never-seen-before World Cup figures, the highest number of spectators at an individual FA WSL game and a 383% rise in the average attendance of top tier domestic matches this season (at the time of writing).
Regular league games have also been moved into bigger stadiums, a dedicated Women’s Football Weekend (16-17 November) set up and now more people than ever before roaring on the national team at one of the country’s most iconic venues.
Watching women’s football in this country has never been so easy. Nor have there been fewer excuses not to attend.
It’s not just football that fans are turning up to watch. Rugby union, netball and hockey have all seen either their own records broken or experienced greater numbers of spectators than ever before too.
The difference however is that where football is seeing regular growth across the international and domestic games, with other sports it’s either limited to just the national teams or is even just a one-off.
Of course football is at an advantage in that it has a greater established fanbase and more money than any other sport. But it can sometimes feel like others aren’t trying to think outside the box, be innovative or pioneer new strategies to try and encourage more fans.
England Rugby women’s head coach Simon Middleton made that point last week, praising Harlequins women for the work they’re doing to attract more fans to watch women’s domestic rugby and called out other clubs for not following suit.
As we wrote about previously, we are big fans ourselves of the work that Quins do, particularly around the #GameChanger event they host each year when they take the women’s team to The Stoop, where the men’s team traditionally play.
🚨 BREAKING | Harlequins launch official campaign video for The Game Changer
— Harlequins Women 🃏 (@HarlequinsWomen) February 13, 2019
Their messaging around the event isn’t subtle but it’s highly effective; they want you to be part of something special. they want you to be part of a record breaking day.
It works too, with the figure rising year upon year, and even the FA adopted a similar line when promoting last weekend’s game for the Lionesses.
Of course not everyone has the option to move into bigger stadiums or lay a temporary pitch in a new venue as GB Hockey did at The Stoop earlier this year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t try something different.
Double headers are another way forward and they have successfully been used by England Rugby and GB Hockey in recent years, with one ticket covering a men’s and women’s game played back-to-back on the same day with a short break in between.
This is the biggest opportunity in a long while to attract a new wave of fans to women’s cricket but there are no plans to host any double headers at the moment. And, with the men’s and women’s tournaments taking place at the same time and therefore the latter likely to receive a lot less interest, it feels as though this will be a huge opportunity to grow the women’s game missed.
There are plenty of other options too. Offers for schools/clubs/universities and themed weekends are just two. How about England Netball and GB Basketball joining forces to host international matches in the same venue (i.e. the Copper Box) on the same day? How cool would that be?
What an incredible day! pic.twitter.com/Gxu8CMuO5n
— Great Britain Hockey (@GBHockey) June 23, 2019
The point we’re trying to make is that there are so many options for clubs and NGBs to try something different, to showcase themselves and to let prospective fans know of the opportunities to come and watch their exceptional female talent.
If women’s sport is to continue to grow, we need to not just attract more fans but inspire them to want to take up the events themselves.
We want more people to have the same reaction the little girl had watching the Lionesses at Wembley at the weekend.
We want women’s sport and it’s fans to have more opportunities than ever before to #BeSeenBeHeardBeInspired.