The rush was enormous. At least for that time. 29,092 spectators flocked to the City of Manchester Stadium, home of Manchester City, on the evening of 5 June 2005 to watch the opening game of the European Women’s Championship. Hosts England defeated Finland 3-2 in the 48,000-seat arena.
17 years later, another opening game for the European women’s tournament is scheduled for Wednesday on the island. And again in Manchester, albeit at Manchester United’s home ground, Old Trafford. When the whistle sounds this time for the game between England and Austria, the stands are full: 74,000 spectators are expected – the stadium is sold out. It’s just one of many proofs of how great the appeal of women’s football is now at international level.
At the European association Uefa, they rub their hands because of the increased importance and the great interest. 500,000 of the approximately 700,000 available tickets for the tournament with 16 nations for the first time – in 2005 there were eight – are already gone, for the final in London’s Wembley Arena, which can accommodate 90,000 spectators, all are already sold out. All major European TV stations have secured broadcasting rights, in Germany ARD and ZDF, which in 2005 gave way to Eurosport and put their main focus on the men’s Confederations Cup in Germany.
Uefa is distributing almost 16 million euros in prize money, almost twice as much as at the last European Championship tournament five years ago. And for the first time – as has long been customary for men – release fees are also paid for the female players. The pot, it is said, is filled with 4.5 million euros. The clubs are to receive EUR 500 per player per day – a club is guaranteed a minimum payment of EUR 10,000 for each of its players.
There are 23 players in each squad from the participating countries, with hosts England, France and Spain among the big favorites for the title. The German women’s national team had subscribed to him for years. She won all six tournaments between 1995 and 2013 before the Netherlands broke the phalanx in 2017. Meanwhile, the team of national coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg tends to play the outsider role. The team won the final European Championship test 7-0 against Switzerland and has quality – only other nations have outstripped the DFB. The development and promotion of women’s football and the creation of even more professional structures went faster there.
When the German selection, which has moved into their EM quarters in the Hilton Hotel in London’s Syon Park, starts the tournament on Friday with their game against Denmark (9 p.m., ZDF), it is not just about important points for moving into the Quarter-finals, which will not be easy anyway with the three strong opponents in Group B – in addition to Denmark, Spain (12 July) and Finland (16 July).
Back on the big stage and thus in the limelight, it is also important to promote women’s football. DFB President Bernd Neuendorf is hoping for the urgently needed upswing in women’s and girls’ football from the European Championship. “Overall, we have to get better at it. Of course, I hope that the big tournaments like the ones coming up now will give society a push and that we can make progress there,” emphasized the 60-year-old recently.
The federation has neglected to use the European or World Cup victories of the German women for progress and has been struggling with youth problems for years. The DFB recently announced that there are only 187,000 players among its 2.2 million active members. In some district or state associations, the decline in active female soccer players is dramatic. In the Bundesliga, the average attendance is still below 1000, while other top European leagues are making great strides in all areas.
Advisor Jörg Neblung, who looks after 40 soccer players, recently warned in a conversation with WELT that the DFB finally had to create proper structures. “As long as we grant clubs in Germany the right to play that don’t have floodlights, we’re miles away from professional conditions,” said Neblung, reporting on players who, until recently, didn’t even get 250 euros a month from some clubs and without insurance of the professional association would have played.
According to the 54-year-old, a league is needed “in which the conditions are better and there are minimum standards. It’s about the contracts themselves, floodlights, lawn heating or medical care. If a player in Germany has a difficult injury, such as a cruciate ligament tear, she is often on her own and often has to wait a long time before she even has an operation. The mechanisms don’t work like they do with men.”
In the association, they know about the problems – and promise to improve. President Neuendorf, who will be there on Friday for the opening game of Germany’s captain Alexandra Popp, believes it is important “that women’s football becomes more visible”. Neuendorf continues: “Our goal is also to bring the 2027 World Cup to Germany. I’ll work hard to make that happen.”