There is no denying that in the last few years, the women’s game in England has exploded massively and with more clubs turning professional, greater sponsorship opportunities and incredibly steady and improving growth in fan attendance, the extra finances now available in the game for players who undoubtedly helped drive standards, improvements, entertainment and participation.
That is not to say that following on from all the years of being held back by laws in this country that were not fit for purpose and certainly not relevant, that the game has finished its development. Even supporters know that there are significant strides still to be made on a technical front, but those improvements are and will continue to come, as the game continues to be taken far more seriously than it was – there is certainly a far different outlook on the game in England now with the Lionesses side finishing as runners up at the 2023 World Cup, and Champions of their Finalissima clash in 2023 than compared to 2019 SheBelieves Cup win.
For those who like a flutter, that kind of consistent growth probably had not been predicted but many great California sports betting apps will definitely have good odds on what kind of records and achievements the 2023/24 campaign might bring to the game, as with a growth in the game itself, potential flutters follow.
As we went into this weekend’s domestic action as the festive fixture calendar continues, there was another historic first announced for the women’s game – Panini have confirmed that for the very first time ever, there will be a UK women’s domestic edition of their iconic sticker book.
The Italian outfit has partnered up with the Football Association to produce a maiden Women’s Super League (WSL) version of the collection, having enabled fans of the men’s game for the last 50 years to get hold of their favourite players in the top flight of football, and I am sure all of us here remember many moments from our childhood when you opened a newly purchased packet and got a card you had been praying to find – and then the almost endless time spent trading and swapping others and double ups with your school friends.
Panini now have the rights to almost 350 stickers, and just like their original annual and seasonal collections, there is no divide here. It is hardly a surprise to learn that Manchester City and England attacker, Chloe Kelly, was an avid fan of the collection from her school days and the 25 year old knows that this is a ‘huge moment’ for the players as the WSL continues to grow. She also knows it will more than play its part in helping to ‘inspire the next generations of girls’ to get more into the game, with role models they can recognise, and maybe replicate on the playing pitch whilst simply having fun, let alone viewing ‘playing’ as a potential career option depending on their own skills.
“I always had the sticker books growing up, it was always exciting going to the shop to buy them. I was always in the school playground looking for swaps, it was really the in thing when I was in school. To be here today to see myself as a Panini sticker is incredible. For young girls now to buy that sticker book, and see what we’ve achieved. They can look at themselves and be like: ‘I can be in that sticker book’.”
Nikita Parris echoed the ‘representation’ elements herself as she spoke at the launch, calling it ‘surreal’ that she now featured in the iconic childhood pastime, so it is simply a good recognition of what the current crop of players have now achieved in the game.
Fans and players in the know actually attended Manchester’s National Football Museum on Wednesday evening for the official launch, and having started in 2011, the WSL had almost 100 players representing their nations at the recent World Cup, and such has the growth of the English game been, that was the most of any league in the world, even though some fans would naturally argue we are very quickly playing catch up on some other nations, given their slightly earlier move to a more professional footing.
Even if the English game is playing catch up, it is some catch up with the Lionesses’ recent achievements, not least the fact that the WSL saw attendances sky rocket 170% in 2022/23 – and that was prior to the side reaching the World Cup Final – so 2023/24 could be another record breaking year for domestic clubs, as a number of sides are now moving to larger capacity stadiums and TV broadcast audiences are also very steadily creeping up.
It should be said, Panini have been involved in the Women’s game previously, back in 2011 they produced a collection covering the World Cup, and last season they created a domestic collection for Spain’s top flight, the Liga F, and there was a secondary WC book this year.
The new WSL edition will feature both current players and icons of the women’s game and will include a shiny foil set of 12 from all 12 member clubs, and head of marketing of sport at Panini admits it has been a long process as the timing had to be correct for it to have the desired impact, but now they feel that time is right.
Katie Gritt explained.
“It’s a real privilege for us to play our part in bringing the women’s game even closer to the fans.”