Premiership footballers turned ASDA bag packers – Cardiff City Ladies FC reveal the void between the sexes in British football
Packing bags in ASDA is not something you’d expect to find a Premier League footballer doing on their day off. The idea seems frankly alien to a sport that has made millionaires of many a young player.
But far from the lavish lifestyles, fast cars and seven figure salaries that are synonymous with the men’s league, Michele Adams and Cardiff City Ladies Football Club paint a very different picture.
For Michele and the team, fundraising events such as bag packing are essential in paying for expensive away games like their trip to top-of-the-table Leeds United on Sunday December 18. A Welsh international for 20 years, Michele knows the women’s game as well as anyone and knows how hard it is to balance the books.
“You’ve got the insurance, the buses, physio bills and the pitches,” explains Michele, looking somewhat deflated, “they cost us a fortune.”
A tale of two Cities
Like Cardiff’s men’s team, the Ladies play in the second tier of the English league system, however this is where the similarities end. Where the visit of a team like Leeds United to the men’s City Stadium would attract in excess of 20,000, the Ladies will play in front of less than a hundred when they travel to the Yorkshire club later this month.
Cardiff City Ladies FC line up before the visit of Premier League Aston Villa
“I think all women’s sport in this country is poorly represented,” Michele explains. “If you go to somewhere like Portugal, Italy or Holland, countries where their men’s teams are quite highly ranked, women seem to be more on a par than they are over here.”
The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation claimed last year that the popularity of women’s sport in Britain was at an all-time high, however attendances in the Women’s Premier League do little to justify these claims and unfortunately the national side seems to tell a similar story.
Wales’s recent Euro 2013 qualifier in Israel saw a young Welsh side record a convincing 2-0 victory, but you’ll have to take their word for it.
“We walked out and looked at the stands and there was seven people watching,” says Welsh international Aime Lea. “It was probably the best pitch I’d ever played on but singing the national anthem to seven people just doesn’t seem right.”
Fellow international, and goal scorer on the night, Sophie Ingle, is slightly more optimistic about the evening’s attendance. “There was probably about 30-40,” she concludes, pausing for a moment, “but they were probably family members of the team.”
While the British sides struggle to raise the profile of their game there seems to be no such lack of interest across the pond, where the US Women’s Professional Soccer league regularly attracts crowds of up to 4,000.
“They’ll watch two flies climbing a window pane over there,” jokes Michele, but behind the humour there is a tinge of resentment. The US Women’s National Team recently attracted 18,000 fans to watch a mere friendly in Arizona, just weeks after Wales’s lonely Israeli qualifier. The college league alone is enough to tempt young talent over the Atlantic, with Welsh international Ellis Parsons currently playing for East Tennessee State University.
“We lost a few players there,” says Michele. “There are still a number of Welsh internationals out there. The top British players could be on $70,000 in the US, they’re not getting that over here.”
Hope for the future
Despite its problems, the women’s game in the UK does seem to have taken steps to improve its popularity. Currently in a three year trial is the Women’s Super League, or the Super 8, which consists of the top 8 British women’s teams and does boast some full-time professional footballers.
Current champions Arsenal seem to have set the benchmark in terms of women’s football in this country, winning numerous domestic honours as well as the Women’s UEFA Champions League.
“The ladies and men share the same restaurant, sports hall and training facility,” explains club spokesperson Tom Bennett. “The ladies recently played in a champions league tie and four or five guys from the first team came down to cheer the ladies on.”
Despite these strong links, Super 8 attendances have been fairly low and even Arsenal have lost high profile players such as Kelly Smith, Karen Carney and Alex Scott to the big bucks of the US league. Most of the Arsenal squad are semi-professional which means the ladies’ training sessions are not as regular as the men’s. This has an inevitable knock on effect on the UK’s national sides, who struggle to compete with the likes of the USA and Germany, both of whom boast professional domestic leagues.
Tickets for the opening women’s football fixture at next summer’s Olympics, which will feature Team GB at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, remain unsold. The game could well feature some of Cardiff Ladies first team and an olympic medal is by no means out of the question. The fact remains however that football finance is about bums on seats and unless Cardiff’s revenue improves, even Olympic medalists will not be permitted to forgo the dreaded bag packing.