20:42 GMT13 April 2021
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    Women's football - hugely popular during the First World War - is enjoying a fresh surge in the UK. The upcoming England women's team friendly against Germany has outsold the men's latest friendly against Norway by around 1,000 tickets.

    The friendly against Germany at Wembley on November 23 has already sold 41,000 tickets, outstripping the predicted 30,000. That figure has already risen to 55,000 with over a week before kick off.

    The biggest crowd to date for a women's game was Boxing Day 1920 when 53,000 people watched Dick Kerr's Ladies beat St Helen's Ladies 4-0 at Goodison Park, Liverpool. The game was so hotly anticipated that 13,000 spectators were turned away at the gate.

    The previous best attendance for an England women's game was 29,092, recorded when England played Finland at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium in 2005, as part of the European Championships.

    The London 2012 Olympics, where Great Britain's women Olympic Games team were watched by 70,584 as they beat Brazil 1-0 at Wembley, along with the launch of the FA Women's Super League (WSL) in 2011 have been crucial influences on the re-growth of women's football in the UK.

    In the WSL, crowds have been steadily rising. This year, the numbers grew to an average of 728 per match — a 30 percent increase on the previous year. A similar increase in 2015 would see crowd numbers approaching the 1,000 mark.

    A grassroots revolution

    More than 250,000 females now play the game regularly in England, making it the fourth most popular participant team sport after men's football, rugby and cricket. At the current rate of growth, the FA expect it to rise to second in the table by 2018.

    At a recent Premier League Kicks competition, organised on Hackney Marshes, there were 28 girls' teams representing league clubs from around the country, and playing the game to a very high standard.

    The next potential flashpoint for even higher participation and viewing figures is the 2015 World Cup in Canada.

    FA head of women's football Kelly Simmons sees the World Cup as the point at which surging interest could lead to cross- over into the sporting mainstream.

    "We've got a great chance again," she told us. "The England team have had a great qualification campaign.

    "The World Cup next year is a great opportunity to put women's football in the shop window and help raise the profile of the England players, so that people want to follow them when they go back to their clubs.

    "It's up to us to make sure we maximise that opportunity to keep building the fan base behind England and the Women's Super League.

    "Whilst it was a disappointment, we definitely benefited from the Olympics. The FA board have always said since the Olympics that they were really keen to bring women's football back.

    "We felt our best chance to get a really good crowd at Wembley and make it a real spectacle would be to try to get world-class opposition. Germany is ranked number two, but many would think of them as the best team in the world."

    Economic inequality

    The economics surrounding the sport still need to be addressed, as a recent study on the gender gap in sporting prize money revealed. About 30 percent of sports which offer cash rewards for titles award their female champions less than males.

    The Women's FA Cup winning squad, even with live TV coverage, take home £5,000 compared with £1.8 million for the men.

    The Women's Super League winners receive nothing, while the (mens) Premier League champions win £24 million.

    The inequality in figures doesn't mirror what happens on the pitch. The Women's Super League season in October was in equal parts thrilling and completely improbable. Liverpool Ladies won the title on goal difference despite starting their final match in third place.

    Designs to bridge the gap

    Despite the current inequality between prize money and wages, the WSL along with the England team, will be the driving force behind the increased professionalisation of women's football.

    To even up the differential, the Football Association's strategy is to split the commercial rights to men's football and women's football: previously the television rights were lumped together and women's games got lost in the mix. Now, BT Sport and the BBC show top women's games.

    Also in 2009, England put 18 of its top players on central contracts. There are now 26 England players paid an annual salary, and WSL teams pay their top players too. When central contracts were first introduced, England players got £16,000, a sum described by the football union's chief, Gordon Taylor, as 'embarrassing'. It has since been upped to £20,000. Players are also allowed to work up to 24 hours a week in a second job.

    Carrie Dunn, an academic at the University of East London and co-author of the forthcoming book, The FA Women's Super League: its history, governance and impact sums up the realisation felt by sports fans previously hampered by the ignorant view that women's football is a 'lesser' form of the game.

    She says:  "Women's football isn't necessarily the same game as men's football. It's played on the same pitches and it's 11-a-side, but you probably get a slower game and get players running with the ball more. But you get different levels and standards of men's football, and people still go to watch. Just because it's not equivalent to Premier League football doesn't mean it's not a valid sport or not worth watching or investing in."

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