Phil Neville, the head coach of the England women’s team, has urged the country’s biggest clubs to “throw open” their stadiums for women’s football.
The Guardian reports that Neville has called on clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea to follow the examples set by Atlético Madrid in Spain and Juventus in Italy.
Last month a European record crowd of 60,739 watched the Atlético Madrid women’s team take on Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano in Spain’s capital city and last week Juventus women played Fiorentina in front of a 39,000 crowd at the Allianz Stadium in Turin.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
Following the landmark Barclays sponsorship deal of The FA Women’s Super League and with the Fifa Women’s World Cup on the horizon, Lionesses coach Neville believes there is potential to fill stadiums in England.
The former Manchester United and Everton defender said: “Looking at the attendances in our league [on Sunday], I actually think that’s better than the one-off games in Spain or Italy.
“There was 2,800 at Kingsmeadow [for Chelsea vs. West Ham], 1,500 at Solihull [for Birmingham vs. Arsenal]. I think we’ve got a good foundation.
“I see games in Spain where there’s probably only 100 to 150 people watching. So I think as a base line, we’ve got probably a little bit more sustainability.
“What I would say is that some of the big teams in England have got to open their big stadiums and say ‘let’s blow the rest of Europe away’, because I think our game in this country is at a far better place than what it is in Spain and Italy.
“I think now, if [FA Women’s Championship leaders] Man Utd win the league, or [WSL leaders] Arsenal - throw open your stadium, open it up. Champions League game for Chelsea - why not play it at Stamford Bridge? Get 30 or 40,000.
“I think my players are at the level where our big clubs have got to open their stadiums. That’s my feeling having watched Bilbao, Juventus. They’ve done it but let’s see us do it maybe two or three times from now to the end of the season.”
The BBC reports that the largest crowd for a English women’s football match was last season’s FA Cup final between Chelsea and Arsenal (45,423) and the largest attendance for a Women’s Super League game was 5,052 for the April 2012 clash between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium.
When asked if free tickets would help fill stadiums, Neville said: “Why not? Man Utd women let people in for free when they play at Leigh, so why can’t you at Old Trafford?
“Why can’t we fill Stamford Bridge for a Champions League semi-final against Lyon? It would be incredible.”
Road to France
At this summer’s Fifa Women’s World Cup England have been drawn in group D with Scotland, Argentina and Japan.
In preparation Neville’s side will play four warm-up matches. This month England play against Canada and Spain, in May they face Euro 2017 runners-up Denmark and in June they take on New Zealand.
On Friday 5 April England take on Canada at Manchester City’s Academy Stadium. Then on Tuesday 9 April the Lionesses face Spain at Swindon Town’s County Ground.
Quoted by the Independent, Neville said: “On Friday when we’ve got 8-9,000 at Man City and 15,000 at Swindon [on Tuesday], that will be something probably 70% of my squad haven’t played in front of and that’s why I’m excited about these games.”
England women’s fixtures
International friendly games
- Friday 5 April: England vs. Canada (7.15pm at Academy Stadium, Manchester City)
- Tuesday 9 April: England vs. Spain (7pm at County Ground, Swindon Town)
- Saturday 25 May: England vs. Denmark (3pm at Banks’s Stadium, Walsall)
- Saturday 1 June: England vs. New Zealand (1pm at Amex Stadium, Brighton & Hove Albion)
Fifa Women’s World Cup group D fixtures
- Sunday 9 June: England vs. Scotland
- Friday 14 June: England vs. Argentina
- Wednesday 19 June: England vs. Japan
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.