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A record-breaking north London derby showcased the ever-growing strength of the women’s game

Three hours before kick-off in a historic north London derby at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the High Road is bustling with fans.

It’s a sea of blue, white with the odd flash of Arsenal red in the shadow of one of the Premier League’s biggest stadiums, but there isn’t a Harry Kane shirt in sight.

That’s because this is the first ever north London derby in the FA Women’s Super League being played out on a momentous Women’s Football Weekend.

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Fast forward to 3pm and the teams were emerging to an electric atmosphere inside the stadium with filled with 38,262 fans ready to spark life into one of world football’s most bitter rivalries.

Although Arsenal won 2-0, the enormous crowd set a new record for FAWSL attendance, eclipsing the 31,213 that watched the Manchester derby on the opening weekend of the season, and was testament to the excitement around the women’s game at the moment.

Equally impressive was a rare sight in the women’s game of the Arsenal fans selling out their 3,000 allocation in the away end.

It’s been a long journey for Spurs Women to earn the right to host their illustrious local rivals in a league game.

As one journalist recounted, seven seasons ago they were playing Watford in the League Cup in Harlow in front of completely empty stands.

That season Arsenal would go on to win that competition alongside the FA Women’s Cup, having won the league the season before.

In fact the last time these two sides met each other in the FA Cup back in 2017 the Gunners ran out 10-0 winners.

North London is red

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North London is red

Spurs secured promotion from the second division behind Man United last season to set up a mouth-watering first north London derby in the Women’s Super League.

On a weekend when the England mens team were playing in Kosovo, the Women’s Football Weekend served up a brilliant round of fixtures to showcase how much the women’s game has grown.

There were nearly 40,000 at Spurs, 23,500 turned up at Anfield to watch Everton win the Merseyside derby, while decent crowds at Man City, Chelsea, Reading and Brighton meant over 74,000 fans attended a women’s league game last weekend, another record.

The attendances this weekend dwarfed the record of 5,265 which stood before this season, proving that the appetite for women’s football is continuing to grow exponentially.

Excellent crowd at Anfield

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Excellent crowd at Anfield

We caught up with ex-player turned pundit Samantha Miller before the game and she explained the way these weekends highlight women’s football is hugely powerful when it comes to promoting the game for both the fans and the players.

“I would have dreamt of a moment like this when I was playing for Tottenham. We used to train at the back of a school and play on pitches in terrible states and now they are playing at the Spurs mens stadium, training at their facilities, It’s huge,” she said. “Playing the games in the men’s stadiums, getting these large attendances and just really bringing people together.

“To have a Women’s Football Weekend to recognise that and bring attention to it is amazing.”

Miller back in her playing days

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Miller back in her playing days

It was an incredible end to a momentous week for womens football after the national side drew a bigger crowd at Wembley for a friendly against Germany than the men managed for a Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro just days later.

As Miller says, England’s success at last summer’s World Cup has seen the domestic game ride a wave of support this season.

“There’s been huge momentum off the back of the World Cup, it’s been incredible to see,” Miller said. “It’s a really proud moment for everyone who has been involved in the women’s game and a weekend like this shining a light on women’s football is amazing but also the stats don’t lie, the attendances have been massive and there is a real appetite for the women’s game at the moment.

“A lot of people took interest during the World Cup; who the players were, the more tactical side of it, that’s carried on and it’s really nice to see.”

Wear it proud

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Wear it proud

While Sean Cook, the man behind the accaimed Spurs account @TalkingTHFC and season ticket holder for the mens team, explained that the added exposure the WSL has recieved in the media has provided a huge boost to its position in the mind of football fans.

In addition to the blanket coverage in newspapers and online this weekend, BT Sport made the match free-to-air as well as live-streaming it on their social channels to reach as many people as possible.

“It’s grown in momentum and I think the presence across social media and the media in general has been fantastic. BT Sport have upped their coverage to add to BBC’s World Cup broadcasting in the summer,” Cook said. “I’ve been lucky enough to see them twice this season, at Stamford Bridge and now here, so it’s two of the biggest stadiums in the country showcasing womens football and it is getting the audience it deserves now.”

Many supporters of womens football make the very valid claim that it is not competing for oxygen with the mens game and that both can co-exist without infringing on the other.

Cook adds that for the fans of any club, the growth and strength of their womens team is just another avenue to show support for the club you love.

“It’s great to see that it’s got it’s own unique Spurs fanbase now,” Cook said. “It’s another way to follow Spurs and the womens team is yet another version of Spurs that exists so why wouldn’t you want to support them if you’re a Spurs fan? It’s another outlet to support the club as a whole.”

What a moment

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What a moment

Ultimately if clubs can leverage the support they get for all of their teams towards their womens team when they play, as well as bringing in new audiences, then womens football will continue to go from strength to strength.

It is possible that one day The FA’s Women’s Football Weekend initiative won’t be needed to bring in the size of crowds we saw last weekend.

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