For both Arsenal and England defender Alex Scott and BBC presenter Jacqui Oatley, the women’s FA Cup final in 2013 was a strangely demoralising experience.
It was less than a year after the Great Britain women’s Olympic team had played to a packed Wembley Stadium, yet fewer than 5,000 people turned up to Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium to see Arsenal Ladies beat Bristol Academy.
“It was so demoralising,” says Oatley, who will be leading the coverage of today’s women’s FA Cup final which is being staged at Wembley for the first time.
“It was live on the BBC, it was only a few months after the Olympics and yet you had the lowest attendance for a final since 2000. I spoke to people in the town and no-one, not even the taxi drivers, had a clue it was going on.”
Scott had just returned to Arsenal from a spell playing professionally in the United States, and she, too, was stunned by the low turn-out. “It ruined the whole day even though we won,” she admits.
There will be no such repetition at Wembley today – the number of tickets sold already tops 27,000 for Chelsea versus Notts County and that will guarantee an attendance record for the final, while the good weather forecast should ensure a decent top-up on the day.
Yet the Doncaster experience is an example of how the football authorities have often failed to maintain the momentum generated by key events in the women’s game.
“It just shows how progress is being made but not steadily – it’s peaks and then troughs,” says Oatley. “You have the kudos and the interest from London 2012 and then it is not capitalised on.”
Oatley, who will also present international football and darts for ITV from the coming season as well as maintaining her BBC work, watched her first women’s final at Selhurst Park in 2001 – on crutches after sustaining a serious knee injury playing football – when 13,824 watched Arsenal beat Fulham. Since her playing days, the women’s game has changed beyond all recognition.
She recalls: “I was not allowed to play at school – I asked and it was a flat ‘no’. Now girls have the option of playing at school or a club. My daughter started at the age of two at Little Kickers. It’s a world away now.”
Scott, who will be working as a pundit for the BBC today, admits there will be more than a touch of professional envy that she will not be on the pitch, having experienced such a high with England finishing third in the recent Women’s World Cup.
Instead, and freshly armed with a PFA-organised degree in professional sports writing and broadcasting from Staffordshire University, 30-year-old Scott will be calling the shots rather than blocking them.
She says: “I love doing the work – it’s definitely the area I’m looking to go into once I finish playing. I still love playing for Arsenal and every time I pull on an England shirt.
“Things have also changed so much since the World Cup – people recognise me in the supermarket, my friends tell me how much even their grandparents were getting behind the England team. We have got to keep the momentum going.”