Women’s Super League football will return in a few weeks and, for the first time, all its teams will be made up of full-time professionals.
The FA’s decision has had its fair share of criticism and caused some casualties along the way, but the move could be important in changing parents’ opinions on whether football is a viable career for their daughters.
In new research conducted by SMG Insight and YouGov for Women’s FA Cup sponsors SSE Energy, it was found that parents see football as a less achievable career for their daughters than their sons.
Surveys were completed by over 2,000 parents of girls aged 5-16 in the UK, with the study revealing attitudes towards girl’s football across participation, careers and taking their daughters to matches.
It is encouraging, but no longer surprising, to see that the results found that 85 per cent of parents were extremely or quite positive towards girls participating in sport.
When asked about football specifically, 63 per cent of parents disagreed that it ‘is a sport for boys’ and many said they would support their daughter if she wanted to play football.
Even though football was not the sport most parents would prefer their daughters to play, with swimming and netball performing well, it remains the third-highest sport for participation of school-age girls.
But, the report’s findings showed that parents did not feel football is an achievable career for their daughters.
It’s not the case that the parents surveyed simply did not support the idea of their daughters having a career in football – at least 60 per cent said they would be happy if she became a professional player, coach or administrator.
The results show that these parents did not see the idea becoming a reality for their daughters, as only 27 per cent agreed that it was achievable for girls to become professional players.
Responses were higher for the same question about becoming a football coach, where 32 per cent of parents agreed it was achievable, and football administration was highest with 46 per cent.
But for all three careers the parents’ answers show they think a job in football is more achievable for their sons than their daughters, which is surprising when you consider how many young boys in club academies don’t make it.
Why do parents feel this way?
The nature of the research means we can only speculate, but in the past women in football haven’t been visible enough for it to be considered a viable career.
Until the start of the WSL in 2011, you could count the number of professional players on your hands and even in the interim years there have probably been less than fifty.
We’re all familiar with the debate on the injustices of footballer’s wages but the truth is that until parents can see professional women’s players, coaches and administrators with their own eyes, it’s a reasonable assumption to say they’re not going to think it is possible for their daughters.
So maybe the FA’s decision to make the WSL professional should be applauded if only for proving that there shouldn’t be any careers that aren’t achievable for girls in 2018.
There’s no limit on the types of footballing career women and girls can aspire to, from the boardroom, to the pitch, to the press box, as Women in Football’s #WhatIf campaign this summer has proven.
The hashtag challenged companies and people working in football to make ‘What If’ pledges to reduce inequality in football.
So far, it has helped aspiring journalists secure work experience placements with national newspapers and led to players from Everton Women launching the entire club’s new kit.
Against the backdrop of the #WhatIf movement and the SSE research results, the latest WSL restructure seems less like another FA blunder and more like a genuine attempt to turn the tide to show careers in football are achievable for women, and they’re achievable now.
Follow Nancy on Twitter at: @nancyfrostick