Phil Neville, manager of the England women’s national football team, has urged top Premier League clubs to follow the lead of their Italian and Spanish counterparts by opening their stadia up to women’s matches.
Last month, a new attendance record was set for women’s football in Italy as 39,027 fans turned out to watch Juventus defeat Fiorentina 1-0 at Allianz Stadium. Free tickets were handed out for the match.
Earlier in the month, 60,739 fans attended Atlético Madrid vs Barcelona at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium (pictured), setting a new record for women’s football in Spain. Ticket prices started from just €5 (£4.30/$5.60) for the match, with Atlético club members also allowed in for free.
Ahead of this summer’s Women’s World Cup in France, Neville’s England side will play four home matches, the first of which will be against Canada at Manchester City’s Academy Stadium on Friday.
England will then face Spain on April 9 at Swindon’s County Ground, Denmark on May 25 at Walsall’s Banks’s Stadium, and New Zealand on June 1 at Brighton’s Amex Stadium.
Neville believes the time has come for the country’s top men’s clubs, such as Manchester United and Arsenal, to start staging women’s matches and he feels there is a bigger appetite for the sport in England than in Italy or Spain.
“Looking at the attendances in our league on Sunday, I actually think that’s better than the one-off games in Spain or Italy,” Neville said, according to the Press Association. “There was 2,800 at Kingsmeadow (where Chelsea beat West Ham), 1,500 at Solihull (where Arsenal beat Birmingham). I think we’ve got a good foundation.
“I see games in Spain where there’s probably only 100 to 150 people watching. So I think as a base line, we’ve got probably a little bit more sustainability. What I would say is that some of the big teams in England have got to open their big stadiums and let’s say ‘let’s blow the rest of Europe away’ because I think our game in this country is at a far better place than what it is in Spain and Italy.”
Manchester United’s and Arsenal’s women’s teams are currently top of their respective leagues and Neville, a former United player himself, says this marks the perfect opportunity for Old Trafford or Emirates Stadium to open their doors to women’s football.
“I think now, if Man United win the league, or Arsenal – throw open your stadium, open it up,” Neville said. “Champions League game for Chelsea (who face Lyon in the semi-finals) – why not play it at Stamford Bridge? Get 30 or 40,000.
“I think my players are at the level where our big clubs have got to open their stadiums. That’s my feeling having watched Bilbao, Juventus. They’ve done it but let’s see us do it maybe two or three times from now to the end of the season.”
When asked whether he would support the idea of free tickets being offered for such matches, Neville added: “Why not? Man United Women let people in for free when they play at Leigh, so why can’t you at Old Trafford? Why can’t we fill Stamford Bridge for a Champions League semi-final against Lyon? It would be incredible.”
Image: Atlético Madrid