They’re saying that a billion people could be watching the Women’s World Cup that kicked off in Canada a few hours ago. This is a scenario that would have never have been envisaged in 1970 when the Women’s Football Association held its first meeting in England.

Initially, growth of the women’s game in England was slow. Elsewhere – notably Scandinavia and the United States – the women’s game was integrated early on with the existing men’s associations and benefited from mature administrative structures, facilities, coaching and financing. In England the women were little more than a curiosity until the 1990s.

But it wasn’t always thus. Even before the First World War women’s matches were crowd-pullers. During and immediately after the War the game took off in popularity. Fuelled by the factory girls who had taken the place of their menfolk teams sprung up and many charity matches were played. One particular team Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, were very prominent and gathered huge crowds wherever they went. One game against St Helen’s Ladies on Boxing Day (St Stephen’s Day) 1920 was watched by a crowd of 53,000 with thousands more unable to gain entrance.

But controversy over money gave a jealous Football Association an excuse to act. They declared that football was no game for women, especially if money was finding its way into the wrong pockets, and they forbade the use of football grounds under the Association’s control.

Interest dwindled, teams folded and the women’s game all but disappeared. However in the mid-60s there were moves afoot for a new beginning and in 1969 the old banning order was rescinded. The Women’s Football Association was founded and competition commenced.

However it was only in 1993 that the women’s game was properly integrated and only now is it becoming properly professional at the top level.

So who’s going to win the present tournament? The US, Germany and France are the favourites. Canada will be tough to beat on home territory. England aren’t good enough on paper to win but it’s a funny old game.

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