The Evolution of the Beautiful Game: Women's Edition

Follow us through the evolution that created stars like Alex Morgan and Marta and the progression of what the Women's World Cup has become!

Lauren Strnad

On June 7, 2019, in France, the 8th Women’s World Cup starts. Eighteen teams will represent their nations in their chance to win a FIFA World Cup. This World Cup is expected to be the biggest so far, drawing in huge numbers of new and existing fans . Viewing numbers over the last 3 World Cup’s has increased continually in recent years, and people are demanding more women’s soccer. Even the friendly matches leading up to the World Cup are getting unprecedented attention - up to and including the recent matchup, when Barcelona played Atlético Madrid set a new record setting a record of 61,000 viewers - women’s soccer is on the rise!

Barcelona v. Atletico Women's teams playing at a packed Wanda Stadium

For many, this seems like a new phenomenon, when in reality it’s anything but.  Women’s soccer dates back to the early 20th century, when in 1920 on Boxing Day, 53,000 fans gathered to watch the St Helen Ladies play against the Dick-Kerr Ladies. The game was so popular that 10,000 people were turned away from the stadium to enter due to capacity limitations.

St Helen Ladies v. Dick Kerr Ladies circa 1920

This should have been the start of an incredible history for women’s soccer, but proved to be an enormous setback instead.  The English Football Association established in 1863 didn’t like the attention that the women’s game received and forced a ban on all fields where men’s soccer was played, in effect, leading to a 50 year ban on women’s participation in the beautiful game all across England. The EFA claimed that if women’s soccer became popular it would detract attention from the men’s side. Elsewhere in Europe though, female footballers fared better, as  -  women’s leagues began popping up in France and Italy. Unfortunately, even these were seen as recreational and they came to a stop as well during World War II.

Norway beats Germany in the 1995 World Cup

With the cessation of hostilities, and the dawning of a new age of prosperity in the USA during the 1950s brought with it a resurgence of women entering the sport.  The USA started a new women’s soccer league with four teams scheduled to play two seasons. This was a huge accomplishment at the time, and women’s soccer started to progress.

The 1970s ushered in the era of Title IX, a regulation of the United States department of Education which states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” This was a powerful driver of equal participation in sports, and sparked the influx of  new generation of players to competitive soccer, and many other competitive sports.

The first non-official Women’s World Cup commenced independently in Italy in the 1970s, followed by the first official Women’s World Cup hosted by FIFA in 1991. This marked an enormous accomplishment for women athletes all over the world, and has grown into the international phenomenon we see today.

FIFA Advertisement for the 1991 World Cup in China


As with any sport, the Women’s World Cup continues to evolve, and , it’s not without its challenges. Women’s leagues struggle with funding and players still underpaid relative to their male counterparts - most professionals play for more than one team - often joining one club in the USA and one in Europe to make ends meet.  Some pursue secondary careers unrelated to soccer. Despite these challenges, the popularity of the women’s game continues to grow, and attracts more and more attention in the media and public every year. This year’s tournament will be the biggest Women’s World Cup yet with the most coverage and more teams than ever before!

The U.S., Germany, England, and France are all top teams to watch. The U.S. team are reigning champions, with returning heroes Alex Morgan, Carli Llyod, and Megan Rapinoe, leading the way. The future of women’s soccer appears to be brighter than ever, and we can’t wait to see where things go from here!

Be sure to watch the Women’s World Cup and for more stories like this check out our newsletter for soccer-related travel opportunities!

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