Record TV audiences, record crowds, and world superstars joining the Women’s Super League (WSL) – what a year for women’s football in the UK.
Some 28.1 million people watched the BBC’s coverage of the Women’s World Cup in France last summer, over double the viewership of 12.4 million who tuned in for the last World Cup in Canada, with worldwide audiences of more than one billion across the competition.
A record-breaking 77,768 fans attended England’s November fixture against Germany at Wembley, and Chelsea’s signing of Sam Kerr, arguably the biggest name in women’s football, signalled a watershed moment for the WSL.
“It gives you a lot of encouragement,” said Jaime Gotch, a sports student at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and Charlton Athletic W.F.C. defender in the Women’s Championship.
“I’m privileged to be a younger player going into my career with a lot of media coverage.”
Gotch, 19, came through the youth ranks at Reading, captaining their academy team, until she joined second-tier Charlton in the summer.
She’s made 11 appearances and was thrust in for her debut against WSL champions Arsenal in the Continental League Cup in October, coming up against stars such as Vivianne Miedema and Beth Mead.
Gotch recalled: “That was so good, an adrenaline thing but probably one of my most memorable moments.
“It was straight into the lion’s den and was literally sink or swim – I was just thrown in there.”
Charlton, currently sitting at the bottom of the Championship, are part-time, training three times a week, but it is Gotch’s first taste of women’s football, and she has embraced the challenge.
She said: “I’ve enjoyed playing with girls a lot older than me, learning off them although it took me a couple of months to acclimatise – there is a big difference compared to girls’ football.
“It’s more intense and cut-throat. If you’re not good enough you’re down with the development squad or on the bench and it’s a lot harder to break into the team.
“I decided I needed to experience women’s football and I wasn’t at WSL standard so It was about going out and playing.
“Also, with the WSL being full-time, you have to choose a career in football and put your life on hold so I wouldn’t be able to go to university.”
Gotch, who hails from Windsor, balances her strength and conditioning studies with Charlton’s relegation battle.
“It’s not easy – my schedule is manic. As a scholar I have to fulfil my university training and play a certain amount of matches for the women’s team.”
Nevertheless, she pays tribute to the university who provide mental and physical support to help manage her hectic diary.
Despite her tender age, Gotch is passionate about the continued growth of the women’s game.
She explained: “I think we need more backing from the men’s side of the game. I feel like they think they can throw a bit of money about and then that’s their job done.
“If you compare a women’s pay in my league compared to a man’s pay in the EFL Championship the difference would be astounding.
“At the minute only three or four teams in the Women’s Championship are going full-time so the game is progressing but not everyone is. I think all teams in the top two leagues should become full-time to be more competitive.”
Rejected from various boys’ sides when she was younger, her dad set up a team with Gotch playing boys’ football until she was 16 and her enthusiasm for the future shines bright.
She said: “I’ve got big ambitions to develop and go full-time and play in the WSL. That’s 100% where I am going but I am more of a person for development while I’m young.
“I think there’s a lot of girls who try and rush when they’re not ready and I know I’m not ready for WSL yet.
“But give me one to two seasons in this league to hopefully build myself up into the WSL.”