Programme leader for UCFB’s BA (Hons) Sports Business & Coaching degree, Emily Hill, is a huge advocate of women’s football, having over eight years’ experience working in women’s teams within Higher Education.

Here, the UCFB Wembley lecturer explores in detail how the women’s game has progressed in recent years, how far it has to come and how this summer’s home Euro’s may well be the missing ingredient in the never-ending strive for equality…

Following the delay of the tournament from last year due to the impact of COVID-19, the 2021 Women’s Euros has finally arrived in 2022. The continued development of, and investment in, the women’s game at grassroots, semi-professional and professional level has seen a strong wave of interest leading up to this summer’s major event. It also offers a prime opportunity to reflect on the current position of women’s football as well as to look back on how far it has come, leaving us to consider the post-tournament possibilities. The home tournament means that this summer’s Euros has the potential to play a significant role in both inspiring the nation and helping the women’s game to continue to shift from being ‘tolerated’ by key stakeholders (Woodhouse et al., 2019), to being seen as a legitimate profession.

England last hosted the tournament in 2005. This was a very different time for women’s football, and so the 2005 Euros had a different purpose. This was a tournament that England weren’t expected to win, or even progress through the initial stages of the competition. After three matches England finished bottom of their group in a tournament that featured only eight international teams. However, the competition was an opportunity to grip and establish a fan-base. England attracted almost 70,000 fans across their three games, and a showcase Saturday match recording a peak audience of 3 million viewers (Harlow, 2005). An undefeated German squad were crowned champions.

A BBC report following the tournament hailed the crowd and media coverage as ‘phenomenal’ (Harlow, 2005) and set a clear precedent for the coverage and promotion of women’s football. In 2005 attending an England Women’s game could feel like a novelty, but even then, the untapped potential was beginning to be recognised. The tournament played its part in raising the bar for women’s sport as well as achieving a big ‘step-change for the women’s game in England’ (Taylor, 2022).

UEFA Women's EURO 2022 could prove key in helping the grow the women's game in England.

Now, the women’s game is very different. It has made strides in recent years far beyond those achieved and dreamt of in 2005. Most players at this year’s tournament will be training full-time and on professional contracts. They will play in domestic leagues that are both raising the standards and demands on the level of investment year on year. The 2022 Euros now sees 16 teams compete, following 47 teams playing to qualify for the competition. This is a clear reflection of the growth of the women’s game. Players from across Europe are becoming household names, migrating between leagues and having greater visibility and platforms as women’s football becomes more accessible to view and engage with.

This year’s Euros feels invested in and important; an international event in its own right, not just a tick-box tournament as a follow up to the 2021 men’s competition. The Women’s Euros also comes with good lead in time following FIFA’s launch of their first ever global women’s football strategy in 2018. The strategy aims to enhance the women and girls’ game across participation, competitions, commercialisation, governance, and empowerment (FIFA, 2018). This tournament is an opportunity for UEFA and the FA to start to bring to life these ambitions on an international stage as well as demonstrate that women’s football is being taken seriously.

The 2021-22 domestic season saw a swathe of developments in the women’s game. Teams across Europe, spanning leagues and competitions, played at ‘men’s’ stadiums. This enabled clubs to promote the women’s team at showcase matches, with many clubs pushing for a ‘one club’ ethos as demand for the women’s game grows. The most notable fixture was Barcelona Women playing rivals Real Madrid in the women’s Champions League semi-final in a sold out classic at the Nou Camp. 91,553 fans saw Barcelona beat their rivals 5-2 (8-3 on aggregate) in a game that did not disappoint (Sky Sports, 2022).

The Lionesses are one of the favourites to win this year's tournament.

