Selling out at the new Wembley Stadium has always been a significant accomplishment for any sport to attain, as it fundamentally highlights a game’s popularity with the viewing public.
The England men’s football team were the first to conquer this feat back in 2007, and other sports, such as boxing and the NFL, have also shared similar success. But following yesterday’s match in London, England’s women’s football team have also claimed a sell-out triumph – at the first time of asking.
On a day which went into the history books for being their inaugural appearance at the national stadium, Mark Sampson’s England women’s side may have lost 3-0 against Germany, but it was against the backdrop of a passionate 45,619 crowd.
While transportation issues limited capacity, the game still managed to outsell the men’s last friendly at Wembley and this added bonus has subsequently emphasised how far the women’s game in England has come.
“There is now an appetite for the women’s game,” Kelly Simmons, the FA's Director of the National Game and Women’s Football, told* FIFA.com. *“Last night was very special because it demonstrated that when you put a top quality product on in a great stadium, people will come and from this the fan base and the interest for the women’s game has continued to grow.
“As well as unprecedented ticket sales and media interest, we also received record crowds so there was fantastic coverage. It has capped off a really brilliant season for us, following the final for the Women’s Super League which went to the wire on the last day, as it has captured most of the nation and brought a lot of new fans into the game, so I’m really pleased.”
Simmons believes that the game could have surpassed the heights of the women’s football during London 2012 Olympics had it not been for the longstanding planned engineering works taking place on the day of the fixture.
“Obviously it is frustrating because we had to take tickets off sale with 20 days to go,” she revealed. “Normally we sell most of our tickets for women’s internationals in the last two weeks so it wouldn’t have been unrealistic to think, looking at the tracking of the tickets that we could have got over 70,000 people.”
Scenes from the stands in last night’s game would have been an incredibly hard picture to paint four years ago, when the potential of England’s women’s football hadn’t yet been realised. But the sport has undergone mass transition since then however, and the effects of the WSL, which was introduced in 2011, and the FA’s 2012 'Game Changer' document, which outlined a five-year plan to progress women’s football, have made women’s football a sport now ever-growing in popularity.
“The game has become unrecognisable from what it was in 2010,” said Simmons, who has been in her current role since 2013.
“We’ve got two broadcast partners, four commercial partners, and most of the clubs are training every day with many of them now moving towards professional football with fantastic facilities and infrastructure, so obviously we’re really pleased with that as this will only help strengthen the league (WSL) and the England women’s team also.
“We are now the biggest female sport in the country, and the third biggest in England overall, so we have some huge participation numbers which are obviously going to help.”
Simmons said that the progression in England’s women’s football was down to "hard work by a lot of people", but she specifically highlighted the incredible input from the players for their help in promoting the game.
“They have worked tirelessly on and off the pitch,” Simmons explained. “They really are fantastic ambassadors for the game and we are really lucky that we have such a good group of players who are great role models for the game.”
When asked whether she would give any advice to other countries who are also now looking to develop their women’s league, Simmons, who is a member FIFA’s women’s committee, said: “They don’t need any advice from me.
“One of the greatest things about women’s football is that countries still work together and share their knowledge and experiences. Everyone in the sport is just so committed in seeing it become a success across the world so it’s a real team effort.”