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Women's Football News
In an exclusive interview with Tim Heming, England Assistant Manager Brent Hills suggests why it might be time to turn the Premier League into a Summer Super League…
With nation wide (and Nationwide) support the national team have reached the dizzy heights. Ranked amongst the world's elite dozen, a sizable chunk of credit for the achievement must be afforded to assistant England coach, Brent Hills. Having started the first female football academy in 1998 at Southwark College, eight years on, Brent's been instrumental in the national team topping its qualifying group for China 2007 and has been buoyed by the profile raising exercise of Euro 2005.
But, while the England squad and grassroots might be blossoming like never before, the recent crisis and reinvention of Fulham Women proves there are issues to be addressed in the national game. As reality bites, finance and facilities are two of the biggest challenges for a sport trying to make a success at commercial level.
What's the current state of women's football?
BH: A lot of money has come into grassroots level and the immense growth has taken people by surprise. My 17-year-old daughter started playing when she was nine. Back then we'd have to drive 50 mile to a festival… now there are girls playing football in every park.
The women's game is in its infancy and the biggest problem it faces is not having its own facilities and we need more help from the government and Football Foundation. Too often, female football is shunted to a Sunday and in temperate climes, a Saturday downfall and a deteriorating surface can mean a postponement.
Doesn't the inconsistent backing by professional men's clubs lead to an unhealthy gap at Women's Premier League level?
BH: The danger of over reliance on men's clubs is there to be seen. And yet, both Charlton and Arsenal are good examples to hold up to every club because they are run cleverly through community schemes. We will always need strong clubs as it encourages others to strive to compete. The danger is your female side will rely on the parent club and be left high and dry. They need to show they can generate their own income. The situation of Sunderland, where the male and female teams both got promoted in the same year (2004-2005) and then the male team withdrew its support for the women's team, didn't make a lot of sense for a lot of people. If there's a lesson to be learnt, it's to find ways to stand on our own two feet more. It can be done. Look at the men's semi-pro game, where clubs survive on gates of a few hundred. The difficulty is women's teams find it difficult to get equal access to facilities…
How can women's football continue to build on the profile from Euro 2005?
BH: TV is key. A few years ago, athletics and boxing would be on terrestrial, but not any more. If I was to ask my kids to name the 10,000m champion they wouldn't have a clue. Women's football needs to get on any TV and particularly terrestrial TV. Hope [Powell] went to a couple of World Cup games in Germany and was astounded by how many men came up to her and asked how the women's side were getting on. That was because of Euro 2005.
As a sport, how can we attract more TV exposure?
BH: Rugby League switched to being a summer sport and has increased its profile and attracted more punters. I'm just a coach, but it's worth investigating. However, what's good for the upper echelons might not be good for grassroots. The culture of our sport is entrenched as a winter sport and it might be best left there.
Now you have had time to reflect, what is your view on Euro 2005?
BH: Bitterly disappointed that we couldn't go further. But, we hadn't been in a major tournament in ten years and nobody just comes on the scene and wins them. We've done a lot of research into the women's game and learned that the winners of major competitions have an average age of 27, with five or six of them having over 100 caps. We've researched the German and the US teams and want to put a system in place which will progress players up through the youth teams, similar to Germans. They start at under-15 level with lots on internationals and tournaments all round the world.
So more tournament football is important?
BH: In 2008 UEFA and FIFA are introducing Under-17 championships. It's vital young players experience tournaments. If the first one they go to is at senior level, it will be too late.
What's your view on Tessa Jowell and the Commons Committee wading in on the single sex in sport issue?
BH: Look at the schools. In multi-gender schools they already divide the girls and boys in PE lessons, it's not just football. From a personal viewpoint, the FA should look at safety first. It's easy to be the flavour of the month and make a few flippant remarks. But, once safety is secured, it should be done on ability. In Holland, girls and boys play together until they are 18. You should see some of the tackles the Dutch girls make!
Finally, what are your hopes for World Cup 2007?
BH: If we qualify we will automatically be on TV, next September, in China. It's going to come down to the last game in France, like we always thought it would. It's incredibly difficult to progress through European qualifying. There are ten good teams in Europe, but only five qualify and you can guarantee that any of those ten will be better than at least four other nations in the finals.
If we get there, we'll have more sponsors involved and lots more young girls will begin playing football - turning us into a stronger nation for women's football.
By Tim Heming (Photo: Action Images)
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