There are countless reasons why you can be proud to be an Arsenal fan.
It could be the many trophies won, the talented players who’ve worn the shirt, The Invincibles, the style of play, the list really does go on. One of the proudest regards I have for Arsenal however, is how they strive for respect and encourage diversity and equality.
In particular, how they have led from the front in Women’s football.
Arsenal Women’s Football Club was founded in 1987 by none other than Vic Akers, the kit manager for the men’s team.
Arsenal are the most successful club in English women’s football with 59 trophies, the most recent coming in 2016 when Danielle Carter scored a stunning goal to clinch the FA Women’s Cup against Chelsea before they won the Conti Cup again last season.
The Arsenal team have won countless cups and the UEFA Women’s Champions League and the reason they have been so successful is down to Arsenal Football Club taking women’s football seriously.
The club’s backing and support of the women’s team is a testament to how all teams should treat women’s football.
It is easier said than done however.
Money is important in football, and thus financial aspects play a huge role. As a result, most clubs didn’t see the use of women’s football as it was an additional expense more than anything else, not to mention the opinions many people still have on women playing in any sport.
Vic Akers himself recalls that when he founded the club, many people thought he was crazy as there was little support for women’s football back then. However, Akers wanted to change people’s views and wanted there to be role models for girls to look up to and aspire towards.
If he had had no support though, Arsenal women’s club would not be where it is today.
Arsenal did support him, with former vice-chairman David Dein becoming the president of the women’s club and still a keen supporter of women’s football today. Furthermore, Arsenal provided the facilities needed to create an environment where the players could improve their game. With that, and the talent on show, it’s no coincidence that Arsenal are the most successful women’s club in England.
Comparing to other clubs just illustrates the respect Arsenal have for women’s football. In 2007, Charlton men’s side were relegated from the Premier League and to save costs they disbanded the women’s team and academy.
Thus, over 120 players lost out and had to try and find new clubs. More recently Sunderland women’s team were relocated miles away from the official training pitches they previously used, to make way for the men’s youth teams. This demonstrates that the priority of most clubs will be the men’s teams, despite the growing popularity of women’s football today.
Arguments can be made that comparing Arsenal, one of the most valuable clubs in the world, to Charlton or Sunderland, clubs that are financially inferior, is unfair. It is a fair point – Arsenal can afford to have a women’s team, but to imply it is a burden would be unfair. Because of the success of the club, young girls across England have been inspired to play football. Furthermore other parent clubs, like Chelsea and Manchester City, have invested in their women’s football teams so that they can compete against the likes of Arsenal.
Manchester City in particular, have created world class facilities for the women to train and play in, which has resulted in domestic success and attracted world class players from around the world to the club.
Other club’s investment into women’s football has helped improve the popularity today in addition to the performance of England at the World Cup in 2015. Attendance in the FA Women’s Super League (FAWSL) has increased each year, with a 5% growth last year, while the FA Cup final attendance has risen almost every year.
When Arsenal won the 2016 FA Cup, there were 32,912 fans at Wembley, a record beaten the following year when Manchester City won with over 35,000 fans in attendance. To put that in perspective, in 2013 the final was played at Doncaster’s stadium with 4,988 people watching.
These developments in women football are great and certainly have a massive effect on participation figures for girls. This success certainly would not have occurred if Arsenal had not pursued these goals over the years in which popularity for the game was low. The continued support of Arsenal Women’s club has help show aspiring women footballers that a career in football is now a viable option.
With the more competitive environment, Arsenal have begun to struggle winning titles – they seem unlikely to win the FAWSL this season and their last trophy came in 2016.
However, it isn’t just about trophy success and Arsenal know that.
There’s an awareness around the club that women’s football can be better and Arsenal are one of the few to embrace any sort of opportunity to improve the women’s game. Recently they placed the Arsenal girls in a boy’s grassroots league. This not only helped improve the competitive environment the girls played in, but also helped break down stereotypes associated with women in sport.
Whether it’s from trolls on Twitter or pundits on TV, women’s football has often been perceived as a joke. Fortunately, those pundits get sacked, and the increased media coverage of women’s football has helped quell the sexism. However, it still isn’t good enough and by integrating girl sides into boy’s leagues, Arsenal are helping to teach the girls that they are good enough to play football, and the boys they play against to understand and respect their opponents and hopefully take that respect with them as they grow up.
Admiration for Arsenal backing the women side is deserved, but a lot of the praise should also be directed to the players themselves.
For a long period, women who played for Arsenal had full time jobs. Women’s football has begun to professionalise but for long periods the players all had other jobs to worry about.
In 2007 Arsenal won the UEFA Women’s Champions League, and had to beat full time professional players to do it, illustrating the hard work and talent that has helped move women’s football to where it is now. There were so many barriers that these players had to overcome, not to mention the sexism, but because of their effort, women’s football has never been better.
There is still room for improvement, and Arsenal know that, which was why the statement put out this year about a name change of the women’s team made me so proud to be a Gunner.
By acknowledging they wanted to carry on improving as a club, Arsenal decided to drop the ‘Ladies’ from the women’s team. Instead referring to the women’s team simply as ‘Arsenal’ – showing unity at the club and promoting equality.
Alex Scott, captain of Arsenal at the time, summarised it perfectly: “We are moving forward together as a club and I hope that this sends out a message that times are changing for the better.”
Other clubs may follow suit in time, but Arsenal are leading the way again.