Hear that resounding thump? That is the last dinosaur in the primordial Premier League swamp keeling over. In this case, Manchester United Plodicus finally conceding that it’s time they formed a professional senior women’s football team to play in the FAWSL. Previously, the club had considered women’s football for the birds, as it were, with no guarantee of that most seductive of lures: rolling profits.
Man United Women, or whatever they are called, still won’t be profitable in the short-term. As with Manchester City, their closest rivals geographically and the soaraway best women’s club in the country thanks to massive investment, the owners will be funding a loss-making enterprise. But the PR deficit was becoming a gaping wound. And when Phil Neville, one of United’s home-grown boys, became England manager (you know, of the women’s team, the one that might actually win something), they could hold out no longer.
Make no mistake, this is a business decision. Not about immediate profit, but about a game that is gathering momentum – and fans and sponsors and TV audiences and respect for the spirit in which it is imbued. That even the Glazers – those American bottom-line-hugging-to-the-point-of-rapacious operators who own United – eventually got this is a significant demonstration of the growing fire-power of women’s football.
Does everyone approve? Of course not. Within minutes of the Manchester United announcement, online doomsayers were distressed and venting.
“A triumph of political correctness over commonsense. Nobody follows the WSL, least of all women. It’s nonsense promoted by people at the Guardian and BBC who have ZERO interest in football themselves. Next stop the Transgender Super League. Disappointed in Man Utd. I thought they had more backbone.”
“@ManchesterIsRed When even the Glazers can cave-in to a ridiculous project that will lose money, you know the world really has gone mad.”
“Women’s football is less interesting than – Netball and Knitting and commercially destitute, nobody is interested!!”
And finally, the positive side:
“Long hours in the hairdressers, manicured nails, dancing around handbags with childish friends, no not the women’s team, Pogba.”
That’s quite funny.
Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice-chairman, played a straight bat with the announcement, only raising eyebrows when he said: “The Manchester United women’s team must be built in the same image and with the same principles as the men’s first team and offer academy players a clear route to top-level football within the club.”
As things stand, the men’s first team is a hotbed of estrangement and strife, with a narcissistic manager causing seismic ructions among the players with his me-me-me strategy and staggering self-regard. It is difficult to imagine a team of women combusting quite so readily, so Ed may be destined for disappointment there. Even the Spice Girls have got back together.
But he’s right about the overarching principle. It looks good and it feels good to say to half the country’s population, who at younger age groups are taking up football in ever greater numbers: we see you as part of this culture, this club, this illustrious history. There is a slight disparity in that history, admittedly. Manchester United Men were founded 140 years ago and Manchester United Women, shiny and new, are in the first week of their existence (barring a brief flirt with a version of the Manchester United Supporters Ladies team which was abandoned by the Glazers in 2005).
It’s not equality of timespan. But equality of purpose. That counts.
So congratulations to Man U. Good luck appeasing the old guard, but they will move on. Either to a higher celestial plain or a remarkably shifted viewpoint if the Reds beat the Blues in a cup final (women) any time soon. Winning, as all football knows, whatever your chromosome count or creed, trumps everything.
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Sue Mott is an award-winning sport journalist who has worked on radio, TV and the written press. Sue’s latest articles