It’s hard not to get carried away during these Olympics. It seems that everywhere we turn we’re winning medals. Expected, unexpected. Individuals and teams. All sorts of different sports.
However, the one sport that hasn’t captured the public’s imagination is football. Actually, I tell a lie. I really mean men’s football.
When the TeamGB men’s football team exited the competition on Saturday, it was met with barely a whimper from the general public. Some might say that was because Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah had us distracted with displays of sheer brilliance at the Olympic Stadium.
The Olympics is partly about watching a new sport or discipline; something you’d never considered watching before. Throughout the season men’s football is shown on TV in abundance. There is always a game on. The same can’t be said for the likes of Archery, Canoeing and Roman-Greco Wrestling.
In some ways that explains the success of the TeamGB women’s football team. The lack of coverage during the rest of the Olympiad contributed to a sense of freshness and excitement within the tournament that saw a record crowd at Wembley for a women’s football match.
When TeamGB exited the tournament, losing 2-0 to the Canadian’s, I felt a real sense of disappointment for our players who had conducted themselves without the pretention of their male counterparts.
I wanted the women’s team to win and couldn’t care less about the men’s team. Many felt the same and saw this a welcome development for the women’s football.
I can’t help feeling that there is a paradox within all of this though.
The reason I enjoyed watching the TeamGB women’s team was because of the freshness that comes from not having watched women’s football for a number of years, primarily due to the lack of coverage it is given.
However, it is the chronic lack of coverage and investment within the women’s game that has capped its development and prevented further progression for female football players.
It is perfectly clear that the women’s game deserves better. Whilst the FA has made progress with the introduction of Player Development Centres for female players and the training of thousands of new female coaches, more needs to be done.
Quite what that is yet, I don’t know but targeted investment to double the number of female coaches would be a start. Good coaches can inspire people to take up sport and more inspirational female coaches like Hope Powell could only strengthen the women’s game at the grassroots level.
With this investment comes challenges though. The biggest of which, is how to avoid diluting the spirit engendered by TeamGB’s Women’s team, so sorely lacking with our men’s team? How can women’s football be developed in such away as to maintain its freshness whilst making it viable for women to have successful careers in the game? Do we envisage a sustainable and prosperous future for the women’s game in this country or just once every four year enthusiasm for the team at an Olympic games. Those are the key questions the FA have to address.
And now that the momentum is there, they should make a start now.
By Oliver Deed, Chipping Barnet CLP
P.S. I will be rectifying my lack of attendence at women’s football by making the effort to watch the brilliant Barnet FC Ladies play next season. Why not find your local women’s team and go along to a couple of games?