t was a couple of weeks ago that I first started to hit the “refresh” button. Finally, the big day came. No, not Springsteen’s UK tour dates. Next season’s fixture list for Arsenal Women.
Sunday, September 11: away to Man City. The first home game a week later, against Brighton. September 25, the big one: the North London derby. This will almost certainly be played at the Emirates stadium, home to the Arsenal men’s team, such is the growing interest in women’s football.
Call me a smug early adopter, and you’d be right. It was back in February when my then seven-year-old daughter and I first caught the train to Elstree and Borehamwood station.
A 20-minute walk along the high street, a left turn at the BBC Elstree studios famous for Strictly, and there it was behind the trees and houses: Meadow Park. Normally home to Boreham Wood FC, it doubles as the regular home of Arsenal Women. It’s a throwback in time, and in a great way. Tickets are £8 (£4 for kids). Match-day programme: £2.50. Two hot food stalls selling chips and jumbo sausages. Seating or standing so close to the touchline that you can feel every kick of the ball (and occasional bad tackle).
Families wrapped in blankets to shield themselves from the winter. Teenage girls singing in the “North Bank” about their favourite players. An absence of bad language. A place that feels safe and welcoming to families.
Players who are humble enough to come to the touchline at the end of matches. Hundreds wait for a selfie with Beth Mead, Leah Williamson or Lia Wälti, each of them now stars of the Women’s Euros.
As the Premier League becomes increasingly elitist and expensive, something special is happening in women’s football. Arsenal v Aston Villa was a sell-out at Boreham Wood. Arsenal v Spurs would have attracted 11,000 to the Emirates had it not been moved from a weekend to a school night.
Girls and young women now embrace the game in a way they never did back when I was a lad. Girls’ football is a popular after-school club. Behind our nearest Sainsbury’s, AFC Leyton has girls of all ages training every Saturday morning.
The Women’s Euros justifiably sold out months ago. Prime-time TV coverage can only intensify interest. It’s time to buy that season ticket.