This piece originally appeared on The OffsideRulePodcast.com.
Chelsea Women hosted Tottenham Hotspur Women at Stamford Bridge last weekend in a bid to help promote women’s football. But what was the turn out really like and more importantly, will this match encourage fans to watch women’s football again in the future?
It was a game that had been anticipated for weeks: Chelsea Women were set to take on newly promoted Spurs at none other than Stamford Bridge, kicking off their start to the season in style.
Not only was the club’s attendance expected to grow spectacularly, swapping their home ground for a venue almost twenty times the size – but the game was also completely free for all spectators, hoping to continue the excitement surrounding women’s football this summer.
Undeniably, fans had mixed opinions about the decision to allocate free tickets with many suggesting that the women’s game is one worth paying for, and a promotional stunt like this would run risk of devaluing the female players. After all, how can we expect to promote them as professional players if we offer their matches for free but demand £50 a ticket for their male counterparts?
Offering free tickets also means there was a high risk that many fans wouldn’t show, despite all tickets to the game being claimed in just four days.
During the lead up to the game, the atmosphere seemed fit for a classic London derby. Fans filled the streets of Fulham eagerly and official matchday merchandise was sold at every corner. In many ways, it seemed like your average football day out but in others, it was very different. Growing up as a Chelsea fan and attending matches as a child, I was used to being one of the youngest supporters and as a female, you’d tend to stick out like a sore thumb.
Not today. Today, the ground was filled with a healthy mix of grown men, women and children, all ready to go and support their female heroes. And as strange and unfamiliar as it was heart-warming, it was a promising outlook of what the future of football could hold.
Pre-match entertainment was another key element of the day, and despite being aware of this beforehand, I was surprised at how many people got involved.
Chelsea were keen to make an impression with the likes of freestylers, face painting and a DJ set by Marvin Humes all taking place before kick-off. And although at times it may have seemed a bit excessive, it was after all a historical day for football, marking the largest ever crowds for both teams during a league game. But the aspect of the day that created the most hype was of course, the action that took place on the pitch.
A performance fit for the Bridge
In terms of performances, both teams proved their ability to play in front of a large audience. Chelsea dominated throughout, but Spurs showed their worth as new contenders within the WSL.
After an incredible 25-yard strike from Beth England in the first four minutes, the Blues secured an early lead which they kept in a 1-0 victory against their rivals.
Debutant Guro Reiten also had a good game, hitting the woodwork in the second half along with Drew Spence. But the absence of Fran Kirby was visible from the start.
Can't. Stop. Watching. ?
— Chelsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) September 8, 2019
Spurs’ key players involved the likes of experienced Gemma Davison who was an undeniable presence on the pitch as well as their keeper Rebecca Spencer who made some spectacular saves throughout the game. They did particularly well for a side who have welcomed many new players into their squad and will continue to improve throughout the season.
The pre-match buzz and excitement carried on throughout the duration of the match, with the Spurs fans often giving the home supporters a run for their money as they cheered loudly from the away end.
All in all, the atmosphere during the game was another positive aspect that could be taken away from the day, with the majority of fans fixated throughout the 90 minutes.
However, despite the match on Sunday recording an attendance of 24, 564 (five times larger than Chelsea’s previous matchday record), it still fell short of the Manchester derby that ranked up 31, 213 supporters the previous day. Fans also paid £7 a ticket to see Manchester City claim a 1-0 victory over United, suggesting a more successful promotional strategy.
Nonetheless, last weekend’s antics prove the hype surrounding women’s football is still well and truly alive. For many, it was the first time they had witnessed a women’s game – and the figures speak for themselves.
Free or not, people want to watch women’s football and there is a higher demand for it than ever before.
Seeing thousands of fans with the likes of Bright and Kirby on their backs was an eyeopener – and something I could very much get used to.
Follow Chelsea (the writer, not the club) on Twitter @Chelseajadeft9