Flourishing women's game deserves better exposure
Players fitter, faster and more skilful than ever before, but organisers are failing to let public know about it, writes David James
The women's World Cup starts today and I'm genuinely excited to see how England fare. In the years that I've been watching women's football the game has changed enormously; even the league match I watched between Bristol Ladies and Chelsea Ladies was far better in quality than an international game I watched England play six or seven years ago. That can only bode well for the future.
But despite my perception of the game having changed I'm not sure the same can be said for many of my colleagues. Male footballers don't really tend to talk much about women's football and I can't imagine many of them will be watching the World Cup this week. In fairness, the problem has been a lack of exposure that persists even now. If you asked a male footballer their opinion on women's football their comments might not be complimentary, but that's probably because they haven't seen a game in so long.
During the league season, even with the launch of the new English Super League, it's still not the most accessible sport to get into. Aside from a few live league games shown on ESPN, and the FA Cup final, it is very difficult to find out what is happening during a match. Admittedly I'm the sort of person who will sit and watch Sky Sports News results on loop, but it should really be easier for the average fan to find the scores, let alone watch the action.
A few weeks back I was searching for the Bristol Ladies live score and I could not find it anywhere. I looked on the FA website and there was nothing, and I'm not on Twitter and I wasn't about to sign up to it just for the game.
Eventually I found a gambling website that had the scores and a bit of detail on the action so I ended up following that. But the site shut down as soon as the whistle blew so I couldn't check the final score and I ended up having to wait for a text from Siobhan Chamberlain, the Bristol Ladies goalkeeper, just to find out what had happened.
To my mind that's loose thinking; the governing bodies want to promote the women's game but they're not making it accessible enough for fans to easily follow.
And promotion is key. I'd like to use our side to create a greater awareness of the Bristol Ladies team next season. With the women reaching the FA Cup final this year it would have been the perfect opportunity for us to have them on the pitch at half-time and encourage fans to watch the game.
Some of Germany's female footballers have adopted a more radical approach, taking part in a magazine shoot for Playboy, which I hear caused some consternation.
I can't really see the problem with it. Male footballers have taken part in similar photoshoots over the years: it has all become part and parcel of the rise of the celebrity footballer.
I've recently been reunited with my old Liverpool team-mate Robbie Fowler -- we're doing our coaching badges together over the summer -- and chatting away with him has brought back memories of the old days. In many ways we were the catalysts for all this superstar footballer nonsense because there was this huge desire around for footballers to be in magazines and on TV shows. Back then if you weren't in FHM and Loaded you were out of the loop.
Lots of us did male modelling -- I did Paco Rabanne, and Eric Cantona also had a go on the catwalk -- and in the years since there have been plenty of footballers modelling underwear in sexy poster campaigns. Last year, to promote the World Cup, Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo appeared on the front cover of a magazine together wearing just their pants.
Germany's female players posing in sexy football strips to promote themselves and their sport forms only one part of the publicity for this World Cup. The marketing for the tournament has been phenomenal -- the organisers have sold 700,000 tickets and many of the matches are already sold out, including the final -- so the sport is hardly relying on sexy pictures to promote itself.
Never mind photoshoots, what will the standard of football be like during this tournament? One of the key criticisms of the women's game has been the standard of goalkeeping.
Years ago when I first watched women's football I must admit that it was frustrating to see -- players were shooting from 40 yards out and scoring, as the 'keepers struggled to cover the full-size goalmouths.
These days, however, there appears to have been an evolutionary shift in the physique of the women in goal -- Siobhan is very tall, and the Arsenal 'keeper, Emma Byrne, is Van Der Sar-esque in build. That shift ties in with what is happening across the game: the players are fitter, faster and more skilful than four or five years ago.
I had hoped to do a training session with Siobhan last season to see what goalkeeping training is like in the women's game, but perhaps that's something we can arrange this year. I've got a lot of respect for Siobhan.
Her professionalism is refreshing, and she's extremely ambitious. She's pushing for the England No 1 spot and after getting half a game for England some weeks ago she was absolutely buzzing. If the game has more women like that, then standards can only improve.
Sunday Indo Sport