England boss Phil Neville says playing women’s football in men’s stadiums is the only way to draw in new fans to the sport.
Neville, who led England to the semi-finals of this summer’s World Cup, has seen first-hand how the popularity of women’s football in the UK has skyrocketed, with a record-breaking crowd of 77,768 attending last Saturday’s friendly with Germany at Wembley.
Large attendances figures are expected again this weekend, this time on the domestic scene, as four clubs gear up their men’s stadiums to host matches over the inaugural FA Women’s Football Weekend.
But for Neville, the most poignant sight this weekend will be the number of older people attending Anfield, the Amex, the Madejski and the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, as women’s football begins to branch out to new crowds.
“I keep hearing about how the World Cup inspired the next generation of female footballers, but I actually think it inspired the older generation,” said the England boss.
“It’s the older generation who are filling those extra thousands of seats at Wembley.
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“I think we already had the younger generation on board with us. I think it’s more powerful to hear the old man I met outside Costa say to me: “Can I have a word with you Phil? I’d never watched women’s football before, but you know what, that was bloody good in the summer.”
“That’s more powerful. I think we’ve inspired the generation that we thought we’d lost track of – the generation who didn’t grow up with women’s football.
“They grew up not appreciating the quality, perhaps the quality wasn’t there, but now they’re seeing it in a new light.”
The FA Women’s Football Weekend, taking place from 16-17 November during an international break in the Premier League, is to encourage as many people as possible to attend a women’s football match, with eleven games taking place up and down the country.
“I don’t think there can be enough of these weekends or initiatives,” he added.
“I actually think at this moment in time, the fans are coming to the games anyway and the initiatives are just the icing on the cake to get other people there.
“I went to the Etihad for the Manchester derby and there were hundreds attending, even the grandparents are coming too which makes it all even more special."
Sunday 17th November
Barclays FA Women’s Super League
Manchester City v West Ham United
Brighton & Hove Albion v Birmingham City
Chelsea v Manchester United
Reading v Bristol City
Liverpool v Everton
Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
FA Women’s Championship
Durham v London Bees
Lewes v Sheffield United
Charlton v Leicester
Coventry v Aston Villa
Crystal Palace v London City Lionesses
To follow the action, buy tickets and sign-up for The FA Player’s live Barclays FA Women’s Super League coverage visit womenscompetitions.thefa.com