Women’s soccer is capturing the attention of the sporting world. More girls and women have participated in the game in the last few years than ever before, and viewing numbers have reached an all-time high.
What is women’s soccer? Well, it’s the same as men’s soccer. The only difference is that the players are women. The rules are the same, the field is the same, and the goals are the same.
The aim is simple – to work alongside your teammates, move the ball up the pitch, and score more goals than your opponent within 90 minutes.
Just like the men’s game, there are now professional women’s soccer leagues worldwide. But getting to this point has been a windy and tumultuous road for women’s soccer players. Unfortunately, the early years of the women’s soccer game have a long and troubled history.
Women’s soccer has had to overcome adversity and discrimination to get to where it is today. This involved a significant setback that delayed the women’s game for an agonizing 50 years!
To fully understand and appreciate the success of the women’s soccer game today, we need to go back to 19th century England.
Women’s Soccer in 19th Century UK
Towards the end of the 1880s, many women across the UK were playing soccer.
Women’s soccer was gaining traction, with matches being organized across the country, much to the dismay of many men. Soccer was much more violent and physical than today, with many people horrified that women would choose to get involved in such a ‘masculine sport.’ Women’s matches would often spark riots, with pitch invasions a frequent occurrence.
One of the first-ever women’s football teams felt the full force of this resistance. In 1881, Helen ‘Graham’ Matthews founded one of the first female teams – Mrs. Graham’s XI, in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Players in her squad often had to hide behind false names to avoid the targeted backlash that women’s soccer players had to endure at the time.
Their first significant match attracted a crowd in the thousands, but it was hastily called off in the 55th minute when unruly spectators entered the field of play. Unfortunately, the team didn’t fully recover from this match which attracted some callous media coverage.
A second women’s team was formed over a decade later, in 1894. This team was named British Ladies FC and was founded by a woman known as Nettie Honeyball. Nettie Honeyball also captained the side, building a loyal squad of almost 30 players. Some of the public showed interest in the side, finding them amusing, while others saw it as a threat to the masculinity of the game.
In 1895, Honeyball organized an inter-squad match, advertising the sale of tickets to the general public. The idea that women would be making a profit from a soccer match enraged many men. However, the game went ahead anyway, and more than 10,000 people filled the stands. Many more were said to have been turned away at the gates. Over the next couple of years, the team continued to play exhibition matches until the side was forced to disband due to a lack of funds.
However, interest in the women’s soccer game didn’t seem to falter. Women’s soccer saw a resurgence 20 years later and quickly became popular again. Around the time of the first world war, men’s leagues were stopped as soldiers went off to battle. In their absence, women decided to organize their matches primarily to raise money for the soldiers.
On Boxing Day, 1920, a match between Dick, Kerr Ladies, and St Helen Ladies took place. The game was held at, what is now Everton F.C, and attracted an incredible crowd of 53,000 spectators. At least 10,000 more were turned away from the gates.
The match was forever marked as a milestone in the women’s game. Not only was it one of the biggest turnouts to a women’s match, but it also triggered the banning of women’s soccer.
The Ban on Womens Soccer Game
The crowd numbers and media attention at this legendary women’s match caused a lot of tribulation. Rumors began to spread that women were getting paid to play soccer. The idea that women could play soccer professionally caused public outrage, especially amongst men.
In 1921, the Football Association of England (the FA) banned women from playing and having access to club facilities. They deemed that the game was ‘unsuitable for females’ and ‘should not be encouraged.’ The ban completely crushed women’s football. It took an astonishing 50 years for the ban to finally be lifted.
In 1971, the same year that the ban ended, the first National Cup for Women, known as the Mitre Challenge Trophy, was held in England. This competition later morphed into what is known today as the Women’s FA Cup.
Women’s Soccer Today
Since the ban ended, women’s soccer has continued to grow exponentially. There are currently 29 million women and girls playing soccer worldwide, with this number set to increase.
Globally, there are 176 national teams and several women’s professional leagues that continue to strengthen.
In the UK, viewing figures for the Women’s Super League (WSL) are set to shoot up by more than 350 percent annually, thanks to new broadcast deals for the 2021/22 season.
National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL)
In the United States, the National Women’s Soccer League or the NWSL broke viewership records by almost 300 percent in the 2020 season. This boost of spectators was likely helped by partnerships formed between the league and viewing platforms such as CBS Sports and Twitch.
Over the coming years, it is expected that there will be more investment in the women’s soccer game. This injection of interest will only help to attract more visibility and sponsorships.
FIFA Women’s World Cup
The FIFA Women’s World Cup has undoubtedly been a massive influence in promoting and expanding women’s soccer.
With each successive Women’s World Cup, the viewing numbers climb. The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France surpassed 1.12 billion viewers, making it the most prominent women’s sporting event globally.
This event, held every four years, brings together the best women’s soccer players from all over the globe, whose performances are inspirational to future generations.