The 2021-22 saw The Women’s Super League (WSL) broadcast on both Sky and BBC in a landmark 3-year TV deal worth £7-8million per season. The Women’s Sport Trust (WST) report the WSL viewing hours had a near fourfold increase (BBC, 2022) following a 140% increase in the viewership of women’s sport in early 2022. Wrack’s (2022) article on a Women’s Sport Trust commissioned research project highlights the potential that international events have on future viewing figures on women’s sport. The ‘visibility uncovered’ study (2021) details how the media exposure and consumption of women’s sport is changing and being driven by broadcast deals and major competitions. Viewing records (live and broadcast) are continually being smashed and women’s sports such as the WSL, Women’s 100 and W-Series are all bucking the trend of general declining viewing figures (Wrack, 2022), with the Women’s Sport Trust now defining the key challenges of the sustainability of growth and ensuring that ‘women’s sport continues to be visible, viable and unstoppable’.

The importance of the creation and professionalisation of the WSL (Women’s Super League) has had a recent ripple effect throughout the women’s football pyramid, epitomised by Newcastle United players being offered full-time professional contracts from the 2022-23 season. Despite playing in the fourth tier the team will see ‘hefty investment’ (Taylor, 2022) that matches the club’s ambitions to play in the top tiers. As well as commitments and pledges from international and national football federations, domestic clubs are also starting to see the value in taking women’s football seriously.

Amongst this forward momentum there have been a wave of progressive announcements accompanying the lead up to the Women’s Euros. Spain and the Netherlands have both stated equal pay for the women’s and men’s national teams, a policy that has been in place amongst England teams since January 2020 (Taylor, 2020). Italy have announced that the women’s top-flight division will remove salary caps and the players amateur status, turning the league into a professional entity.

However, stark disparities in domestic and international tournament prize pots still exist. The 2022 Women’s Euros prize fund is Є16million. It may be double that of the previous Euro 2017 held in the Netherlands (Dunn, 2022), but is ‘only 4.3% of the money that is made available to teams competing in the men’s tournament (Wrack, 2021). The women’s professional game is moving in the right direction and clear precedents are being set and broken across the game. Clubs and national federations are waking up to the power of women’s football and taking opportunities to overtly showcase that they are serious about the women’s game. However, the game still holds massive potential and there is progress to be made.

Deloitte (2020) predict that women’s sport will undergo substantial financial growth; including TV rights, sponsorship and matchday (live event) revenues. Women’s sport is predicted to exceed the billion dollar barrier, and has been described by the financial behemoths as ‘ripe’ for monetisation. However, for this to happen women’s sport needs substantial investment to prove their ‘commercial worth’, as well as a need to be wary in navigating the potential traps and pitfalls of commercialisation.


Women’s sport has historically suffered from chronic underfunding and had its value continually questioned. This current disparity in funding between men’s and women’s sport and recent implications of this are highlighted by the DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) who reported that the under-funding of women’s sport, systemic inequalities and knock-on effects were ‘exacerbated’ by the impact of COVID-19. The report states that during the pandemic men’s sport was ‘prioritised’ and many women’s seasons and sporting competitions were ‘cancelled, while men’s sport continued’ (Reuters, 2020). A subject that is further examined by Bowes et al., (2020) who asked questions on whether women’s sport, pre and post COVID-19, was on a genuine upward trajectory. The research emphasised entrenched inequalities, and the danger of face value ‘boom’ narratives around the progression of women’s sport when genuine parity is still far from reach.

The continued endeavour for equity, and the recognition of the potential of women’s sport are not new. Long-term work by numerous leading organisations and a broad existing evidence base continue to advocate for women’s sport. Sport England and the WSFF (Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation) commissioned independent research to make the case for, and champion the value of, women’s sport back in the 2000s. The outcome was the report - ‘Prime Time: the case for commercial investment in women’s sport’ (WSFF, 2010). The report also outlined the need for women’s sport to take new approaches and presented arguments that there was a ‘compelling case’ for a market that is different to men’s sport as well as ‘unique commercial and social potential’. That potential is continuing to be unlocked and this summer’s Women’s Euros tournament presents an opportunity that can build on what has been achieved so far, have an instant impact, and leave a legacy both socially and commercially.

