With just 149 days until the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup gets underway in Germany, the FIFA/Local Organising Committee welcome tour rolled into the city of London yesterday on the latest leg of its global journey.
For FIFA and the LOC, it was a continuation of their mission to promote women’s football in the countries of the 16 teams taking part, which began in Sydney last December. At Thursday's event in the Andaz Hotel on Liverpool Street, Head of the National Game Kelly Simmons, England manager Hope Powell and Three Lions captain Faye White were among a host of dignitaries in attendance.
With a new eight-team FA Women’s Super League set to kick-off in April this year, the World Cup just months away and the Olympics taking place in 2012, these are exciting times for the women’s game in England.
The FA's Director of Football Development, Sir Trevor Brooking, is only too aware of the fantastic opportunities the game has to develop over the coming 18 months.
“This summer we can raise the profile,” he said. “Hopefully we can get quality experience (at the World Cup), hopefully we can get a quarter-final or semi-final spot, and then whatever happens there we’ve also got the legacy of the Olympics. We will be able to promote the game massively. The opportunity to involve the family in something is going to be there, so we’d like to think that as we go into 2013 the momentum will have gathered pace. It’s a busy time, but it’s an exciting time.”
Having finished runners-up to hosts Germany in the 2009 UEFA European Championship and boasting an unbeaten record in qualifying for the game’s showpiece event, expectations have risen around Powell’s blossoming side.
The OC’s charismatic President Steffi Jones was quick to pay tribute to the coach's contribution: “There is so much team spirit in your side that I wish you all the best for this World Cup. May all your dreams come true because you really deserve it for what you are doing with the FA and everything around it. You are such a great coach.”
Germany’s Ambassador to Britain, Georg Boomgaarden was one of number of guests at the event, which also featured special video messages from former Arsenal and Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann and current Wolfsburg manager Steve McLaren, who declared: “Football unites us, and I say this well aware of our historic rivalry of almost epic proportions!"
Preparations for the tournament are already underway, with Powell and her England team having just returned from warm weather training in La Manga - the first official squad gathering since the draw was made last November.
Sue Hough, Chair of the Women’s FA Committee, declared: “2011 is a really exciting year for women’s football in this country. Obviously, Hope and her England team have qualified for the World Cup finals, but we’re also looking forward to the imminent launch of the FA Women’s Super League, an eight-strong semi-professional division which will hopefully catapult the women’s game in to the public’s consciousness.
"Everyone involved in the England team is really looking forward to this summer, there is no bigger tournament in the game than the World Cup, and we will be hoping to build on our last World Cup appearance in China four years ago, where we reached the quarter-finals. I’m sure FIFA and the LOC will make us feel very, very welcome in Germany.”