Who is the Best Female Soccer Player?
Arguably, one of the most exciting female soccer players to watch is Marta, a legendary player from Brazil. Marta has won the FIFA World Player of the year/Best FIFA Women’s Player six times. She also holds the record for scoring the most goals in Women’s World Cup history, hitting the back of the net 17 times.
Another iconic figure in women’s soccer is Mia Hamm, who starred at the first-ever Women’s World Cup held in 1991. She is considered by many to be the best US soccer player of all time. Her career in the USWNT spanned 17 years and saw her win two world cups and two gold medals at the 1996 and 2004 Olympics.
Best US women’s soccer players include Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Megan Rapinoe.
In fact, most of the United States Women’s Soccer Team have become household names. The US national team has a long history as being, arguably, the best women’s soccer team in the world.
Check out other articles on women soccer players.
US Women’s Soccer (USWNT)
The USA World Cup History dates back to the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991, where they first stamped their dominance, beating Norway 2-1 in the finals.
Since then, the USWNT has won the World Cup four times, making them the most successful women’s national team in the history of world cups. Moreover, they currently hold the title of being world champions after claiming the silverware in France 2019.
2023 Women’s World Cup
The USWNT has not yet qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which is to be held in New Zealand and Australia.
To qualify, the USWNT will have to compete at the CONCACAF Nations League tournament from 2021-2024. However, for both Canada and the US, the road will be made a little easier. Both teams will head straight to the finals of this tournament due to their high FIFA ranking as of August 2020.
Why is the US Women’s Soccer Team So Good?
The rise of women’s soccer in the US can largely be accredited to Title IX – a law that passed one year after the FA lifted the ban on women’s soccer.
Title IX removed barriers for women, prohibiting discrimination based on sex in US education programs. In addition, this law meant that equal funding was given to men and women’s college sports, opening opportunities for women’s soccer players.
There are now around 1700 colleges that have a women’s soccer team. College soccer in the US is regarded as one of the top pathways for developing players, with the most talented athletes competing in the top NCAA division.
Women’s College Soccer
Some of the world’s best soccer players have come through the US college system, including US national team players. Young, talented international players are also attracted to what the system offers. The best athletes from all over the world can often receive full scholarships to study and play soccer at a competitive level.
The University of North Carolina, or UNC, has long been regarded as one of the best colleges for women’s soccer. The ‘Tar Heels’ have won 21 out of the 38 NCAA national titles.
College soccer is classed as a pathway into the professional game. Each year, the best college soccer players can be drafted into the NWSL (the National Women’s Soccer League), which is regarded as one of the world’s top women’s soccer leagues. There are currently ten women’s professional soccer teams in the NWSL.
The strong set-up of the United States women’s soccer program produces some of the best athletes and is why the USWNT has been and continues to be so successful.
Many young girls are inspired by the USWNT players and set their sights early on becoming professional, which only helps drive the game forward.
USA Women’s Soccer Jersey
In 2019, USWNT jersey sales soared, outpacing any other US soccer jersey sales, including those of the men.
The USA women’s soccer jersey for 2021/22 is available online here. The US Stadium Home and Away jerseys are made from lightweight, breathable material and are modeled on what the pros wear on the field.
The recognizable USA soccer logo is on the front, sporting the four stars on top representing their world cup wins. The US soccer logo has undergone plenty of design changes since it was first created in 1913.
Unveiled in 2016, the current crest is stripped back to basics but is nevertheless bold and empowering.
The Road Ahead
So, as you can see, women’s soccer has come a long way since the 1800s.
It seems that the women’s game is quickly catching up to the men. An astonishing feat, given the 50-year setback.
However, one area that still causes serious debate is the wage gap between male and female professional players.
The USWNT is leading the charge in this equal-pay battle – filing a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation in 2019.
Despite being some of the highest-paid players in the women’s game, the US team stood to fight against pay discrimination. They argued that even though they generate more revenue than the men’s side, they are still only paid a fraction of what the men earn.
As of 2021, the highest-paid female soccer player is USWNT star Carli Lloyd, who, at 39, is still performing for her country. Her annual salary is estimated to be $518,000. In comparison, Lionel Messi, the top paid men’s player, rakes in over one million dollars per week.
Women’s Soccer Pay
The women’s soccer pay gap is even more evident when you look across the entire spread of players at a professional level. For example, in 2019, the minimum league salary for a player in the NWSL was $16,538. Compare this to the men’s equivalent MLS, which saw minimum salaries for players set at $70,250.
The gap is even more startling when you look at the women’s professional soccer game in England, with most professional EPL players earning more in one day than most WSL players do in an entire season.
Check out our collection of articles on soccer player wages.
Clearly, there is plenty of more work to be done to close the gender pay gap in soccer, but the future holds promise.
With interest in women’s soccer exploding in recent years, the game will likely attract more attention and investment. Hopefully, this injection of cash will trickle down to the players themselves.
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