Women’s football has grown so much since the summer that one local manager says his team have gone from playing in front of ‘mums and dads’ to having an actual fanbase.
Graham Abercrombie – whose Sheffield FC side visit South Yorkshire rivals Barnsley in the second round of the women’s FA Cup on Sunday (3pm at Oakwell Academy) – believes the success of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in the summer has trickled down the English pyramid.
It used to be mums and dads watching but now it is supporters.Sheffield FC coach Graham Abercrombie
“It feels like there has been a huge growth in our game, it used to be mums and dads watching but now it is supporters,” said Abercrombie, who has been involved in the women’s game for 12 years.
Sheffield FC enter the competition at this stage. They sit second-bottom of the Northern Premier League, having won just one game this season and lost the other seven fixtures.
They meet Barnsley, who are a tier below in Division One North, but they are top of their league with eight wins and one draw.
“The game has definitely developed and is something that will keep going,” said Chris Hamilton, the Barnsley manager.
Last weekend saw record attendances across women’s football, with 30,000 watching Tottenham meet West Ham United Ladies at the new Spurs stadium. Both those ladies teams, as with Sheffield United Women more locally, benefit from strong ties with the men’s clubs.
Further down the pyramid, the ties are not as strong but there remain benefits.
Sheffield FC men’s team are semi-professional, but there are still advantages to be found for Abercrombie.
“We have a close relationship with the men’s side, which has helped with the sport’s growth,” he said.
“I’ve worked in big clubs like West Brom and we have as close a relationship as any. They support everything the women’s team are trying to do and long may that continue.”
For Barnsley, although not having close ties with the men’s side – who play in the Championship – Hamilton agreed that it may be beneficial to the women’s game: “We are doing our own things are the moment but we would be open to building these links.”
Given their current league form, Barnsley will fancy their chances despite Sheffield playing at a higher level.
“It will be a tough challenge as they are in the league above but the team are excited for the game,” said Hamilton, whose side defeated Crewe Alexandra to progress to the next round.
“We want to keep going and see where it takes us. The girls are up for the challenge and we are on track to achieve our goals.”
Sheffield have lost all their games but one this season, the last two coming under new manager Abercrombie.
He said: “The last two games don’t reflect our five weeks together. This FA Cup tie is bound to add a little extra spice and they (Barnsley) are on an upward charge into our division so it has all the makings of a good game.”
In other ties, Hull City Ladies travel to Burnley Women (1pm), Huddersfield Town Ladies visit Stoke Ladies (1pm) and Middlesbrough Ladies have a local derby at Sunderland Ladies (1pm).