Does another record Nou Camp crowd show appetite for women’s football?
Barcelona have set the standard again after they broke their own record crowd at the Nou Camp in their victory over Wolfsburg.
The Champions League holders put five past Wolfsburg in front of 91,648 fans to claim a resounding victory in the first leg of their European semi-final.
Having previously broken the 23-year-old record in the El Clasico derby in the Champions League quarter-finals last month, Barcelona continue to raise standards on attendances in the women’s game.
The latest benchmark was set in a week where Euro 2022 organisers were forced to defend their use of smaller stadiums after criticism by Iceland’s Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir.
And as Barcelona’s players celebrated with fans at full-time, receiving scarves and flags from the stands, it suggested the appetite for women’s football is growing at a rate which may have been underestimated.
How can England learn from Barcelona?
Chelsea boss Emma Hayes pointed to Barcelona’s impressive attendances as “an example” of what the women’s game in England should aspire to.
She is preparing her side for an FA Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley and has called for a “bigger push” to sell out the national stadium.
“What a tremendous job Barcelona have done. It’s a big summer for England. We need to sell out grounds and stadiums,” said Hayes.
“I think we really need to push to fill Wembley for the FA Cup final – that’s critical. We have to push the big, big games in a much bigger way.”
Barcelona provided 50,000 free tickets to club members before Friday’s game, which Hayes admits helps the club raise attendances.
“We don’t have the members like Barcelona do. They have associates buying tickets which I think makes things a little bit easier for them – but what a committed fan base they have.
“That’s what I would learn from [Barcelona] – not to repeat them, but to learn from them. I think we’re at a point that we should be able to sell out Wembley. I know the fanbase is there.”
‘We are not there yet’
Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall said in February that it was “wrong” that “3,000 and not 30,000” watched their Women’s Super League clash with Chelsea and demanded a bigger stage than the one they had at Kingsmeadow.
He added this week that matches between bigger teams have the “potential to have a higher attendance”, but it was important to initially sell out games at smaller grounds to “create that demand”.
“It’s always going to be tough to create that demand when you only have half of the stadium’s capacity,” he added.
“What [the Netherlands] did after the 2017 Euros, they started selling out all their games. But they started with smaller stadiums doing that.
“We can play at Borehamwood or the Emirates. We don’t have an in-between. To sell out Emirates is a totally different project than to sell out Borehamwood.”
Eidevall said everyone wants to sell out games but it is “harder to create an atmosphere” when playing in big stadiums which are not full.
“Hopefully in the future everything looks like Barca at the Camp Nou,” he added. “Selling out games at the biggest stadiums is the ideal scenario – but we are not there yet.”
‘Women’s game has arrived at that point’
England’s three group matches at the Euros – and the final at Wembley – have sold out.
The tournament is already comfortably on course to surpass the 240,045 who watched the 2017 tournament in the Netherlands – the previous best figure for total attendance across a Women’s Euros.
But there was criticism from Iceland’s Gunnarsdottir, who said using Manchester City’s Academy Stadium – which she described as a “training ground” – was “disrespectful”.
The venue, which will host two Iceland games in July, has a 7,000 capacity but Uefa rules mean it will hold 4,700 for Euro 2022 and be the tournament’s smallest venue.
“It’s disrespectful towards women’s football because it’s so much bigger than people think,” she said. “You think women’s football is getting two steps ahead but then something comes up like that and it’s just a step back.”
So is it time women’s footballers are put on a bigger stage?
“In hindsight it’s easy to say we’ve underestimated it. I think what it does show and confirms, is that we should be thinking a little bigger in terms of the stadium attendances,” said Chelsea manager Hayes.
“We have to take on board those comments. Maybe we can shoot for something even bigger in the future as the women’s game has arrived at that point I think.”