And so, with the simple submission of an application, the biggest and wealthiest football club in England, the UK and possibly Europe, finally has a professional women’s senior team. Next season, Manchester United take their place in the Women’s Football Championship. The second tier of the women’s game.
Hurrah! It’s only taken us until 2018. In which time our rivals have stolen away the most talented footballers on offer. Manchester United has finally dragged itself into the modern age and finally accept that women are capable of understanding and *gasp* playing, Association Football.
I’ve been a vocal critic of the club’s policy, or total lack of, towards a women’s football team. The club’s total apathy and at times, total condescension towards women’s football was shameful. United did previously have a women´s team of course but it was scrapped in 2005 before the game began to take off.
It was an attitude not helped by some “fans,” who didn’t take kindly to the club being criticised on this issue. Spouting the special kind of regressive, sexist tripe reserved for “The Beautiful Game.” A reminder to us that football lags behind the rest of society when it comes to social attitudes. Still languishing back in the good old days of the 1970s. When women were seen and not heard, gays stayed in the closet, racists pervaded primetime television and valued local paedophiles in bad tracksuits, were given keys to local hospitals.
However, as the old saying goes; Better late than never.
This should just be the start. What would be even worse than not having a team at all, would be to create one and allow it to drift into mediocrity, obscurity and back out of existence. A pointed slap in the face and lasting insult to women’s sport. Manchester United need to do more than just have a piece of tokenism on retainer.
For the game, the club’s own history, its substantial female fanbase and for every little girl who dreams of becoming a footballer, United need to go all in. To make up for lost time and use its considerable wealth to make its women’s team as successful and powerful as its men’s team. To weave itself into the fabric, history, and mythos of the club.
Rumours abounding that Casey Stoney, the national team number two, and legendary England captain will be the new manager. A good choice. Stoney is a big name, a promising coach and more importantly, it would be right for United to have a woman at the head of the new team.
From the fans, what is required is patience. For all of the club´s vast resources, this is building a team from scratch. To assume that United will romp home to challenging the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton and Manchester City overnight – or even in the next five years – is not impossible but is fanciful. Especially with the club´s recent history of haphazard decision making and lack of joined up thinking.
Nonetheless, the fans need to show the same backing to the women as they would the men. This is a new opportunity for more legends to be created and dreams to be forged. A chance for Manchester United to make itself the club boys AND girls can aspire to play for and all of us need to support it, wholeheartedly.