Last Last month, Barcelona set a world attendance record for a women’s club game when more than 91,000 people gathered at the Nou Camp to watch their Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg. A week later, Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano became the first female boxers to headline New York’s Madison Square Garden.
The cues keep coming in women’s sport and although BBC presenter Eilidh Barbour’s outing at the Scottish Football Writers’ Association dinner last week was an uncomfortable but necessary reminder that some of the misogynistic attitudes ingrained in the game die hard, there is also evidence that the sport is attracting a burgeoning new audience.
The next installment of that proof will come at Wembley on Sunday when Manchester City and Chelsea face off in the women’s half of a much-anticipated FA Cup final weekend. The match is live on BBC1 and is hoped to draw record crowds for a women’s club match in this country, surpassing the 53,000 who watched Dick, Kerr Ladies v St Helens Ladies at Goodison Park in 1920.
Manchester City’s Caroline Weir sat down with Sportsmail to talk about women and sport
New Women’s Super League winners Chelsea will be favorites but City, whose investment in their women’s team has set new standards for facilities in this country, finished the season strong and overtook Manchester United to finish third. It capped a five-season streak where they finished second.
If they are to stage an upset, chances are their Scottish midfielder Caroline Weir will be at the heart of it. A social media phenom due to the outstanding goals she continues to score and a player linked with a summer move to Real Madrid, Weir is the personification of how the profile of elite female footballers is changing and growing all the time.
“Social media rules the world,” she says. “If you can cut a 10 second video and put it on Twitter or Instagram, that’s what people are going to watch.”
Barcelona broke women’s attendance record as 91,553 fans watched them and Real Madrid
They then broke that record again as Barcelona beat Wolfsburg in the Champions League
There were nine minutes remaining in the last Manchester derby of the season in February when Weir stole the ball from midfield and shredded from right to left on the edge of United’s box. There were over 5,000 people inside the City Academy stadium that day and most of us had a reasonable idea of what might happen next.
Weir, who has the best left foot in women’s football, has developed a habit of scoring spectacular goals on big occasions, which is one of the reasons many will be backing her to make an impact on Sunday.
Three years ago, she scored a thunderbolt against United at the Etihad Stadium in front of more than 31,000 fans, a growing momentum that earned her a nomination for FIFA’s Puskas Award for the ‘most important goal on the aesthetic plan” of the year. She was beaten that year by Son Heung-min’s solo goal for Tottenham against Burnley.
Two years ago she scored another stunning goal against United at the Academy Stadium. She launched the strike with a backwards turn that bamboozled her marker, took another touch and delicately chipped the ball over the United keeper. Erik Lamela won the award that year for his Rabona goal for Spurs against Arsenal.
Thus, during the February derby, after being a substitute in the second half, much was expected of her. She did not disappoint. She took the ball to the edge of the box, looked up and lifted another fine chip over the United keeper. It was almost a copy of the previous year’s goal and won the game for City. There is already talk that Weir will earn his third straight Puskas nomination.
Weir, 26, smiles at the thought. It’s small consolation that Scotland missed out on the Women’s Euro in England this summer, a tournament which is sure to give the game another boost here. However, it could still be a huge summer for her: there is speculation that she will be courted by Madrid and could pursue her ambitions in Spain.
“The game has come a long way,” says Weir, “and I feel really lucky to be in the position that I’m in and that we play professionally. But I think there’s still a need for perceptions to change on a larger scale. Women’s sport is a reflection of society as a whole. We are far behind in terms of more widespread respect.
A week later, Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano became the first female boxers to headline New York’s Madison Square Garden.
However, Weir says women’s football is still far from getting the respect we deserve
“There is still a lot of work to do. One of the big things that has helped this season is the TV deal in the WSL. I felt the change that this accessibility brought. It’s a fairly brutal change that I haven’t necessarily felt in the other seasons. Women’s football is starting to spread. If people know you play football for Manchester City, they are interested. It’s pretty superficial, but on social media we all have big followers now. We are seen in a slightly different way.
“The balance of power seems to have shifted a bit towards the players in women’s football. I felt like that, feeling comfortable asking for things, not just being satisfied with what we were given. gives, not so much here at City, but with the national team. I think it’s a change in women at all levels who are comfortable pushing the boundaries.
“On the national team, there’s a sense that as female athletes we strive to make things better and we’re comfortable asking for those things instead of just keeping quiet.”
Weir’s journey is familiar to his generation, which rests on the shoulders of trailblazers who spent much of their club career changing in car parks, wearing men’s team kits, paying their own expenses and to accept this life. as a professional was a dream that could only come true late in their career.
Although she thinks the WSL TV deal this season has helped accessibility
Weir grew up in Dunfermline, a football-mad daughter of a football-mad father from a family of Dunfermline Athletic fans. “It wasn’t men’s football versus women’s football because there were no women playing football, in my eyes anyway, when I was growing up,” Weir explains. “My dad was a huge Dunfermline fan so we all had season tickets. Well, four of us did. My mum and one of my sisters weren’t into football so they went shopping.
“On Boxing Day we were playing a big game with all our friends from primary school. There were no girls. Just me. It was just normal. In our small circle of family and friends, I was the girl who played soccer. Sometimes at school tournaments, parents from other teams would complain and say that I shouldn’t play because I was a girl. I grew up trying to prove to the people that they were wrong from a very young age. It’s in my subconscious.
Weir knows Spain will be favorites for the Euros this summer, but thinks Sweden or Germany are more likely to win. She won’t be there but that doesn’t mean she’ll step back. “I want to win a championship title,” she said. ‘Silverware. I want to challenge myself in different environments at some point. Not standing still is the most important thing for me.