While the men’s side at Manchester United continues to disappoint as they head into an international break, the women’s team are doing the club proud in their debut season in the Women’s Super League. Casey Stoney’s side sit sixth in the table. They’ve only managed one win from a tough opening three games, but it’s been a positive start.
The Reds travel down to London on Sunday to take on Tottenham Hotspur. Last season saw the two sides met in the second division of the WSL. Stoney’s team scored nine and received just two in reply over the course of the home and away fixtures. They’ll be hoping for a statement win once again.
How have Manchester United Women fared so far this season?
Their only win of the campaign thus far came against rivals Liverpool. Many of United’s first-team players joined from Liverpool in the last couple of years. The majority were ex-United academy players who had been forced to leave at 16 when the club stopped training girls. That’s changed and many who had crossed over the River Mersey returned to their childhood club.
17-year-old Lauren James, now 18, scored to put United ahead in that game and she’s the star of United’s side having torn the Championship apart last season. Captain Katie Zelem scored an injury-time penalty to wrap the game up. Millie Turner started once again and she’s now played every minute of every competitive game since United first started.
It’s a young United side that will be patient. They know this first season in the country’s top-flight is about consolidating an excellent side and ensuring they are en route to becoming one of the top teams. That looks very possible.
United played Manchester City and Arsenal before that win against Liverpool. It was an incredibly difficult start to the season. Arsenal are current WSL Champions and competing in the Champions League while City are a major force too. 31,213 watched City beat United 1-0 at the Etihad in the first WSL Manchester Derby. Arsenal, meanwhile, saw off United 1-0 with a late goal at Leigh Sports Village.
How is women’s football growing?
The FIFA World Cup in the summer saw huge numbers tune in to see Phil Neville’s England Lionesses compete in France. They reached the semi-finals before being knocked out. Participation is up and even more importantly, the WSL is now being shown overseas for the first team. It also has a title sponsor as the Premier League did for many years. As the BBC say, “it is no coincidence that… [this is] the first WSL campaign that Manchester United have been a part of.”
United’s attendances in the Championship were enormous in contrast to most sides around the country. Stoney’s side drew an average crowd of more than 2,000. In the WSL, most teams get fewer than 1,000 people at each game.
When United played City at the Etihad, 31,213 were watching. That was a record for the highest attendance in the WSL. The club has sold 1,186 season tickets for the women’s side this season, up from 449 last year. The growth is enormous and rapid.
“Our fans are unbelievable aren’t they?” United women’s manager Stoney has said.
“They create such an atmosphere. They are the best fans in the country.
“The players deserve that atmosphere and they deserve to play in front of that crowd. Hopefully they’ve seen a game that’s entertaining and they’ll come back.”
The set of fans going every week are known as the Barmy Army. There’s no swearing in the songs and it’s designed to be a family-friendly stadium. It may be a novel concept to many match-going Reds but it’s working. The number of people attending is getting bigger and bigger.
What’s next for United’s women’s team?
On Sunday, they play Spurs, a team they routed twice last season. A win will likely see them leapfrog Spurs into 5th. There won’t be a title challenge from United this season. The strength of City, Arsenal and Chelsea is too great. But things are developing nicely for Casey Stoney’s team and they’re garnering more support. With United’s men’s side in such disarray, that’s only going to continue.