The image of Megan Rapinoe fanning her arms at a standstill after putting in the first of her two goals against France in the semi final was arguably THE image of the Women’s World Cup last year. This ballerina, entertainer, comedienne, activist and footballer is now one of the most recognisable players in the world.
She has generated the deserved title of a Women’s Football icon debatably surpassing her compatriot Alex Morgan, the Brazilian magicienne Marta and the Japanese World cup winning warrior Homare Sawa. Rapinoe’s remarkability centers around her fantastic leadership on and off the pitch, her wand of a left foot and of course her public criticism of the Trump administration.
So who’s next? And perhaps more importantly – can England replicate and emulate these types of iconic stars that the USA have produced countless times over the last 10 years?
Going to the grassroots and encounter the elite
In December 2019, I set out to develop an understanding of the Women’s UK football market and gauge the level of excitement and buzz after this year’s World Cup. What I found was an elite pool of talent, a shared passion for improvement and the foundations for a perception overhaul.
On a blustery Sunday afternoon, Actonians from the 5th tier of Women’s football took on Crawley Wasps, high flyers in the 4th tier in a 2nd round FA Cup tie, at the Middlesex County FA in Northolt. The 50+ Crowd were treated to a high octane encounter with both teams playing fearless attacking football, creating a tense, enjoyable spectacle. The lesser side, on paper, ended up winning the game 3-1 settled by a wonder strike from their tough tackling, all action, center midfielder.
The joy, passion and excitement exuding from the Actonian fans after the game was palpable. Not only were they into the 3rd round and 1 step away from potentially drawing one of the big guns in the WSL but they were in line for a good cash injection for making it to the 3rd round proper. These exuberant celebrations were proof that football is absolutely everything to these teams and is absolutely everything to these fans, it was time to invest time and money into Women’s football, quickly.
The National Football Youth League, run by potentially the most hard-working person in football I’ve ever met, Louise Macey, presented us (Veo) with the opportunity to sponsor their flagship U19’s women’s tournament at St. George’s Park. It turned out to be 4 and a half hours of elite competition with Barking Abbey the eventual winners of a penalty shootout in the final. Absolute euphoria for the girls from the East End who celebrated as as though there life had depended on winning the shootout. The agony for the Gillingham Girls who had come within an inch of tournament glory was exemplified through plenty of tears and desolate expressions.
Joining the revolution
It had taken just over a week to highlight that, when it comes to grassroots football, the Veo market strategy must be to spend equal time working on both Women’s and Men’s football globally. The passion and opportunity for women in football has never been greater and will only continue to rise. Major sponsors like BT and Barclays have begun to activate around various competitions and teams bringing a major commercial injection into the fastest growing sport in the UK.
Thankfully, we are in the middle of a revolution that continues to gather momentum with The FA leading the charge. A revolution exemplified through Tournaments like the National Football Youth League being at St. George’s Park and the introduction of the FA Player, a free to view live streaming site to see all women’s games in the WSL. No doubt, there is still a long way to go before Premier League teams emulate Lewes FC’s move to provide their own men’s and women’s teams financial parity.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that Women’s football will be a sporting powerhouse. Don’t get left behind!