A sport that has been overlooked by its better-funded big brother, British women's football was given the chance to shine, and despite a quarter-final exit, shine it did
By Michael Lightfoot
Tears flowed as Team GB's women footballers saw their medal hopes collapse against Canada on Friday, but Hope Powell's side, in time, can reflect on a mission largely accomplished at London 2012.
To 'Inspire a Generation' is the mantra of these Games, and after Team GB finished top of their group, conceding no goals and defeating two-time Olympic silver medallists Brazil in the process, the exhasutively slow process of growth in the women's game has been given another spurt.
The City of Coventry Stadium was 4,000 people shy of capacity as Canada secured the 2-0 win, playing some fantastic football to put themselves in contention for a medal, following on from significant attendances at the likes of Wembley and the Millennium Stadium.
After all, the profile of the sport has been boosted in recent years by the Women’s Super League (WSL), a breakaway group that play their football during the summer months; but as Team GB opened the Games with a 1-0 win over New Zealand, a sea change of sorts had taken place.
The (WSL) has the best of the best of the country’s clubs. Arsenal, Birmingham, Bristol, Everton, Chelsea, Lincoln, Liverpool and Doncaster Rovers make up the eight sides with a two-year licence to participate in the league.
Arsenal won the inaugural title in 2011 with hero of the Olympics Steph Houghton and fellow Team GB colleague Ellen White in the squad.
The FA dropped the full title of the league and simply renamed it The FA WSL, and ESPN agreed an exclusive four-year broadcasting deal to show six fixtures in 2011 and around 11 in 2012. Not much but it’s again another step in the right direction.
|TEAM GB WOMEN 0-2 CANADA WOMEN
|Hope Powell's ladies looked to advance to the semi-finals after a strong showing in the group, but were dumped out of the tournament by a determined Canadian side
However, there is much work to do.
Newcastle United Women’s Football Club are not affiliated in any way with the men’s side, and have struggled to get by on a day-to-day basis after missing out on the WSL following financial problems in 2010.
Speaking last year, Phil Eadon, chairman of the club, hoped the men’s side would show interest in the outfit as they were struggling to travel to and from an FA Cup fixture in Colchester – a cost which would have come to the sum of £500.
In the end, Newcastle United Foundation, a charity arm which supports local communities, gave them free use of two minibuses. Without that support, they would have had to pull out.
Elsewhere, the USA pulled the plug on their national league and the British players who moved there for a lucrative salary opted to return to the UK's best clubs in the WSL, with some of the smaller sides being effectively priced out of moves for them.
But with interest piqued after a brief but enthralling showing at London 2012, we can only hope that the women's game begins to feel the benefits.
There'll be no medals this summer for Powell and her squad, but the imprint they have left on these Games can't be questioned. The battle to keep it on the map has only just begun.