Why don't the Lionesses play international matches at Wembley?

Why don't the Lionesses play international matches at Wembley?

With equality in sports always an issue, and women's sport in particular lacking in coverage, why do the England ladies' team not play their international matches at Wembley like their male counterparts?

Glenys Furness

With equality in sports always raising its head, in particular the gulf in coverage between the men and womans sports on mainstream channels, the time has come to get this gap rectified.

Ask the general sports fan to name a woman in sport, and you will likely get the major names of Serena Williams, Jessica Ennis-Hill and a few others. If you ask them to name more and they will start to struggle. You may get a few of the Lionesses named - perhaps Steph Houghton, Toni Duggan and Karen Carney - but unlikely the whole team.

Football coverage

The England women's football team is enjoying much better coverage now than in the past. With the main free-to-air channels picking up on their major matches, things are improving.

The difference however, is their male counterparts have their friendly matches covered, whereas the women only have their qualification matches for competitions such as the European Championships and World Cup. 

The audience is growing for women's football, and whereas the men play their international matches at Wembley, the women do not.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this for both the men and the women. The most important difference is that to those who watch the men play football week in, week out are unlikely to realise that the top women's teams are not the same as the men.

The top ranked team according to FIFA for the men are Germany, followed by Brazil, then Portugal and Argentina. The top ranked team according to FIFA for the women are the United States, followed by Germany, then England and Australia.

Touring grounds

Currently, the Lionesses play their matches at different football grounds around the country and in some cases other countries when they are playing home games. Now, the advantage of this, is that it means fans from around the country will see the ladies play closer to them, without having to travel to London, and obviously the ticket prices can be cheaper at other grounds.

Tickets to see the women play outside of Wembley for an adult are less than £10, whereas if played at Wembley the price would increase substantially.

As the attendance for a Lionesses match ranges around 8-10,000 at the moment, this would not fill the stadium at Wembley and would look awful on the television.

Moving the matches around the country also gives the advantage to try and grow the game as, if you live in Sunderland for example, you may not be happy to travel down to London to watch a women's match even if you watch regularly - but if you only have to go to a ground in Yorkshire, then it is not too far and you'd be happier to do that.

So, what can be done? There are options of course, the men could move grounds for their friendlies if not the major internationals, to bring more fans to other grounds around the country.

The downside to that however, is that the capacity for the grounds outside of Wembley are much smaller, so there would be fans who would miss out. Another option is to set up friendlies for the women against teams that neutrals would be more interested in watching, perhaps England v Scotland.

Growing the game

Another option is to continue to tour the country with the Lionesses, but use the bigger grounds, for example play at Premier League or Championship grounds, instead of non-league grounds.

Advertise the matches more in those venues, and also make the matches at more convenient times. Weekdays' early-evening kick-offs are not always accessible to those who work, so later kick-off (like the men) or even Friday/Saturday matches, would make sense despite potential clashes with the men's internationals.

It's a tricky balancing act, but the overall aim has got to be to gain more coverage for the lionesses and women sport in general.