Women's Euros 2017 - The Underdogs

 

Historically the competition has been a bit of a one horse race with Germany winning the last 6 Women’s Euros. This year it feels like the gap is closing, England for one are snapping at their heels and look like contenders for the title. We’ve turned our attention to a few of the underdogs who have got off to a great start in the competition in order to find out more about how other countries are reacting to the Women’s Euros and what the landscape looks like for female football players and fans and how it’s changed.

Austria celebrating victory over the Swiss

Austria celebrating victory over the Swiss

Dietmar is from Austria and has created the site Wogoal, which aims to bring people together through sports and activities. She’s created an awesome infographic about the shifts in interest in football for women in Austria by geographic region. We love that over 50% of women in Burgenland watch football and that there’s over 60 women’s football clubs in Lower Austria.

Dietmar told us that she’s been going to football games since the 80s and has definitely noticed women’s football grow in popularity in recent years. There was a time when Austria definitely wasn’t renowned for their women’s football team and had taken some pretty brutal defeats, but a conscious shift from the Austrian Football Federation to invest in women’s football has resulted in an improvement at all levels of the game. More girls are playing and they’re playing better than ever before, leading to Austria’s much celebrated victory against Switzerland in their first match of the Euros. Dietmar told us that this year the games are shown on the number 1 channel in Austria. There’s some tough competition out there though for football to win the hearts of Austria’s women as for many their first love will remain Winter sports, ski races & ice hockey.

Belgium may have got off to a bit of a shakey start in their first match of the tournament against Denmark, but they certainly brought a lively bunch of fans with them for the short trip to The Netherlands. The Red Flames are currently the subject of a book being written by Willem de Bock who is a veteran sports journalist with almost 30 years experience under his belt. He’s writing an in depth study from a fly on the wall perspective. The book covers the development of the team over the last decade which lead to their qualification for, and first victory in a major tournament. The stats are that from 21,000 women playing football in 2011, this number has grown to 30,000. Again this is something that has been consciously worked on in Belgium with investment and The Red Flames captain Aline Zeler running sessions at schools to recruit young players.

This clearly paid off as Belgium went on to cause an upset with their 2-0 victory over Norway in their second group game (Norway are one of only 3 teams to win the title too, taking it twice when Germany must have been having an off-day!).

Some of their tactics have been a little more leftfield though. Before the 2014 World Cup the Belgian FA asked female fans of The Red Devils to send in photos of themselves in order to be invited to the Women’s “Kop” which was a stand reserved for the ‘most ardent’ fans. The bargaining chip on the table was that if female fans obliged, they’d send some players to the Women’s training to raise the profile of the game. Perhaps this was where Axelle Despiegelaere was first spotted!

You may not think of Spain as an underdog initially, perhaps based on the strength of the men’s team and even the infamy of La Liga but for the women’s team it’s been a different story. They crashed out of the 2015 World Cup after coming bottom in their group and have a history that is plagued with controversy. Talking on preparations for the tournament, midfielder Losada said "We arrived in Canada only four days before the tournament began, so you can imagine the jet lag. We had hardly any warm up games and the few we had were against sides that weren't competitive enough to give us adequate preparation."

Spanish women’s football has faced years of stagnation after their financial crisis in 2012 when pretty much all funding for the game was cut. A handful of their very best players have historically opted out of playing for their national team due to a stalemate with the Spanish federation which has persecuted the women’s game through lack of interest, lack of funding and lack of investment.

Again, Spain has seen improvements; more Women’s teams in Spain turned professional which saw a return for some of their top home-grown talent from clubs in America and the UK. Spain saw a 2-0 victory against Portugal in their first match of the tournament, this could be signifying the start of a new era for women’s football in Spain that has some real longevity.       

It feels like there’s been a step change in the level of media attention, investment and general interest in the women’s game across many countries in Europe over the last 3-5 years. More money from football associations results in better facilities and so better players and a better and closer tournament.

Do you have a story you want to tell about the Women’s game in your country? Get in touch via info@thisfangirl.com.

Words: Laura Blake

Lead photo cred: @joeperch

AMY DRUCQUER