Amy Critchfield

Aiming for a Level Playing Field: Gender Equality in Football

Football is a game loved by all no matter your age, gender or appearance. It brings groups of people together and helps build relationships and inspire people to do bigger and better things. It truly is THE beautiful game. So why is there still such a divide? In a game where you should be judged by your talent, motivation and dedication to the sport, then why are we being judged by our gender? Let's put this into perspective and see if this is really the case. The English players in the FA Women's Super League receive an average of £26,752 a year while men in the Premier League are paid an average of £2.64 million according to The Guardian. That's 99 times more than females.

Investing in women
For female footballers to earn the same amount of money and have the same facilities it must increase in popularity. A greater reputation will mean more support and more fans, increasing the revenue of the clubs so they are able to pay their players more and afford the best equipment. This in turn will increase the standard of the game as more money can be focused on helping the players access the best treatment and coaching. However more support can only be achieved when women footballers are given the same respect and recognition as that of the men. The game is the same. Women play the same 90 minutes on the same size pitches with the same number of players. They work just as hard and are just as dedicated as the men but until this is recognised and they earn that respect then things won't change.

Lewes leads the way
However, Lewes FC have led the charge for a more equal system. They pay their men and women's teams the same amount of money and provide similar facilities. This is a step in the right direction and will hopefully inspire more clubs to do the same.

Tag '20 spoke to Kelly Newton, former Lewes FC captain, who now manages a successful under 18's girls' team at Lewes, to get her views on changes in the game for women.

How did you get involved in football? I had an older brother and two cousins that I always tagged along with. They were always playing football, so I did too. I joined my first team Horsham Sparrows at the age of nine. They were a boys' team and I was the only girl. After a couple of weeks playing, the league approached my parents and said girls could not play with boys. I was heartbroken but determined to play the game I love. There were no girls' teams in the area at all. My parents contacted Horsham Ladies who agreed I could train with them but due to my age I had no opportunity to play any games. Horsham at the time were in the league the equivalent of the Women's Championship. It is crazy to think a team of this standard would allow a nine year old to train with them week in week out, but they did. It wasn't until around the age of 12 that I could play regular matches when Horsham Ladies created a reserve side.

Do you think women's football is on the rise? Absolutely. Over the past two years the interest in women's football has increased significantly. Televised games are much more frequent and the top players are starting to become household names. The success of the national team has had an impact and helped the level of investment and visibility.

How do you feel we could help increase the number of girls playing football? Continue the investment in the game not just at the elite level but at grass roots level too. We need to improve the standard of coaching as the game processes. It would be good to see some sort of levy from the Premier League; this could raise millions that could then be put back into the game to help it prosper. A circular approach could mean more success overall.

What skills and qualities have you gained from playing football? I used to be very shy when I was younger. The football pitch is where I felt most comfortable and has certainly helped me to gain confidence and come out of my shell. I have learned over time to become a leader and try to always set a good example to others. Football has also helped me to see how every person can impact and influence each member of the team and to have a selfless mentality.

Do you think Lewes FC are on the right track to helping equality being achieved in the game? The Lewes Campaign has helped to raise the awareness of inequality in football. We now need other clubs to continue the work. Everyone in the game must continue to strive to improve the opportunities for women and girls in football. In my opinion it is unrealistic to believe the women's game will reach the investment levels of the men's, but we can continue to close the gap and allow women to have a rewarding career as footballers.