The FA’s ambitious 2017 strategy ‘The Game Plan for Growth’, aimed to double the number of women and girl’s participating in football by 2020. The strategy outlined a blueprint to harness the growing popularity of women and girls’ football in England. Following the announcement of the strategy, the FA invested funds and efforts into programmes to drive and fulfil the aims through highly successful programmes such as Wildcats, Girls Football School Partnerships and Just Play centres. The strategy and programmes saw mass buy-in from a national workforce of clubs and schools to help deliver the FA’s aims and objectives. The continued growth of interest in the women’s game, alongside the implementation of a timely strategy saw the FA meet their 2020 target to double participation (Frith, 2020) as well as a rise in the number of affiliated teams. 3.4 million women and girls now play football in England.

The FA has now launched its subsequent 2020-24 strategy ‘inspiring positive change’ which highlights the positive impact of football on health and wellbeing, as well as opportunities the game presents to compete, collaborate and shape wider society. The strategy highlights that women and girls have varied motivations for playing and being involved in football. This change of focus from the preceding strategy which centred on driving growth of participation, is testament to the opportunities that now exist due to the hard work of everyone who has helped drive and shape the game up to this day. The strategy is comprehensive and has a focus on social outcomes as well as recognising the need to sustain and grow participation. At its 2022 mid-point the Women’s Euros will be a key test for the Lionesses as well as the FA strategy and the legacy of the competition. As with major international tournaments the predicted sharp uptick in interest in the women and girls’ game will be a boost, but will also ask broader questions to clubs, schools and organisation as to whether they are providing opportunities for girls and women to play.

There is no doubt that the Lionesses are going into the tournament as an exciting team and under the stewardship of new manager Sarina Wiegman who comes with an impressive CV. Wiegman is widely renowned for her work with the Netherlands women’s team who are the current holders following their 2017 Women’s Euros win. Post the 2017 tournament Wiegman received the accolade of Best Women’s Coach at the FIFA Best Awards, and was praised for her positive playing style and ability to make tough decisions. Wiegman followed this success by subsequently taking her Dutch team to the 2019 World Cup final.  England are currently joint favourites with Spain to lift the 2022 trophy. Sarina Wiegman has had an instant impact with the Lionesses, and is currently undefeated in her first 13 games in charge of the squad (11-2-0).


The tournament presents the opportunity for fans of the women’s game, existing and new, to be exposed to women’s football on a massive scale. There is not only the chance to attend 31 games live in venues across England, but also a surge in pubs and venues screening the games and making commitments to be ‘safe spaces’ to watch women’s football. These will potentially pave the way for venues to screen more women’s sports and attract a wider and more diverse customer base.

Many of the games are already sold out including the opening match at Old Trafford as England Play Austria on the 6th of July and the final hosted at the home of UCFB Wembley, Wembley Stadium on the 31st. However, the logistics of the tournament have not come without criticism. The FA has been questioned and labelled ‘unambitious’ in hosting games at ‘small’ venues, with demand potentially outstripping supply. Garry (2022) reports the FA stating this is due to a mix of factors including a lack of cities/clubs coming forward to host, combined with the sudden recent growth in the women’s game. Some games are being hosted at WSL club sites, with a hope for fans to grow a connection with the women’s domestic game post-tournament. Total ticket sales have already surpassing 450,000 (nearly double the 240,000 attendance figure for the 2017 tournament) and totally eclipsing the number of ‘live event’ fans at the 2005 Euros.

Demand outstripping supply is a theme in women’s football that is highly pertinent to the current grassroots game. The challenge for the FA and governing bodies who have a vested interest in growing the women and girls’ game is to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support it, primarily places to play (as well as qualified coaches, referees, and club officials).

Despite the recent growth in participation, the women and girl’s game is still playing catch-up from the 1921-1971 FA ban. Following the success of Dick Kerr’s Ladies attracting crowds of over 50,000 spectators in 1920, The Football Association decreed, “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” The story and the impact are captured in the excellent Kelly Close (2017) documentary ‘When football Banned Women’. The damage done by the 50-year ban is still being felt as clubs find it hard to access spaces that are historically dominated by the men’s game.

