Anchorians Ladies’ Chairman discusses the future of Womens’ Football
Anchorians Ladies’ Chairman discusses the future of Womens’ Football

Following the amazing success of the Women’s World Cup in France and the terrific efforts of Phil Neville’s Lioness’, the coming season heralds the most amazing opportunities that the ladies’ game has ever had in the country.

With the Lioness’ due to play an international under the Wembley Arch on a Saturday in November against Germany, and with many Women Super League clubs looking into the possibilities of hosting League games at their traditional homes and even possibly before Premier League matches, it is a chance to expand that the ladies game has never had before in this country before we host the European Championships in 2021.

Prior to the World Cup we spoke to Leigh Willis, Chairman of Gillingham Anchorians Ladies – who are one of the Counties biggest ladies and girls clubs – who told us how a successful Lioness’ campaign would boost the game not only here in Kent but nationally.  Now the competition is over, we sent Mike Green back to Gillingham to see Leigh, who is also Chairman of the Kent Girls and Ladies Leagues, with the question, what happens next?

“We could be heading to be as big as the game is in the States,” Leigh said.  “Obviously it will depend how much investment goes into the game now – yes there’s been a lot, but the men’s game still gets so much more!  The thing will be is when one of the big club’s actually play their home games in the big stadiums.

“I know its been mentioned since the competition was over and that the girls are playing the Germans at Wembley before the end of the year, but it must happen week in week out.  We’ve got to get to the stage for example of Liverpool playing at Anfield or Man City playing at the Etihad – that will be the key point right there.  We’ve made it!  We’re growing it right there.  OK we didn’t get the bronze, but we were on terrestrial TV – the Semi Final was watched by more people than the Cup Final making it the most watched football on the telly this year.

“It will take a bold move to get the sides into the stadiums but we’re getting there.  If someone said to you that for instance, come and watch Arsenal Women at Boreham Wood or The Emirates, where would you go?  I know where I would as a football fan!”

At the Grassroots level we’re fortunate to have the “Wildcats” scheme that has been tremendous introducing the youngsters and is looking to get bigger this year – there has been a massive growth of teams entering the Leagues in the last three years, and that was before the World Cup, with around 230 – 240 teams which matches the boys quite comfortably making us the biggest girls League in the Country.  And I think in five years’ time, that growth may well continue pushing us possibly beyond 300 teams just here in Kent.”

He then had a warning for everyone: “Whether the funding will still be there though is another matter!  We’re funded to 2020 but will they carry on?  I think the powers that be will be mad not to as I think that there is still a huge number of areas where the potential is way off from being completely tapped for the good of the game!”

“And I do honestly believe that the Medway Towns being one of those areas!  Yes, Anchorians has got a lion share of the teams, but that’s only because we took that push, the risk all those years ago that girls and ladies’ football was something that we wanted to champion where other clubs didn’t or haven’t!  We started to see a few more clubs setting up teams before the World Cup; I just hope that those coming on board now invest in girls’ football like we did and not just use them as a one off and potentially a bit of funding.”

“Then so long as we treat the girls as equals across the board, be it in the Super Leagues, be it in the bigger clubs, be it in funding and everything else, yes the Ladies game will continue to grow.  How big it will get may depend on what the Lioness’ do going forward into the next Euro’s and the World Cup – just look at the Dutch!  They won the last Euros and got to the Final in France – and when you look back at London 2012, there were 80,000 people there watching GB play Brazil which was incredible.  Can we replicate that in the Euro’s and beyond?  Why not?  I don’t see the ‘bubble’ bursting not at the moment as the game just keeps growing and growing.

“Exciting times ahead, they really are!”