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Wed 7th Jul 2010 | UEFA

With a women's football Super League due to be launched in England next year and the women’s World Cup taking place in Germany, De Montfort University (DMU) has won UEFA funding for the most significant research ever done into the professional women’s game.

Dr Jean Williams, Senior Research Fellow at DMU’s International Centre for Sports History and Culture in Leicester, has been awarded 17,000 Euros by UEFA for the research project into the professionalisation of women's football in Europe between 1971 and 2011.

This is the first ever round of UEFA research funding and DMU’s was one of four projects funded out of a field of 40 bidders. It will culminate in a conference to coincide with the anticipated FA women’s Super League launch and the final preparations for Women's World Cup in Germany 2011 26 June -17 July 2011.

Dr Williams, who is also Programme Leader for the Masters degree in Sport History and Culture at DMU, said: “England national team members have been very evident in the professional league in American and will make a great contribution to the World Cup 2011. We are all waiting to see if Germany retains the title for a third time however. Germany is the only country where the men (1954, 1974, 1990) and women (2003, 2007) have both been World Cup holders, and there’s a strong European championship record for men’s and women’s teams.

“However, as we've seen with this men's World Cup the big story of the tournament has been how the rest of the world has caught up, and in some cases, passed previously successful football nations. It would be great to see the same for women in 2011.”

Dr Williams said: “The international scale and the forty-year scope make this project a significant contribution to the growing study of women’s football, migration and professionalisation. It is a much needed and timely inquiry in the approach to Women’s World Cup in Germany 2011, and the first professional, FA-supported women’s Super League - due to be launched next year too.

“We have come a long way since women like England's Sue Lopez, and Scotland’s Rose Reilly and Edna Nellis who were all playing professionally in Italy in the early 1970s were told to choose between a professional future with their club or an amateur future for their country.

“With the talent drain of our outstanding players to the United States over the last twenty years, such as England striker Kelly Smith, the English FA have to act decisively if they are to make domestic club football for women a viable career.

“The good news is that there is a lot of talented English female players, and players from other nations want to come here because of the enthusiasm for football. I recently interviewed Gao Hong, for example, the professional goalkeeper of the Chinese women's National Team who lost on penalties in the 1999 WWC Final in the Rosebowl in front of 93,000 people, as she is currently in England to develop her coaching expertise for the next stage of her career. So the project also looks at player migration into Europe.

“It's a common career trajectory for men but we are seeing our first generation of women making the same kind of living. Individuals like Hope Powell, a fantastic player for England, who is now a national coach. Others like Syvia Neid the coach of Germany and Pia Sundahge of Sweden who is currently the US National coach are other notable individuals. What though of all those other brilliant women players?

“Gill Coulthard had 108 caps for England, surely that sort of playing talent should have been kept in the game with FA support. We need strength in depth and a European-wide project will help to identify some examples of how other countries do that,” said Dr Williams.

“Playing professional football does not require the use of a specific language or educational qualification and the rules are standardized across the globe. It has been argued that it is perhaps the global product, but in its professional female form it is proving difficult to sell.

“Women’s football in England has a history going back to the 1880s and increasing numbers of European female players began to participate in the early decades of the twentieth century. However, it was only in the last three decades of the twentieth century that internationalism and professionalism became issues for the female game.

“The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), formed in 1954, has been by far most influential instigator of international competition for women’s football of the six confederations. While this project draws upon the broader context, it will be essentially a history of the last forty years beginning with Monte Carlo in 1971 and ending with the approaching Women’s World Cup in Germany 2011,” said Dr Williams.

This project builds upon Dr Williams’s  earlier studies, A Game For Rough Girls: a history of women’s football in England (Routledge: 2003) and A Beautiful Game: international perspectives on women’s football (Berg: 2007) to explore two important research questions.

First, if football is the fastest growing team sport for women, and has had a world tournament since 1991, why has it not become more commercialised? Secondly, what can the migration patterns of professional and semi professional women moving into, and out of, Europe tell us about this transnational and gendered employment sector?

Dr Williams said: “The next challenge is full and stable professionalism requiring a commercial base of committed supporters. It is important to look outside football to other sports models of female professional and semi professional leagues.”

The research will also explore the commercial and media strategies of the new English Super League clubs: Arsenal Ladies FC; Birmingham City Ladies FC; Bristol Academy Women’s FC; Chelsea Ladies FC; Doncaster Rovers Belles; Everton; Lincoln Ladies FC; Liverpool Ladies FC.

for more on Women's Football visit www.shekicks.net 

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