Fans at Craven Cottage

From grassroots to WSL: more women’s football teams are playing in men’s stadiums

As the women’s game increases in popularity, participation and professionalisation, more teams across the seven tiers of the Women’s Football Pyramid are playing matches in men’s stadiums.

Following the record crowd of 47,367 that gathered at the Emirates to watch Arsenal defeat Tottenham in the opening weekend of the Women’s Super League, top-flight women’s teams have committed to playing a greater number of matches at their club’s main stadium this season.

This is having a trickle-down effect to the lower leagues, as Brentford FC and Fulham Women, in tier six and tier five respectively, recently held exhibition matches at the stadiums of their affiliated Premier League men’s teams.

Fulham Women’s goalkeeper Edie Kelly said: “You can see that the bigger clubs who have these stadiums available have been moving towards that in the past year or two.

“For us, it is huge, as obviously we are a bit lower down in Tier 5, so it is a great move from the club as we don’t necessarily have the right support as the bigger clubs.”

The structure of the FA Women’s Football Pyramid

Fulham Women play in the London & South East Regional League in Tier 5 of the Women’s Football Pyramid.

They usually host games at Motspur Park, Fulham men’s training ground, which has a capacity of 2,000. 

However, 3,181 fans were in attendance as they fell to a 3-1 defeat to fourth-tier AFC Wimbledon at Craven Cottage.

Despite the score line, the Capital Cup Round One tie was a memorable occasion and marked the first time the women have played at the stadium since the side reformed in 2014.

Fulham’s trailblazing women’s side became the first team in Europe to become full-time professionals in 2000 but were disbanded eight years later.

Kelly, who has played for the Whites for four years, described the occasion as an opportunity for her team to grow regular attendances by attracting supporters of the men’s game.

She said: “There’s going to be some fans who have never seen us before.

“Craven Cottage is a bit of a more familiar setting to them, so I hope that they’ll see what we’re like and enjoy it enough to come back again.

“This is just kind of the start, really.”

General Manager of Brentford FC’s women’s teams, Amy Crook, said that by holding women’s games in established grounds, many fans would be able to visit a Premier League stadium for the first time.  

She said: “It’s an opportunity to celebrate women’s football and also showcase the London & South East Regional League.

“Also, for fans and for younger generations to be able to come to the stadium and have never been because Premier League tickets are tough to get hold of.”

Men’s stadiums are not only greater in capacity but are often more accessible for supporters, with many women’s stadiums located away from their club’s main ground and fan base. 

Notably, in the WSL, Brighton & Hove Albion Women play at the People’s Pension Stadium, 21 miles away from the American Express Community Stadium. 

The distance between Brentford and Fulham’s Men and Women’s stadiums

In tier six, Brentford FC Women currently sit fourth in the London & South East Division 1 North after hosting Watford Ladies Development at the Gtech Community Stadium on 13 November.

The Bees secured a 4-2 victory in front of a record crowd of 5,116 in their maiden fixture at the stadium.

Head coach, Karleigh Osbourne, believes that this historic fixture is just the beginning for his side. 

He said: “I think this is a great step forwards for us at Brentford, to move forward and play in the G-tech, and hopefully, we can get more fixtures there in the future. 

“I think that it needs to happen as ladies can play in better stadiums and start attracting better crowds.”

By playing more matches in established men’s stadiums, teams across the seven tiers of the Women’s Football Pyramid can meet the rising demand for women’s football.

This will also provide the opportunity for teams to grow fanbases and increase their regular attendances, which will provide better opportunities for the women’s game in the future. 

Related Articles