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'Neville is right' - Williams backs calls for women's matches to be staged at big Premier League grounds

15:31 GMT+3 08/04/2019
Fara Williams Reading
Record attendances have been hit across Europe in recent weeks and English clubs have been urged to follow the lead of their continental counterparts

England's most-capped international Fara Williams has backed calls from her national team boss Phil Neville urging top Premier League clubs to stage women's matches at their home stadiums.

Speaking exclusively to Goal, Williams supported the suggestion of England boss Neville for women to be offered the chance to play on some of the biggest stages in football, with bumper crowds at matches across Europe in recent months highlighting the growth of the women's game.

"There are some teams, the big teams, who have got to open their big stadiums and fill it," said Neville. "Let’s blow the rest of Europe away because I think the game in this country is in a far better place than what it is in Spain or in Italy.

"If Man United or Arsenal win the league, throw open your stadium to the title celebrations. Champions League game for Chelsea - why not play it at Stamford Bridge? Get 30,000 or 40,000.

"My players are at the level where our big clubs have got to open their stadiums. That’s my feeling having watched Bilbao, Atletico or Juventus. They’ve done it, now let’s see us do it a couple of times before the end of the season."

Now Williams has thrown her backing behind Neville's comments, as she believes the women's game is ready to go to the next level.

"If you had asked me five years ago whether the game would be in the place where it is now, I would definitely have said no," she told Goal. "It's fantastic to see the growth, both in participation levels and media coverage, as well as with the sponsorship deals that are coming into the women's game now.

"Signing a multi-million pound deal with Barclays to sponsor the Women's Super League was evidence that the women's game is on the up and big companies want to be involved.

"Now we should look to start playing women's matches in the big Premier League grounds. Phil Neville is right about that and hopefully someone of his stature saying that will make it happen.

"Look at the attendances in the last few weeks and there have been some incredible sights. We have seen a match between Atletico Madrid v Barcelona played in front of a crowd in excess of 60,000, Lyon had a big crowd for their Champions League game against Wolfsburg and Juventus sold out their stadium for a women's game. 

"It would be great to see Chelsea's women's team playing a game at Stamford Bridge or Tottenham playing at their new stadium. It feels like the women's game is ready for that now."

Williams went on to suggest the presence of former England internationals Rachel Brown-Finnis and Alex Scott have on the punditry panels for top men's Premier League matches this season is helping to reflect the women's game in a positive light, even though the duo appreciated their comments on high-profile men's matches would attract criticism.

"Seeing Alex and Rachel involved as pundits in the men's game proves that doors are opening and there are opportunities for women to get involved in the game in areas we have not seen before," she adds.

"They knew there would be some people who didn't want them there and would not be shy in letting them know about it, but Alex and Rachel were willing to step forward and they were brave to do that.

"They are being hired to give their expertise on the game, from their perspective as ex-players. Their gender, the colour of their skin, their sexuality is not a factor when you are being a football pundit and that is where we want to get to.

"They are putting themselves in that high-profile position and have to be ready to deal with everything that goes with it. That is equality. We need everyone to be labelled as pundits and not have a star next to their name to make them different if they are male or female. When that happens, we will have had a big breakthrough.

"This is an environment that has been male-only so far, so some barriers are being broken down. You need to be brave, to be a strong person and be willing to accept criticism."

The BT Sport Pub Cup will return for its third year in May and this time the tournament is set to be bigger than ever before - with 190 men's and women's pub football teams to compete at Premier League grounds.