England Women manager Phil Neville has spoken about the benefit of playing women’s football in bigger stadiums because he believes the extra seats are being filled by an older generation of fans who have previously been closed to the sport, or perhaps even shunned it.

The spike in popularity since the summer’s World Cup in France has been vast, with the domestic Women’s Super League also now reaping the benefits of higher attendances.

Aoife Mannion,Ella Toone

There has been appetite for various games this season to be played in bigger stadiums. This this weekend, which has been dubbed Women’s Football Weeken by the FA, will see four of the six WSL games played at top venues, including Anfield and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Brighton’s Amex Stadium and Reading’s Madejski Stadium will also host games.

Manchester City and Chelsea are playing at their usual smaller homes, having already hosted games at the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge respectively so far this season. But The Independent reports that each is expecting first ever sell-outs of 7,000 and 5,000 respectively.

For Neville, it’s not just about pushing the game to younger people - many of whom have been more exposed to it and are interested anyway - but to an older generation of football fans who grew up in an era when women’s football was seldom seen or heard.

It is as though the last few months in particular have opened a new generation of eyes.

“I keep hearing about how the World Cup inspired the next generation of female footballers, but I actually think it inspired the older generation,” Neville is quoted as saying by iNews.

“I think we already had the younger generation on board with us. I think it’s more powerful to hear the old man I met outside Costa say to me: ‘Can I have a word with you Phil? I’d never watched women’s football before, but you know what, that was bloody good in the summer.’

Beth Mead,Ellen White,Rachel Daly

“That’s more powerful. I think we’ve inspired the generation that we thought we’d lost track of – the generation who didn’t grow up with women’s football. They grew up not appreciating the quality, perhaps the quality wasn’t there, but now they’re seeing it in a new light.”

After individual clubs flirted with professionalism around 15-20 years ago, the WSL turned fully professional in 2018. It was the first and still only fully professional top flight league in Europe, something which makes it an attractive proposition to players abroad.

Just this week, new Chelsea signing Sam Kerr, who chose to move to England over joining four-time back-to-back Champions League winners Lyon, described it as the ‘best league in Europe’. The arrival of world class players like Kerr will only increase the already growing quality.

In turn, that serves to make it more enticing for fans, both existing and new.

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