What a week it has been for women’s football with the announcement that the government has backed the review I chaired and the endorsement of NewCo to take control of the Super League and Championship. It is a fantastic start but there is plenty of work to be done.
The women’s football review has my name on it, so understandably it means a lot to me. It took a lot of hard work from an incredibly talented team who are eager to make sure the sport progresses and that is something I must thank them for.
I felt great relief when told the government was supporting every one of the recommendations. It was nerve-racking between the review’s publication in the summer and getting it endorsed because it was a huge body of work, involving so many people.
When the report was released, I was a little disillusioned and not sure what was going to happen – needless to say, I had never done a government review before. But there were positive conversations over the past four weeks. I met members of the government, who told me they had accepted it and I said: ‘Wow!’ It was a really short meeting and I jokingly thought maybe I should have asked for more in the review.
It did not hit home until it was released publicly on Monday and I started to get a bit emotional because of all the work the team had put in, all the people who had spoken to us, all the hours, all the data, everyone who had told their stories and what they had been through. I hope it was all worthwhile when they heard it was being backed. We will continue to challenge the sport to be the best it can be.
The hope now is that this review does not sit on the shelf, because other reviews have. My challenge to the team was always to make this as impactful as possible because we owe it to the players who went before, the current players, the kids who are going to come after us, the staff and to the fans.
We spoke to everyone who is best in class. It took a long time to formulate. I started having conversations with the government after the Women’s European Championship in 2022 and it took a long time to collect data and get the oral evidence to help us form our recommendations. We want to make it the best sport we can and be not just a leading light for football but for women’s sport in general. We hope other sports can utilise some of the ideas for a blueprint.
Clubs voting in favour of NewCo is an exciting step and was part of my recommendations. It will run the top two divisions of the women’s game, led by the chief executive, Nikki Doucet, who is an incredible woman and will do a fantastic job. I look forward to seeing how Doucet and her team put their stamp on the organisation to help make the game stronger. Doucet has taken on an extremely tough role and I think it is so important we champion and support her as best we can. I want her to do well and in turn that will mean the sport will do well.
One item that made some headlines was the suggestion the women’s game could end the 3pm blackout on a Saturday. It has been interesting week with the Premier League rights and how many games have been made available to watch. In the review it was suggested we find a specific slot dedicated to women’s football because the men’s game gets a lot of airtime. In order to make that happen, the stakeholders need to come together and have an adult conversation.
We have seen time and again that when we market matches properly, so people know when and where they are, attendances grow. It has been quite difficult in terms of broadcasting to find a unique spot. We need to do it for the fans and get the television side of the industry right. It is a recommendation that can take the sport in a positive direction.
Leading the review has helped my own learning and made me grow as a person. People laughed at me when I said women’s football will be a billion-pound industry and many were quite mean with their opinions on the matter. With the way things have gone over the past month we are in a really good spot to make that ambition a reality. It has taken so many people, and a lot of hard work to get to this point, and it is exciting, but the work continues.
The report has been positively received but we – and the industry – need to keep pushing. Football is a community and everyone wants it to grow. Everyone who read it and understands the difficulties of travelling to training or even having a functioning facility has to keep challenging to make sure the recommendations are actioned, regardless of which political party is in power in the coming years. It needs an army to make change and women’s football has one – we cannot waste this opportunity. Let’s keep going, but let’s do it together as one big team.