Ailsa Harvey


Football, or soccer, is the largest growing sport being played by women around the globe, with major national and international competitions enabling female footballers to play at professional level. But how bumpy was the road to professionalism in women’s football? And how does football for men and women compare today?

One of the first European teams was founded by Nettie Honeyball in England, 1894, and was called the ‘British Ladies’ Football Club’. It was this team which helped to influence many women to take up the sport. However, they didn’t have everybody’s support. When women’s football first emerged, it wasn’t accepted by the British football associations as they believed this rise posed a threat to the game’s ‘masculinity’.

In 1921, The Football Association initiated a ban that disallowed women’s football games on grounds used by its member clubs. This ban remained for fifty years, until July of 1971.

The English Women’s Football Association was formed in 1969; three years after the 1966 World Cup, which influenced many women to consider the sport. In the same year that the ban was finally lifted, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) recommended that each national association should be in control of the women’s game as well as the men’s.

In the 1970s, Italy became the first country to have professional women’s football players. Later down the line, with an increasing number of women playing professionally, Japan became the first country to create a semi-professional women’s football league. It was called the L. League and it still exists today.

Currently, women’s football is still continuing to grow in both popularity and acceptance. The FIFA Women’s World Cup sees thousands of tickets being sold with the 1999 tournament selling over one million.

Support for women’s football is continuing to grow but unfortunately, as with other sports, the women’s game is covered far less in the media than the men’s game. Many female footballers have struggled to gain the same recognition and opportunities in the sport.

In the future, the majority of female footballers hope that the women’s game can be as popular and covered in equal proportion to the men’s game by the media. Some professionals believe that providing opportunities for mixed teams will help allow more girls to become involved and recognised in football.

Leah Williamson, a professional women’s footballer for Arsenal was only scouted when she was nine years old due to playing in her local boys’ team. She believes that “integrating the two sexes should be encouraged even more”.


Did you know…

  • School children are still being told in some schools that football is a ‘boy’s sport’. Recently, 13-year-old Darcie from Cwmbran in Wales spoke out about being told to play either hockey or netball instead of football. Having been called a lesbian for wanting to play the sport professionally, the Football Association of Wales is now reviewing football in schools. Many are calling Darcie ‘a champion against sexism’.
  • Today, 176 national women’s football teams around the world participate internationally.
  • Women’s football became popular on a large scale during the First World War, with an English team and an Irish team competing against each other in front of twenty thousand spectators on Boxing Day 1917.


What do you think about the future of women’s football? Let us know by commenting on this post.