Record crowd for England Women’s FA Cup Final
Women’s football has truly arrived in England – and there was no better proof of that than at the 2017 Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley.
A record crowd of 35,271 gathered at London’s Home of Football to see the mighty Manchester City blow Birmingham City away 4-1 to lift the trophy for the first time ever.
The biggest English attendance for a domestic women’s fixture in recent years was rewarded with a game high on quality with five goals to boot, Manchester City taking control of the match with three goals in the first half.
It’s always thought that, however dismal the English spring weather has been, the sun always shines on Wembley on cup final day. It isn’t always the case, of course – but it certainly was for the fans bathed in late afternoon sunshine at the SSE Women’s FA Cup final.
It all helped to add to the carnival atmosphere inside the stadium. For those more familiar with the men’s game, watching a women’s fixture is a radically different experience.
Forget segregation – supporters of the opposing teams, and the many neutrals just looking forward to a good game, sit side by side. Women and girls outnumbered the men and boys – by my reckoning, a 60/40 split. As a result the testosterone-fuelled aggressive chants are noticeable by their absence – instead be prepared to join in with the occasional Mexican Wave.
Free entry for children led to a real family atmosphere, and this was clear in the cavernous concourses underneath the stadium. The queues at the popcorn stall were longer than those for a half time beer! You sense that, for many, it is their first time at the national stadium, and maybe their first time watching a football match live. We all remember our first game with great fondness!
The quality of the football was evident – played at a decent pace with chances at both ends. Perhaps the one big difference between this and the men’s game was the aggression, or lack of it – there were only a handful of fouls all match. There was precious little backchat from the players to the referee either, which wass refreshing .
Manchester City see off brave Birmingham
Manchester City’s investment in their men’s team has been well-documented, and highly successful –but they have also backed their women’s side, so much so that they were awarded a place in the inaugural Super League season and play their games at the club’s Academy Stadium.
Their line-up at Wembley contained a whole host of English internationals – captain Steph Houghton, keeper Karen Bardsley, Lucy Bronze, Jill Scott and Izzy Christiansen. They were joined by American Carli Lloyd, the current FIFA Player of the Year.
It was always going to be an uphill struggle for Birmingham, who had seen off Arsenal and Chelsea to reach the final. They competed well but Manchester City were ruthless in their finishing.
Bronze headed them ahead, with Christiansen powering home a second. Lloyd added the third with barely half an hour hone. Charlie Wellings pulled a goal back with 17 minutes left, but Scott fired home the fourth for City to secure victory and a first ever FA Cup.
Rise of the English Women’s game
England’s national women’s side won the bronze medal at the World Cup in Canada last year, and were a whisker away from reaching the final. It’s a lifetime away from the game as it was even a quarter of a century ago. At that time the USA, Germany and Scandinavia led the way, and English women’s football was a complete afterthought to the dominant men’s game.
Ironically the game had first surfaced in England, 100 years ago during the First World War, when it attracted big crowds. However, in 1921 the FA banned women’s teams from playing on FA club member pitches – a ban that lasted 50 years – and the sport was consigned to the backwaters.
That has all changed. Over the past 20 years the English national side have made steady progress to being competitive on the world stage, and in 1991 the Premier League was launched. That was followed by the FA Women’s Super League in 2011. Through sensible ticket pricing and family incentives, average crowds have now broken through the 1,000 barrier.
In 2015 the FA switched the cup final to Wembley, and all three matches since have broken the 30,000 mark with this year’s match the highest yet, fans largely filling up the vast lower tier and Club Wembley area. It’s become the annual day out for the English women’s game – and is surely set to grow in popularity.
Getting to Wembley
Wembley Stadium is well served by public transport and is 20-30 minutes from central London.
Head to Baker Street, the world’s oldest underground station, and catch a Metropolitan line train for the 10 minute journey to Wembley Park. It’s then a 10 minute walk up the iconic Olympic Way to the stadium.
The Bakerloo underground line also serves the stadium, passing through Wembley Central, and you can also take a suburban rail service from Marylebone to Wembley Stadium.