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When England astounded everyone with their 8-0 victory over Norway, the crowds went wild. Kids, women, pride flags – they were all there in abundance. So why isn’t the men’s game as open and accessible?

If you’ve been watching the Lionesses smash their way through this year’s Euros, you may have been struck by one thing: the overwhelming diversity of the fans. At every game, the crowds are packed with supporters of all genders, races and sexual orientations. You’ve got bunches of teenagers screaming out for Beth Mead, pride flags flying high, people cheering as teams take the knee.

This isn’t something unique to the Euros or indeed, the Lioness matches; every time I’ve been to see Arsenal Women with my dad, zyrtec rhinite allergique I’ve sat alongside huge groups of little kids all begging for the ball. Behind might be sitting a gaggle of male city workers, who are nestled besides pairs of women or couples. With tickets infinitely cheaper and more accessible, it’s no wonder that you get a different crowd turning up to these games.

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If the game is so much more open to different groups, then why can’t the men’s game follow suit? I put that question to Arsenal legend and former England forward Kelly Smith, who told me that even she – as someone who made their first international appearance aged 16 – found it ‘surreal’ on walking into her local pub the other day to find the England v Norway game playing.

“Finally, I think the visibility is there,” she explains. “People are interested in it because it’s a home Euros – it’s very rare that you have something like this on home soil. Over four million people watched that game – it broke records. I just think a lot of people now appreciate women’s football and how good it is.”

The players are more accessible to fans

It’s more accessible than the men’s game, she believes, because it’s got a different target audience. “Having said that, there were a lot of men at the Netherlands v Portugal game – so it’s just not families that are being drawn in. It also helps that the players are accessible after games; they want to stay and engage with fans and take selfies and pictures… the male players on the other hand, well they’re just straight down the tunnel after a game. 

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“The female players just get it – they know how to engage with fans, and I think the young girls and boys know that. They want to go to games to speak to the players afterwards. One player was out for about an hour signing autographs after the last England game, and you don’t get that in the men’s game.

“There’s just a different feeling around the women’s game. It’s more open, friendly, more engaging.”

Tickets are far cheaper for these games than for men’s matches

Tickets also cost considerably less in the women’s sport. Concessions tickets for this competition start at just £5, going up to £50 for the highest category. The cheapest ticket to the men’s Euros will set you back £250, with better seats costing up to £850. At Arsenal, our tickets cost under £30; a season ticket goes for around £3,000.

With tickets going for as little as £5, these games attract much younger fans and groups of friends.

And then we have the fact that, unlike the men’s game, it’s the norm to be openly gay as a player. “There are quite a few gay women who play professional football – not just across England but European and World football. When they do come out, they’re able to be open about their sexuality and that makes other people feel comfortable. And if they’re comfortable on the pitch, it’s appealing for other members of that community to come to watch and support them.”

Having openly gay players makes the game more inclusive

The game is packed with queer female icons, from USA’s Megan Rapinoe to Smith herself. In this year’s England squad, you’ve got the likes of Beth Mead, Rachel Daly and Demi Stokes who face nothing but adoration from fans.

Going back to England’s journey to the quarter finals, Smith says that this competition is a ‘watershed moment’ for the sport: “So many people are buying tickets and are interested in women’s sports, so a lot more sponsors are coming on board. This is the time for England to try and galvanize new people, new fans to watch women’s football. If they win it, the game will explode.”

The Lionesses have become superstars – icons of grit, teamwork and female strength. It’s no surprise that Smith says she’s never seen so many England shirts with female players’ names on the back like Lucy Bronze and Leah Williamson. “They’re household names.”

Kelly Smith MBE has teamed up with David Lloyd Clubs to share her footballing know-how, as well as tips and advice on how to train like a Lioness this Women’s Euros and beyond. For more information on classes and experiences on offer, please visit www.davidlloyd.co.uk.

Images: Getty

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