He has only been in England since 2012 but Fulham’s American international defender Tim Ream believes the explosion in women’s football in just six years means the sport is now unrecognisable.
England, who have qualified for next year’s World Cup under the stewardship of former Manchester United legend Phil Neville, will host Australia at Craven Cottage on October 9 as the Lionesses streamline their tournament preparation.
And Ream, who is Fulham’s female football ambassador, has hailed the development of the women’s game in England and has called on fans in South West London to get behind Neville’s Lionesses next month at Craven Cottage.
The American international, who could line up for the USA against Gareth Southgate’s England next month at Wembley, hailed the impact of Neville and has backed the one-time Everton defender to achieve success with the Lionesses.
“From the time that I’ve been in England since 2012, the women’s game has grown hugely – there weren’t that many games being televised but now it’s so different,” he said.
“You look at the FA WSL and the national team and everything they’ve done up to now, it’s impressive and it’s definitely still improving.
“Qualifying for the World Cup is the biggest thing and they’ve been able to do that with a very impressive manager in Phil Neville, who obviously did really well in his club career.
“That translates to the women’s team and they are progressing well, they’ve made it to the World Cup, which was the big battle and now they’re seeing where they can go from there.
“Phil and I never crossed over in our playing careers but he’s a big name in the game, he’s had a really good playing career and that natural next step is to try the coaching side.
“He’s done a really good job solidifying his position and getting the women to play a certain way, but everything is a process and that’s one that he’s going through currently.
“There’s now a better and stronger pathway for which players can aspire to be on and that can only help grow the game, improve the quality and produce a better project – Phil is helping in that.”
Ream believes Craven Cottage is now a world class venue for international football – and insists the Lionesses’ clash with Australia will further establish Fulham as a major venue in the UK.
The club has previously hosted games with Colombia, Australia and the US, taking advantage of the hugely cosmopolitan residents living and working in South West London.
And Ream, who has worked tirelessly at the club to integrate and improve the opportunities for the women’s game at Fulham – is convinced next month’s fixture is another stepping stone for his home stadium.
“It’s a big honour for Craven Cottage – the club and the ground have hosted a number of international matches over the years and it’s always a great occasion,” he added.
“We’ve had Colombia before, Australia and the US as well, and whenever a stadium in the UK can host an international friendly it’s a great way of being able to grow the women’s game.
“It’ll be a great occasion, you come and support two really good teams playing and there’s a pretty sizeable Australian fanbase in the Fulham area – for them to come out and support their women would be a huge boost for them.
“It’s the same for England fans, there are no better places than London to watch football.
“I got into this role last year, and for us it’s about putting a men’s first-team presence into the women’s game, right from the young ones all the way up to the first-team.
“We want to integrate the men’s side with the women’s side and lend our support, show up to training sessions and games and other events to help boost both sides.
“It gives us a unified club front and it’s vitally important, the men’s side gets a lot of the recognition and the fanfare but for us to go and showcase the women’s side helps everyone to grow the game.
“It will help us new fans, young fans, that can continue support the team and then hopefully as the years go on, some of them will go on to reach the women’s first team.”
The 30-year-old defender, who has more than 20 international caps to his name for America, is far from looking into the next chapter of his career when his playing days finally finish.
But Ream revealed he won’t have any issues with following the likes of Neville into coaching in the women’s game.
“Whether women’s football coaching is something I investigate after my career is yet to be seen, but life after playing is certainly something I need to start looking into,” he added.
“I never say never, you never know what opportunities will arise and what will come your way until you get to that.
“Five years ago, we would have not predicted where football would be now and similarly it’s going to be the same for the next five years so it’s hard to make any estimates.
“We’re going to see the women’s grow quicker than the men’s, they’re going to get to a place where there is more and more media coverage, more women playing, more teams and more clubs starting women’s teams – that can only benefit the country and female sports in general.”
England Women face Australia in an international match at Fulham FC’s Craven Cottage on 9 October (KO 7pm). Tickets £10 Adults/£1 Concessions atwww.thefa.com/tickets