Between March and July this year, Arsenal and England defender Leah Williamson felt like women’s football didn’t even exist.
Almost every person in the country will have suffered knock-on effects of the Covid-19 pandemic whether that be in form of a redundancy, furlough or pay-cut.
But to be a professional athlete and left feeling like your entire industry no longer exists is hard to imagine.
The 23-year-old, along with Chelsea and Lionesses forward Bethany England, gave an interview to the Evening Standard at the end of July in which she divulged the struggle she has felt being a female footballer over the last four months.
“Women are half the population and the fact that we are so easily cast aside when circumstances get tough is an issue,” said Williamson.
“This is about women stepping out of tradition and doing what they want in any walk of life, let alone sport.
“But sport is such a good way to acknowledge that we are worth the same investment as our male counterparts, in every industry.
“As attitudes change I hope sport can lead the way on that.”
The 2019-20 Women’s Super League and Championship seasons were at first postponed and later abandoned with Chelsea, England’s team, declared champions after a points-per-game system was used by the FA.
But it will be Williamson who returns to action first as Arsenal face Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals of the Women’s Champions League on Saturday August 22.
Chelsea did not qualify for this year’s competition which began back in August last year, was postponed indefinitely in March and is now set to conclude on August 30 for which Ladbrokes are giving you £20 in free bets on the game.
However many feel the pandemic has served as much more than a mere interruption to the women’s football schedule and more as a metaphorical dam to stem the exponential flow of progress the sport was making.
“We’ve needed more funding for a long time,” said England, who was named WSL player of the season last term.
“It starts from the bottom — if there isn’t proper equipment from the off it will be hard to keep kids interested as they grow up.
“They need decent, safe pitches; kit sponsors can pay for that. Without funding we risk thousands of talented young girls and boys not being discovered because they don’t have the opportunity.
“Boys are looking up to female players too and it’s important that they see women’s games as well as men’s.”
According to Darren Bailey who is a consultant at Charles Russell Speechlys, the return of women’s football matches is a good opportunity for the sport.
Bailey said: “There are opportunities here as well as the downsides of COVID.
“There will be much more flexibility now for the women’s game than the men’s.
“One of the things people used to say was women’s sport wasn’t worth watching because ‘nobody was in the ground’.
“Well nobody is in any ground at the moment, so it comes down to essentially what you are watching.”
Williamson and England both still feel as though a change in the industry will help secure the future of women’s football.
And there have been discussions that the Premier League will be taking over the Women’s Super League. However, Richard Masters, the chief executive of the Premier League said that now isn’t the right time even if he would like this to happen.
“I do think that something needs to change to propel us forwards,” said Williamson.
“We don’t want a short-term fix. We want something secure and stable and going to last for the next generation of women’s footballers.
“The FA did a great job and set goals about increasing participation. Now it has to be external.
“It’s no secret that most of the money in sport comes from sponsorship and marketing. We are missing external investors and the TV rights that men’s sport thrive off.”
“As long as people are brave and invest, the game will keep going and surprise us as much as it has already with its growth. People need to stop looking at us as second in line.”