Former Arsenal forward Rachel Yankey is optimistic over the direction that women’s football is headed despite there still being ground to cover.
Yankey, who played for Arsenal twice in her career, has compared women’s football now to where it was when she first started back in 1989 at Mill Hill United.
“Women’s football has come on leap and bounds since I first started where people really didn’t accept the sport and didn’t know a lot about it,” the 37-year-old says in Episode 20 of Sky Sports’ My Icon series.
“Now you’re seeing it on TV – the viewing figures are in the millions especially when the England team does well and gets to a World Cup, or for the [Women’s] FA Cup final.
“I would never have thought that in the Olympics you would have 70,000 people coming out to watch a women’s football game at Wembley. The FA Cup finals are now at Wembley – these are amazing things that have changed.
“Before I joined Arsenal, I couldn’t have told you that Arsenal had a ladies team, I couldn’t tell you that England had a women’s team, I didn’t know any of that.
“I couldn’t have named any female players and I think that has changed now. Kids have role models and they can now see that women can play football. I think that’s quite special.”
Yankey’s right. The women’s Euros this summer got amazing ratings, with the semi-final between England and the hosts Holland smashing records. In fact, it peaked at 4m and averaged at 2.6m.
The entire tournament apparently drew in 165m, which is absolutely phenomenal.
Not only this but FA WSL clubs, including Arsenal, have been dropping the ‘Ladies’ from their titles and using either just their team’s name or adding ‘women’ for clarification. This may not seem like a lot but in a sport where women are still very much fighting to be recognised as professional athletes alongside their male counterparts, it’s huge.
As Yankey says, women’s football has come on leaps and bounds, particularly over the last couple of years as coverage has increased. It’ll never be as popular as the men’s sport but it’s moving in the right direction.
Yankey went on to pick up 129 caps for England and score 19 goals.