While FIFA’s top brass, including the President, become increasingly scrutinised by criminal prosecutors, football’s world governing body has at least lent its name to a significant and progressive development in the history of the sport. Virtually. For the first time in the history of the globally-popular EA FIFA game series, fans will be able to play as their favourite female football stars. In a groundbreaking move, testimony to the rise in popularity of the female game, international women’s teams are featured.
In a year that saw an astonishing 25.4 million viewers tune into the Women’s World Cup final, the commercial world has moved fast to tap into the rising support for the female game. “It’s fantastic! It’s crazy, just to see yourself on the game. I’ve played FIFA since I was eight or nine years old,” enthused England and Manchester City midfielder Jill Scott at an event to promote the game at the City Store
“I think the stats are quite accurate: a lot of people haven’t been able to score with me!” she said laughing. “Facially I think I’m slightly better looking … but I’ll leave that to the public to decide
“I haven’t played any of these girls yet,” she added, looking around at her City teammates. “But I can’t see much competition!”
On a more serious note Jill said: “It keeps putting women’s football out there and we are getting a lot of positive feedback, especially how well Manchester City and England are doing at the moment. What better way to keep media attention on us than to appear on a FIFA game.
“Hopefully club teams will be on it in the future, but let’s not shy away from the fact that this is a massive achievement for the women’s game. We as players need to keep performing on the pitch and then things like this make it all worth it. I don’t think about the money in football. Just as long as we are inspiring more young girls to put boots on and start playing.”
An enthusiastic crowd gathered in Manchester to meet Scott and fellow England’s World Cup heroines Steph Houghton, Toni Duggan, Lucy Bronze and Karen Bardsley, who signed shirts and chatted to the fans. A limited Manchester City Edition of the game was also on sale.
Inside the City Store, fans queued to be part of the trailblazing moment. A buzz of anticipation captured the mood of the people waiting to meet their idols. A young fan named Rhiannon said: “I’m really excited to play FIFA with the women’s teams in it for the first time because my favourite player is Jill Scott. Now that they are on the game, I’m sure more and more people will start coming to games, because they will know the girls.”
Another young fan, named Zoe, admitted: “I literally cannot wait to play as them on the game!”
An anxious mum in the queue told me that her daughter “has been playing football for years and she is now in the City Under-15s. These sort of days mean a lot to her.”
On being a player in the game, Karen Bardsley remarked: “It’s awesome. It’s cool. It’s going to be hard to get used to, it’s surreal. Most of them look cool, except Jill’s looks a bit dodgy …”
She added: “These games are great for the profile, they are going to make more young people realise that it’s acceptable to be a girl and be into football, or any sport for that matter.”
On the number of people who wanted to speak to the players at the event, Karen said, “I’m incredibly grateful. I’m really happy that people are starting to recognise that there is some great football being played. I’m honoured that people would come in and spend time with us. It’s really cool!
“The biggest thing for me is changing people’s perceptions of women’s football.”
England captain Steph Houghton said: “This is a huge moment for women’s football. FIFA’s always been a really big part of my life growing up, and to see that my England teammates and I have been immortalised as avatars in the world’s biggest football game is fantastic.
“I think FIFA and EA SPORT’s decision to include us for the first time shows just how far women’s football has come over the past few years. Seeing us in the game will hopefully inspire more girls to get involved.”
Watch all the action from the conclusion of the FA WSL title race live on BT Sport 1 from 5.30pm on Sunday, October 4: leaders Chelsea Ladies v Sunderland Ladies, and second-placed Manchester City Women v Notts County Ladies, both kick off at 6pm.
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