As women’s football becomes a stronger sport than it ever has before, Offside Rule’s Alexandra Jonson explains how Spain is slowly beginning to accept the female game.
As the topflight meeting between Atlético Madrid and FC Barcelona kicked off at the Vicente Calderón the queues outside the stadium were still kilometres long. For the first 30 minutes of the game more and more people would be flooding in. It was a historic day for Atlético but even more so for Spanish women’s football in general.
For the first time in history Atlético Madrid had let their women’s team play at the Vicente Calderón and the turn out had been way greater than anyone had expected. Almost 14.000 would see Atléti defeat the four times Spanish champions FC Barcelona 2-1 and be declared winter champions of La Liga Iberdrola.
That game can be seen as a good symbol of the revolution in Spanish women’s football that is taking place this season. Because while many have said that no one cares about the women’s game in Spain, this match showed that a great deal actually do.
Vicky Losada, who was one of the Barcelona players at Calderón this historic December day, told me back in 2014 that “the Spanish society has a mentality that isn’t ready to see women play football. If we could change that I think more girls would believe more in themselves and that would be the first step for a change in Women’s football in this country”.
This emphasises even more the importance of the huge turn out at the Calderón.
Accepting and supporting the women’s game is the first step for a true change. That is now something that is finally starting to happen this season. More than the Calderón; San Mamés, Mini Estadi, Butarque, Ciutat de Valencia and La Romareda have all opened their doors for Women’s football, while the Canary Derby between UD Grandilla Tenerife and UD Tacuense on the 26th of March is set to be played at the 24.000 capacity Estadio Heliodoro Rodríguez López.
The growth is everything from the small things of the clubs making space in their official shops for the women teams merchandise, to the fact that Iberdrola has become the first ever official sponsor of the league. Media are starting to write more and more about the Women’s game while GolTV now broadcast at least three games per week.
A few years ago, these things would have been unthinkable.
The women’s league in Spain has never been professional, but a major step towards that was taken just a few days ago as the AFE (Spanish players union) gathered the captain’s of the first division teams for a meeting this 2nd February, having voted to accept women membership this past June.
The growth of women’s football in Spain has always been a shaky one. When things seemed to be going in the right direction the country was hit by the economic crisis in 2012. With that, everything stopped. Most club’s cut their fundings for the women’s team and terminated any contracts they had signed. Those few players who had become professionals returned to being amateur with no salaries, while several of the league’s star players left to play abroad.
However now many of them are returning back as the interest for the sport in Spain is constantly growing. Reaching this point the countries national team has been a major factor. The qualifying for the 2013 European Championship in Sweden became somewhat of the starting point of the change. “That we qualified, led media to be interested in us and for the first time people got to know that a national team existed,” Losada told me in 2014.
The surprise success at the tournament, where the Spaniards impressed and reached a quarterfinal, led Spanish media to mention them and for the first time they were getting a voice, a very quiet one. But it was a voice.
In 2015 Spain then qualified for their first World Cup, an impressive accomplishment. But as they returned home after only the group stage they were seen as failures. A major achievement that should have generated in positivity was seen as a fiasco and the voices of those who thought women shouldn’t play football were raised again.
It seemed like things were going backwards yet again but instead it was the start of the revolution. Women’s football had finally got a voice and the players weren’t planning on staying quiet.
After the tournament they issued a statement, saying that all the 23 players of the squad demanded a change as they expressed that Ignacio Quereda, who coached the national side for 27 years, and his staff hadn’t given them the conditions needed to succeed.
Part of the statement, that was signed by all the players, read: “It is evident that the preparation for these World Cup finals was not adequate, there were insufficient pre-tournament friendlies, we were given limited time to acclimatise on arrival in Canada and the analysis of our opponents and the way the team prepared for our matches was simply not enough.”
Ten days after the tournament Quereda stepped down from his post. New coach Jorge Vilda La Roja has yet to lose a official game, qualifying for the European Championship having won all their games and a goal difference of 39-2.
But more than the results, the Spanish squad is now better supported by the Federation. The interest of the national team has grown significantly and the affect has spread over to the league. La Liga, the organisation that runs the men’s competition, has taken over the Women’s league as well. More money is being invested and more interest is coming from both the media and the public.
There is still a very long way to go. But things have never looked brighter for Spanish women’s football. They are not left out in the cold alone anymore and they are definitely not keeping quiet.
Follow Alexandra on Twitter @AlexandraJonson