On a brisk night in late November with the hum of the new Women’s Champions League anthem in the background, Manchester City Women took a massive step in securing what turned out to be a Quarter Final spot in Europe’s premiere competition, by beating Norway’s LSK Kvinner 2-1.
If we track back in history however we find that professional women’s football is not a new idea, but rather something that has continued to develop for close to a century. At the start of the 1920’s women’s football was thriving across England with around 150 teams, and matches often attracting crowds of 50,000.
Yet while one side of Manchester has continued this tradition with a women’s team which is advancing in cup competitions as well as currently sitting top of the FA Women’s Super League, the other seems to be following a different path.
Currently, Manchester United are the only one of the established ‘big teams’ in England who have chosen not to establish a dedicated women’s team. Along with Manchester City – Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea make up the current top four teams in the table.
It was not always this way with the red side of Manchester leading the way for decades. By the late 1970s, the Manchester United Supporters Club Ladies were formed and unofficially recognised as the club’s women’s team.
At a time where modern professional women’s football was in its infancy, Manchester United Ladies helped establish the North West Women’s Regional Football League in 1989 as founder members. Finally in 2001, the team formed an official relationship with the club.
Rather than continuing to be at the forefront of modernisation within the game, in 2005 the relationship ended and the women’s team were abolished.
Today, Manchester United join Southampton as the only clubs in the Premier League without an adult women’s team (although Southampton don’t have a senior women’s team, they do currently run a professional Under-21 side).
Yet in an ironic twist, the post of England Women’s manager went to an ex-player from Manchester United a few weeks ago, Phil Neville. However, even United’s famed left-back admitted after his appointment that his former club needed to do much more to bridge the gap; ‘A club of the size of United should be the leaders, the pioneers’.
Now, it is not often that you’ll find this lad from Denton agreeing with a United player, but as one of the biggest clubs in the country, and the world, we should all expect them to do better.
I think it’s difficult to explain why in 2018 a club the size of Manchester United does not have a women’s team, and what is worse is the fact that their only defence is to repeat the line that, “it was not part of our core business”.
With massive European giants like Real Madrid and Juventus following the trend set by many English clubs, they have recently announced the creation of their own, fully integrated and financially backed women’s team.
Whether locally in Greater Manchester, across England or globally, whichever football club Manchester United compare themselves to, they are allowing themselves to be left behind.
I fully appreciate that Manchester United play a very active role within the community in training and developing girls and young women through the FA Girls’ Regional Talent Club. Helping to train and nurture the next generation of female footballers from across the region is fantastic, but not enough.
It doesn’t matter who you support, or whether you are a boy or a girl, every child should have the chance to play for their football club, and that includes every girl who dreams of playing for Manchester United.
Football is our collective national passion and tens of millions of us follow our respective football clubs every week – now is the time to make sure that every child has the opportunity to reach their dreams and represent their clubs on the pitch.