Women hope for Olympic effect to last

Promising future for game in Britain despite premature exit for Hope Powell's Team GB

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If the concepts of legacy and sustainability have not fallen into utter disrepute as a result of the BBC's wonderful "Twenty Twelve" satire, they are now the focus for women's football in Britain. After the bitter disappointment of producing their worst performance in the most important match and losing Friday's quarter-final 2-0 to Canada, Great Britain are out of the Olympic tournament and may never take part in another one; just as much as the men, they would face logistical problems as the World Cup, with separate home nations, is used as the qualifying competition.

What matters now is building on the interest created over the four games played. The new Football Association Women's Super League, played as a summer competition and suspended for the duration of the Olympics, resumes on Wednesday week, with most of the GB squad involved. Next month Hope Powell, the GB coach, returns to her day job in charge of the England team, who will qualify for next summer's European Championships if they win their final group match against Croatia at a Midlands venue still to be announced. In both cases, it will be interesting to see the effect on attendances of a night like the epic 1-0 victory over Brazil in front of 70,584 last week. Had GB won on Friday, the belief was that they might have attracted even more to Old Trafford tomorrow for a semi-final against the tournament favourites, the United States.

Missing that opportunity for further exposure, as much as passing up a medal chance, was one of the greatest disappointments for Powell. "We've raised the awareness and profile of women's football and staying in would have helped us elevate it even more," she said. "We have to take the positive from it. We hope people who supported GB will want to support women's football in the future. People are now aware that it's a fantastic product."

Many will have been surprised by the quality of passing and control demonstrated over the fortnight since Great Britain literally kicked off the Games with their opening win over New Zealand. The introduction of the Super League, as well as Champions' League football in Europe, has improved standards, and lighter modern footballs make dependence on physical strength less important than technique. The average height of the GB starting XI on Friday was under 5ft 7in and the continuing success of an even smaller Japan squad emphasises the point. The Japanese, defending world champions, will be expected to beat France tomorrow and contest the final against whoever comes through the North American derby in the other semi-final, when players like Canada's midfielder Desiree Scott, aka "the Destroyer", will prove that women's football is still a contact sport.

According to Karen Carney, the GB, England and Birmingham City winger, spectators disillusioned with the men's game may come to find the FAWSL an attractive proposition. "We get a lot of positive feedback saying we don't dive, we don't swear as much as the men, so if that's something they like, we have to continue to do that and be respectful," she said, adding of the strong British penalty claim late in Friday's game: "Even if we had harassed the referee, she wouldn't have given it, so why bother? My mother taught me from 12 years old to show referees respect. I want to be a good role model for my five-year-old niece and I took her out on the pitch afterwards to enjoy the Olympic experience. It's about a legacy, and I look at her and it's about her and all the other girls like her."

The FAWSL website has as its main item "Find A Club" and suggests "Perhaps you're the next Casey Stoney, Steph Houghton or Eniola Aluko". The last word late on Friday at Coventry went to Canada's English coach John Herdman, who coached New Zealand for five years. He said: "Hope has done a phenomenal job in her 15-year tenure and with the elite structure that's been put in place here. You've seen people catch the bug. The need now is to seize the moment and hope the interest doesn't disappear."