Wednesday night rounded off a momentous day for women’s football in this country, with Chelsea Ladies taking on Arsenal Ladies and Lincoln Ladies up against Doncaster Rover Belles.
What was significant about these games was that they were the first two fixtures played in the Women’s Super League (WSL) – a new format run by the Football Association.
I was delighted to be invited to the launch event at Wembley at the start of the week and show my support for the new league which I’m sure will be a great success. The day started off in glorious sunshine on the famous Wembley turf – which, incidentally, is looking in great condition – watching a local girl’s team being coached by players who will be involved in the new WSL. The impressive turnout by media to cover this launch event just proves that there is a growing interest in the women’s game and the fact that ESPN will be screening some matches is a welcome boost to help bring women’s football to a wider audience.
The FA have clearly thought long and hard about the new format and taken into consideration what will work best for players, the national team, and fans, as well as how to improve the sport at the grassroots level. All the people I met at the launch event showed tremendous enthusiasm for the WSL and it has the full backing of FA Chairman David Bernstein and England manager Hope Powell, who both spoke at the event.
The kicking off of the WSL marks the start of a very important period of the game in this country. Coming up, we have the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final being played at Fulham’s Craven Cottage on May 26 and England competing at the World Cup, hosted by Germany, in June. The England team will go into the tournament off the back of an excellent win over the USA at the start of the month, their first in 22 years, and I wish Hope and her team the very best of luck.
Finally, on Sunday, along with the London Marathon and second FA Cup semi-final between Stoke and Bolton, following the Manchester derby on Saturday – it’s an important milestone for the Paralympic Games: 500 days to go.
2012 will be a real homecoming for the Paralympics, because, of course, the first organised games for disabled athletes took place in 1948 in London. I really hope everyone will join in the excitement of this fantastic sporting event, and get involved in many of the Paralympic Games related activities that will take place up and down the country over the next year. I know that the levels of intensity, competition and skill that will be on show will make many people see disabled sport in a different and positive light.