One hour to kick-off. In men's football, the pubs around the stadium would be full at this time. But here in Leigh, a suburb of Manchester, it's different on this sunny Sunday noon in the fall. The "Whistling Wren" is still closed.
At Leigh Sports Village, Manchester United's women play against Reading in the Women's Super League (WSL), the only full-time professional league in European women's football. A visit to the pub is not part of the program for the public. Many families are there, many children. They stock up on sandwiches and drinks in the supermarket across the grandstand for the time to kick-off. Then they push themselves through the red turnstiles into the stadium to be part of something big. Part of the boom in English women's football.
Football in "strange places"
At the moment there is one record after another on the island. More than 31,000 people saw the start of the season, the Manchester derby between City and United in the stadium of Citys men - record for a league game in England. For the test against Germany on Saturday (18.30 clock / TV: Eurosport), England's association has sold out the Wembley Stadium, 90,000 tickets were sold. Depending on how many cardholders actually come, the record for a home game England (previously 45,619 spectators) and possibly the record for a women's game on English soil (previously 80,023 spectators) is almost certainly cracked.
Impressive numbers are. However, these games are special events, events with the character of uniqueness. Whether it is possible to use the enthusiasm of the 2018 World Cup (and the investments made by Barclays Bank into WSL) sustainably has to be reflected in the league's daily routine. In games like the one Manchester United against Reading in Leigh.
The place belongs to Greater Manchester, but is almost halfway to Liverpool. It is an hour by bus from Manchester. This is unfavorable to attract new viewers. Or, as journalist Flo Lloyd-Hughes put it in the Guardian podcast: "The biggest problem of women's football in England is that most clubs play in strange places where it's difficult to get on public transport."
833 spectators came in 2018/2019 on average to a game
The game against Reading is still well attended. Nearly 2000 spectators are there. The overall league average was 833 last season. The mood is exuberant. A group of about 20 people, all in the United jersey, stands the whole game and sings. She sings the songs that are also sung to the men at Old Trafford, just with the names of the women: "Casey is at the wheel" for example for coach Casey Stoney. "James wants to tear you apart again" for striker Lauren James.
The famous British humor is also felt here. Respectively: to hear. As a shot of the guests flying clear over the gate, ask the United fans: "Are you playing Rugby League?" General laughter, even with some Reading fans sitting a few feet away from the duration singers. Fan separation does not exist in women's football in England. At the Manchester derby in the League Cup a week earlier, they even sat together peacefully with the city fans, reports Mary Priestner.
She is 26 years old and has always been a United fan. Previously, she was with the men at Old Trafford, now she comes mainly to the women's team, there is only just under a half years. "It's a nice trip for the family, all you have to do is look at how many girls are here and it's much easier to access than the men's games," she says. Priest means above all the cheap tickets. For full payers they cost 6.50 pounds, for children and older 3.50 pounds.
Autographs on Schweinsteiger jerseys
Many visitors are fans of the club, not especially fans of women. On the jersey they wear names like "Carrick", "Rashford" or even "Schweinsteiger". But also jerseys with the names of the women can be seen. After the game (2: 0 for United), they storm not like the men's football to the outputs, but the gang on the field. There, the players give autographs and are ready for photos. Proximity to the audience is important.
Coach Stoney arrives one hour after the final whistle in the interview zone. On the one hand, she would rather talk about tactics and goals, on the other hand, she is as a 130-times national player and former assistant to national coach Phil Neville one of the most distinguished voices in English women's football. She also likes to talk about fundamentals.
United coach Casey Stoney (left)
On the sold-out match against Germany, for example: "If you play the right match at the right time in the right stadium, you get the right number of spectators." What's important is that there's something left, "says Stoney.
Many English women's teams try this with the right match at the right stadium this season. One week after the Germany game, the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton in Anfield and the North London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal take place in the new Spurs stadium.
For Stoney, moving to the homestead of Manchester United's men is not desirable at the moment: "People need to know this is our home, they have to come here constantly," she says. Even if it's a long way to go.