BY MAT GUY
The disaffection within footballâ€™s fan-base with the big business that runs the top end of the professional game seems to be accelerating at a depressingly fast pace; supporters are being priced out of watching their local team once they reach the â€˜promised landâ€™ of the Premier League, others are turning their backs out of principal, fed up with the commercial ‘product’ on offer that resembles little of the game that they grew up with, that they fell in love with.
Some take to watching lower leagueÂ and non-league football to find that honesty and integrity once more, that community feel that was the fundamental foundation of football clubs before the boom that followed the formation of the Premier League.
Some can leave decades of support for one team behind, others struggle with it; all are saddened that they have had to do so.
And lower league, non league football can be the solution for some; the feeling of belonging at places like Hartlepool and Accrington Stanley are tangible and infectious, with community and club working hand in hand for each otherâ€™s mutual benefit.
But for those who canâ€™t reconcile leaving the past, their history orÂ their badge behind, there just might be salvation out there, right on their doorstep, and hidden in plain sight, under their noses all this time.
The womenâ€™s game has everything going for it, and is the epitome of everything that made a young fan back in the day fall in love with a simple game, played with a simple passion and spirit, that was the centre of their community.
Everything that the modern menâ€™s game has got wrong, the womenâ€™s game has got right.
Where some fans are fed up of an FA and a sport that suffers from institutional racism (where are all the black and Asian managers? Where are all the Asian players?), bigotry (where are all the female coaches and administrators within the national association?), and homophobia (the only player brave/stupid enough to come out as gay within the male game, Justin Fashanu, was hounded out of the sport by intolerance and ignorance), the Womenâ€™s game offers a beacon of reason and acceptance.
A case in point being veteran of one hundred and sixteen caps for England, and former national team captain Casey Stoney; when she came out as gay she was met with universal support and acceptance. How many years, or even decades will we have to wait before the menâ€™s game can boast such open-mindedness?
For fans of clubs that seem lost to them, financially or emotionally, for fans of national teams that donâ€™t seem to represent them anymore, being populated by players earning in a week what they might conceivably earn in five years, then the Womenâ€™s Super League and the England Womenâ€™s national team could be just what you are looking for.
But it canâ€™t be the same? There canâ€™t be the same level of passion and skill, the same excitement as in the menâ€™s game, right?
Wrong. In Kelly Smith, Arsenal Ladies and England have one of the most talented players I have ever seen. I maintain she is one of the top ten players ever to have pulled on an England shirt.
She is the flag bearer for the Womenâ€™s game, but behind her are scores of exceptionally gifted players turning out for Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, and many more, playing out passionate and captivating matches that are high on entertainment and skill and low on histrionics. Youâ€™ll find no surrounding of the ref, no diving, no professional or cynical fouls, no trying to get other players booked or sent off, just a full on, passionate contest.
The closeness and affinity between club, player and fan within Womenâ€™s football reminds me of supporting my boyhood clubs, Southampton and Salisbury back in the eighties. The players mingle with the supporters after the game, and fight for them with an honesty and sporting integrity during it. They earn as much as the fan on the terrace, you can relate to them, because your problems are their problems, and they can relate to you.
For the disaffected fan fed up of the sterile, moneyed atmosphere at Stamford Bridge and The Emirates, the Womenâ€™s Super League takes place by and large at non-league grounds; the Womenâ€™s fixtures not deemed important enough to grace the main stadium. Arsenal play at Boreham Wood for example, with terraces and tea huts, regulars on the turnstiles, a throwback to the simple pleasures fans used to take for granted that became integral to the soul of the game.
And where prices for tickets have become astronomical, and Â£100 being a reality for a parent and their child to have to spend on a match (with a drink, pie and a programme), most England Womenâ€™s internationals that I have been to, and indeed the League Cup Final in October between Arsenal and Manchester City cost me Â£5 to get in. Indeed a ticket to the historic first England Womenâ€™s match to be held at the new Wembley in November only cost me Â£10.
Season tickets for Arsenal Ladies cost Â£35, for a quality of football that must be seen to be believed.
The womenâ€™s game offers you your club back, a club you thought you had been priced out of/ideologically isolated from for good. It offers you an excellent standard of football at a price that is affordable to all. It offers you an environment of tolerance and acceptance, where all are welcome, and where the levels of fair play and sporting behaviour on the pitch are a genuine role model for any youngsters watching (at the recent international friendly between England and Germany, the stats page in the programme revealed that England hadnâ€™t received a single yellow or red card in twenty eight international fixtures!)
The Womenâ€™s game could just very well be the future for football that you have been looking for, and could breathe new life back into the badge of the club you used to love. Having experienced the skill and passion first-hand, you would be crazy to not give it a try.