Earlier this month, UEFA Women European Champions England took to the pitch at a packed-out Wembley to face FIFA World Champions USA, in what was a true clash of intercontinental titans. England buoyed by the successes of the summer, emerged victorious again – claiming a 2-1 victory in an enthralling and engrossing affair. This was the first time the Lionesses have defeated the USA since 2017.
The match drew a record crowd of over 76,000 fans, and the effect that the Lionesses tournament victory has had on the national psyche is already clear to see. As women’s football grows in popularity and begins to rival the men’s game for eyeballs, pound signs and commercial interest, players, coaches and clubs alike need to ensure they are ready for what’s in store.
As we celebrate this new era for women’s football, we sat down with Women’s Football Education (“WFE”) and Jim Rainford, Sports Specialist at Miller, to discuss the legacy of the Lionesses’ successes and how this has impacted the work they are doing to support female footballers, and what the future may hold for the game.
WFE are a charity which provides female footballers with guidance, education and support to assist with achieving their off-field goals. WFE work with a team of experienced specialists (including Miller) from across the UK and overseas to deliver bespoke training and education to players.
Miller are a market leading broker in football with a client base of circa 1,000 footballers, including 60% of the English national football squad and 40% of the women’s England EUROs squad. We also provide a complete service across all sports & entertainment insurance risks, working with some of the world’s most high-profile sports bodies, clubs, athletes and entertainment talent.
Thanks for sitting down with us. To kick off, have you already seen an uptick in those wanting to enrol with WFE in the months since the EUROs?
WFE: Yes, we have seen a sharp rise in WFE membership requests and more enquires on the website/via social media. There has generally been greater engagement and appetite to get involved with women’s football and WFE.
Women's football has certainly captured the imagination of the public like no other female sport or tournament before and this represents a unique opportunity for WFE to be able to extend its offering and delivery network.
Miller: Likewise, we’ve seen the market for insurance in women’s football accelerate massively since the 2019 World Cup and this year’s EUROs, and that’s continuing to grow as the Women’s Super League (“WSL”) is more accessible to fans with its move to BT and Sky Sports.
Across both organisations, what are you offering women’s footballers and how does that differ from the men’s game?
WFE: WFE are acutely of the disparity between the opportunities and resources available to female players compared to their male counterparts and as a consequence, WFE is dedicated to narrowing this gap and striving for equality.
WFE work with a team of experienced specialists from across the UK and overseas to deliver bespoke training and education to its members.
As things stand, our offering ranges from career pathway and transition, mentoring, mental health coaching, financial education, legal support and brand building, all the way to linguistics courses, nutrition, or broadcast training.
Miller: Interestingly, a lot of the insurable risks are the same across both the men’s and women’s games, but that’s why we work with trusted partners like WFE to ensure we can deliver the best offering for all clients.
Following on from the above question, are you seeing anyone from the men’s game approaching you to understand the women’s game better?
WFE: We have been extremely fortunate in that a number of male Premier League and Championship players immediately agreed to be part of our diverse Mentoring Scheme and we have found that very refreshing as it will undoubtedly help to bridge the gap.
Miller: From our perspective, we’ve seen so many claims scenarios where young male players are not insured or protected from a young age, and hopefully the male allies you mention above can act as a lesson to avoid these risks in the future.
WFE: The only way for male allies to truly understand the disparity between the men’s and the women’s game is for them to be involved in organisations such as WFE in order to obtain first-hand experience and understandings of the inequality including but not limited to financial rewards, insurance protections, brand and broadcasting opportunities and educational support.
What do you think is the biggest risk facing the women’s game at the moment?
Miller: The game is getting more and more lucrative, and with that comes risk – it’s undoubtedly the biggest factor as the landscape continues to grow.
WFE: Absolutely agree. WFE engage with a lot of players who have simply signed contracts without obtaining any legal advice and it is not until something goes awry that the contractual constraints and impacts become a reality.
Players need to be given greater insight and advice in relation to their actual playing and sponsorship contracts, this includes understanding the insurance and financial implications as well as understanding their legal duties and liabilities.
Other risks to female footballers include being exposed to online abuse and trolling without being given the appropriate social media training. We often see professional men’s teams providing social media and broadcasting training whereas within the women’s clubs these offerings are less common.
Players are being approached much more frequently in relation to engaging with brands, giving interviews and as a result WFE’s services are in greater demand.
Fascinating, thanks so much – and we’re proud to support you in all the work you do. One final question, but on a personal level, how amazing has the experience been watching the Lionesses take on a national stage?
WFE Founder Danielle Bamber: Seeing first-hand the struggles the female players go through to play football in the Championship or WSL and the vast difference financially between female and male players, I felt a sense of pride as a female to see the players deliver for England and excitement that finally the gender gap will start to close.
WFE Founder Catherine Forshaw: I was fortunate enough to attend a number of matches throughout the EUROs including the final at Wembley I have never experienced an atmosphere like it. It was electric, a true party atmosphere.
The success of the tournament and the Lionesses’ achievements do not only represent a sporting victory on the pitch but also a culture change off the pitch. The tournament’s legacy presents a new chapter for women’s football, and I have no doubt that it will inspire many generations.