There is no doubt that the women and girls’ game have the potential to thrive, and the Women’s Euros will accelerate interest further. Even though clubs want and welcome more players, the current infrastructure and issues faced by grassroots clubs mean many are only just surviving.

Issues in finding spaces to play (Mohdin, 2019) were highlighted following booming interest post the women’s World Cup. Three years later the same issues are being felt across grassroots football with new and existing teams battling it out for the same venues (mainly Artificial Turf Pitches or ATPs) and facilities that are heavily dominated by long-established men’s and boy’s teams as well as the ever-privatisation and commercialisation of community and school facilities. This means that grassroots clubs face additional barriers to accessing and affording spaces, in cities such as London the situation is already at a bottleneck. As participation grows, provision of quality facilities needs to keep up, with a stark need for equitable opportunities to access spaces across women’s, men’s and youth football.

Safe, accessible (e.g. training time and location) and affordable spaces are paramount for people to be able to play, but they are like gold dust. The DCMS announced in April that the government will launch a review into domestic women’s football (Whitehead, 2022) to help it ‘achieve greater parity with the men’s game’. This is a welcome move that accompanies waves of investment into both the grassroots and elite game. The DCMS review into the Women’s game and Grassroots Football is coming at the right time, with much work still needed to be done, and quickly.  There is a need to ensure efforts and funding are put into the right places and at the right time, to safeguard clubs at grassroots and futureproof the game for its anticipated growth.

The 2022 Euros presents a unique opportunity to go way beyond the success of 2005 and be seminal in inspiring a nation, not only young girls but also a lost generation of women who didn’t get the opportunity to play. Grassroots clubs like mine are gearing up for the impending tsunami of interest we will get this summer. From people who will be inspired for a myriad of reasons. Players who have fallen back in love with the game and those who have never kicked a ball before will get their boots back on or buy a pair for the first time. Football is for everyone.

In a short timeframe, the game has made amazing strides and it is an incredible time to work in women and girl’s football. As sport and football continues to evolve, there is a unique opportunity to help shape the game. At UCFB, the jobs our graduates will be doing in ten years probably don’t exist yet, but valuable skills and knowledge can be developed and forged now to help to recognise current and future trends, challenges, and opportunities. With the delayed progress of women’s football, leading to its now rapid development, the game is paving its own way, in its own right and out of the shadow of the men’s game. Like many women’s sports that are seeing rapid expansion and investment, women’s football finds itself in the position to take the best bits from the men’s game, but also learn from the game’s mistakes.

This summer is an opportunity to celebrate women’s football in its own right. As an echo to the 2000s research that outlined the opportunity for new approaches to be taken in the promotion of the game, women’s football has undoubtedly become ‘cool’ and those that work and play within it will recognise that it has its own extraordinary and inclusive sub-cultures. There has been a notable flex in social media presence and branding drives surrounding the tournament, players, and advocates of the game. You only have to look at the Lionesses Squad announcement video (produced by women working within the game) to see the high-profile names who are attaching themselves to women’s football and showcasing their support.

Players such as Leah Williamson who will be leading the team out onto the pitch as captain this summer is, if not already, an icon of the women’s game as well as a high-profile role model. Other players are vocal social change advocates such as Lotte Wubben-Moy, and stalwarts of the England line-up such as Lucy Bronze are household names. Brands are investing both time and finance in promoting the tournament and national federations are using the opportunity to actively demonstrate their support for their women’s teams. For example, the German men’s team recently wore the bespoke women’s national team shirt in their Friendly vs England. Legends of the game are stepping forward as strong advocates, with Ian Wright continuing to be the epitome of a male ally and genuine supporter. The tournament is not only an opportunity for women and girls to embrace the game, but a chance for everyone to engage with and celebrate women’s football.

Whether England lift the trophy or not, this summer’s tournament is a wonderful opportunity to showcase and celebrate the best of the women’s game, create lifelong memories and inspire not only the next generation, but span and spark existing generations love of the beautiful game.