Women’s soccer has fought a long battle for recognition — but after several false starts, the women’s game has increasingly grown in popularity and this year’s World Cup in France promises to be the most-watched in history.
The women’s game first emerged in Britain after World War I and found a new wave of support again in the late 1960s, before receding only to re-emerge in the 1990s.
The emancipation movement after World War I triggered what many historians consider as the golden age of women’s soccer.
As men were drafted to the front, women took their place on the factory floor, and in their breaks, some of them enjoyed kicking a ball around in the yards, a tradition the male factory workers had previously enjoyed.
The era had its great team, the Munitionnettes, from Dick Kerr’s munitions factory in Preston, England, and their star player, Lily Parr, remains the sole woman in English soccer’s Hall of Fame. She was inaugurated in 2009.
On Dec. 26, 1920, more than 53,000 fans filled Everton’s Goodison Park to watch Dick Kerr’s Ladies beat St Helen’s 4-0, but the following year, the Football Association banned women from playing on Football League grounds, saying that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.”
Women’s soccer then began to gain ground in Belgium, France and Germany, but without national infrastructures, it faded in the 1930s.
It was not until the 1960s that it was given fresh impetus by the burgeoning feminist movement.
The women’s game once again raised its head when the first European championships took place in 1969. They were won by Italy, although neither UEFA not FIFA recognized the event as official.
A seven-nation World Cup was organized in Italy in 1970, won by Denmark, and several other events took place without FIFA’s approval.
However, the women’s game advanced only slowly, while feminism in the wider sense continued to gain only incremental progress in terms of gaining equal civil rights.
The big exception was in the US, where from the outset “soccer was seen as a women’s game, with girls playing from a very young age, and it became accepted behavior,” said Anais Bohoun, a professor at Paris-Sud University.
It was no surprise then that it was US teams that dominated the first FIFA-backed World Cups, winning in 1991 and 1999, when 90,185 spectators watched the final at the Rose Bowl in California, which remains a world record for a women’s match.
UEFA organized its first official women’s European championships in 1984, won by Sweden, while the Asian Federation did the same as early as 1975.
Africa and South America created their regional competitions in 1991.
In terms of club soccer, a women’s Champions League was launched in the 2001-2002 season, while the professional era got off to a rocky start in the US before relaunching in 2009.
More and more girls have been attracted to soccer, partly motivated by the 2002 British-made feature film Bend It Like Beckham, starring Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley.
A new attendance benchmark for a European women’s club match was set on Sunday when a crowd of 60,739 watched Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid 2-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.
There is also now a woman’s Ballon d’Or, although the first ceremony was blemished by a TV presenter making sexist comments to the Norwegian winner, Ada Hegerberg.
China wants to unite its 1.4 billion people through soccer, while also using the sport as “a bridge to work with the rest of the world,” Chinese Football Association secretary-general Liu Yi told reporters in an interview published yesterday. Liu spoke about what lies behind the country’s push to become a major soccer power by 2050. Under Chinese President Xi Jinping — who is described by state media as an “avid soccer fan” — the world’s most populous country has grand plans to host and even one day win a World Cup. Liu spoke about “using football to motivate the whole nation.” “Football is
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