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Women's football still faces pay gap despite growing coverage and popularity

  • Men earn £280,000 more on average than women
  • 61% of girls feel 'judged while playing sport'
  • More clubs across the country are allowing for women to play in a safe space

Seventy thousand football fanatics travel to their beloved team stadiums for every game and 40% of the UK population are glued to their TV’s watching the captivating action of the men’s Premier League football.

However, the same rules and the same game receives just a fraction of the coverage and support even though, the only difference is the gender of the 22 players on the pitch.

Inequality is still consistent in the sport industry, specifically on the football field. From a young age, girls are faced with a long list of reasons to drop out of sport, from low self-esteem to feeling unsafe.

A study from Women in Sport found that 61% of girls feel judged while playing sport and over a third do not feel safe exercising outdoors.

The Women’s Sport Foundation discovered that high school girls are given 1.3m fewer opportunities to play sport than boys which leads to almost 40% of teen girls actively not participating in sport.

This results in a lack of role models and career possibilities for female athletes. A study from the Adelphi University, in New York revealed the common reality that men earn significantly more by playing the same sport.

Graph shows the pay discrepancy between men and women's games

On top of this, 17% of sporting competitions still do not offer equal prize winnings for male and female teams.

In football, the average prize money gap between men and women competitions exceeds £21.5m, according to Insure4Sport.

Inequality in football dates back to 1921 when the FA banned women’s football in their stadiums to defend the men’s professional football spotlight and media coverage.

Timeline showing a history of women's football

The establishment of Mancunian Unity Women’s Football Club began after founder Phil Burke witnessed the inequal opportunities for women in the industry.

"It started from someone I used to watch play at a different club. She got made to feel like she shouldn’t be playing football anymore, she basically wanted to stop playing,” said Phil.

“I just said, 'you’re not quitting football, let’s start our own and do it in the image we want to have it in and create our own philosophy and identity in what we believe is right and to push the women’s game forward as well'.”

Unity was established in 2019 with the goal to “show unity in women’s football”.

They have successfully offered equal opportunities for girls and women in the football world and have accomplished plenty in their first full season.

Phil proudly added: "We’ve got two more cup finals as well so, we’re hoping to go the season unbeaten and I’ll say it again that’s because the women deserve it, because of the work they put in.”

Manchester Laces training session

Phil and his coaching team want to encourage people to become women’s football fans like them because in their words, “it’s infectious” and “it is a different game, but in my opinion it’s so much better”.

MUWFC are also in partnership with the Her Game Too, an organisation which raises awareness of sexism in football.

Dan Taylor, coach at MUWFC, has a close relationship with the campaign group and “had discussions to boost the campaign right from the very start and it is taking off”.

He said: “I hope they carry on making it a big of a success as they are doing.”

Her Game Too, founded in 2021, is committed to creating a philosophy in football where women are welcomed and respected equally.

“The more and more people that can get involved in women’s football the better,” stated Phil.

“We have four male coaches and every single one of them are in love with the women’s game because once you actually get into it you realise what it has to offer.”

Women’s football has grown immensely since the ban on the game in 1921. There has been a 54% increase in FA affiliated women’s and girls’ team since 2017 and the appetite for the women’s football game coverage is estimated to increase by 296% in the UK, according to the Guardian.

Yet, many women’s football fans believe the game deserves a greater spotlight in the industry.

“There’s quite a lot of sexism that happens in the game, things like get back in the kitchen,” said Manchester Laces founder Helen Hardy.

“What it’s suggesting is that as women and as a woman, I don’t deserve to be there.”

Manchester Laces is a completely inclusive women’s and non-binary football club that only began last year but has quickly grew to a community of 300 volunteers and players.

“It was needed because it grew so exponentially and so quickly,” Helen commented proudly.

Football v homophobia balls used to support the LGBTQ+ community

Helen has been a football enthusiast for 20 years and has experienced first-hand the inequality in the football industry, specifically from a young age.

“I was born in 1990 and in those days, women’s football was just non-existent,” she said.

“There were no football opportunities.

“I just think there must be so many little girls out there that are like, 'I’d quite like to play football but no, I’m not going to bother actually because there are 30 boys over there, and I’d be the only girl'.”

Helen pushed through these barriers and went on to lead Manchester Laces into winning a National Grassroots Club of the Year award in February 2022.

“We’ve all came together with this mission of creating this really inclusive and kind environment,” Helen shared with a smile.

As a huge women’s football fanatic, Helen feels “a lot of people underestimate the women’s game.”

However, the women’s game is finally starting to reach the coverage and platform it needs and deserves to grow.

“The Sky and BT deal that came in September 2021 came at the right time. They have smashed their viewing records, so they had estimations or plans for how they were going to grow the women’s game and overnight they reached all of their targets,” Helen explained.

In 2021, Sky Sports and the FA came to a multimillion pound agreement allowing the broadcaster the rights to show up to 44 women’s football matches, with a minimum of 35 games being screened across the popular channels: Sky Sports Main Event, Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Football.

This is the first time that the Women’s Super League has been sold separately from the men’s game and encouragingly, part of the revenue income will be donated to FA Women’s Championship to further development.

The demand for women’s football is not only growing in Manchester. Helen praised the work done by other clubs across the country: “There’s Goal Diggers in London and I know places like She’s A Baller are really good spaces for women’s football.”

Dan urged: “Get down to your local club and get watching your local team play and you’ll just fall in love with it.”

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