As the women’s game increases in popularity, participation and professionalisation, more teams from all seven levels of the women’s football pyramid are playing matches in men’s stadiums.
After a record crowd of 47,367 gathered at the Emirates to watch Arsenal defeat Tottenham on the opening weekend of the Women’s Super League, top-flight women’s teams have pledged to play an increased number of games at his club’s main stadium this season.
This is having a trickle-down effect in the lower leagues, with Brentford FC and Fulham Women, in tier six and tier five respectively, recently holding exhibition matches at the stadiums of their Premier League-affiliated men’s teams .
Fulham Women’s goalkeeper Edie Kelly said: “You can see the bigger clubs that have these stadiums available have been moving towards it over the last year or two.
“For us, it’s massive as we’re obviously a bit further down in Tier 5 so it’s a big move for the club as we don’t necessarily have the right support like the bigger clubs.”
The structure of the FA women’s football pyramid
Fulham Women play in the London and South East Regional League at level 5 of the women’s football pyramid.
They usually host matches at Motspur Park, Fulham’s men’s training ground, which has a capacity of 2,000.
However, 3,181 fans were in attendance as they went down to a 3-1 defeat to fourth-tier AFC Wimbledon at Craven Cottage.
A historic day at La Caseta. ????
Over 3,000 fans watched @FulhamFCWomen’s fiercely contested cup tie with AFC Wimbledon. #FFC
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) November 20, 2022
Despite the score, the Capital Cup first round tie was a memorable occasion and marked the first time women have played at the stadium since it was refurbished in 2014.
Fulham’s pioneering women’s team became the first team in Europe to turn full-time professional in 2000, but disbanded eight years later.
Kelly, who has played for the Whites for four years, described the occasion as an opportunity for his team to increase regular attendance by attracting fans to the men’s game.
She said: “There will be some fans who have never seen us before.
“Craven Cottage is a bit more of a familiar environment for them, so hopefully they’ll see what we’re like and enjoy it enough to come back.
“This is just kind of the beginning, really.”
Brentford FC women’s general manager Amy Crook said by holding women’s matches at established grounds, many fans would be able to visit a Premier League stadium for the first time.
He said: “It’s an opportunity to celebrate women’s football and also showcase the London and South East Regional League.
“Also, so that fans and younger generations can come to the stadium and have never been because Premier League tickets are hard to come by.”
Men’s stadiums not only have a larger capacity, but are often more accessible to supporters, with many women’s stadiums located away from their club’s home ground and fan base.
Notably, in the WSL, Brighton & Hove Albion Women play at the People’s Pension Stadium, 21 miles from the American Express Community Stadium.
The distance between Brentford and Fulham’s men’s and women’s stadiums
In the sixth tier, Brentford FC Women are currently fourth in Division 1 North London South East after hosting Watford Ladies Development at the Gtech Community Stadium on November 13.
The Bees cruised to a 4-2 victory in front of a record crowd of 5,116 in their first game at the stadium.
Head coach Karleigh Osbourne believes this historic game is just the beginning for her team.
He said: “I think this is a big step forward for us at Brentford, to go forward and play G-Tech, and hopefully, we can get more games there in the future.
“I think it has to happen so that women can play in better stadiums and start attracting better crowds.”
By playing more matches in established men’s stadiums, teams at all seven levels of the women’s football pyramid can meet the growing demand for women’s football.
This will also give teams the opportunity to grow their fan base and increase their regular attendances, which will provide better opportunities for the women’s game in the future.