THE 2019 Women’s World Cup is well and truly underway in France (just don't break the news to Thailand), and it’s riding the crest of a wave that is women’s football at the moment.

The women’s game has come a long way, with Bishops Lydeard Ladies manager Julie Bowker well aware of the struggles of the recent past, before the modern Women’s Super League boom in England.

She said: “In the past car boot sales were needed to buy kit, and if sponsors had the choice between sponsoring Bishops Lydeard men and women they would always choose the men – but now the women’s game is more attractive than it was.

“It’s great to see the opportunities in women’s sport now, it’s definitely growing and becoming more accepted.

“There’s still a few who are not up to speed – we had a referee who came to do one of our games and asked if we played by the same rules – but the days of playing on concrete in white T-shirts as kit are gone.”

The general perception of women’s football is changing – even if there is still progress to be made.

That’s the view of former Yeovil Town Ladies media officer Sheridan Robins, who said: “It’s getting there, but there’s still a long way to go till it’s equal with the men’s game.

“People are getting excited about this World Cup, and coming off the back of the first professional season [in England] it’s great timing.

“The [media] coverage has been fantastic, seeing women’s football on the back pages, and selling newspapers.

“If England can win the World Cup, that will only increase as people sit up and take notice.”

“England hosts the Euros in a couple of years, so win this and it will do something for the whole country.

“It’s a big family thing, and a strong World Cup will add value, by showing on the international stage that the women are just as good as the men.”

Positives and problems

More televised games and initiatives such as the Wildcats programme for young girls (ages 5+) who want to play the game have led to a massive growth in participation in Somerset, and nationwide.

Colin Waller, youth co-ordinator at Wellington AFC, said: “It’s grown astronomically. In four years I’d say participation has gone up 100 per cent.

“We now have 75 to 90 girls training on a regular basis, from 30 to 40 back then.

“The biggest growth has been at Under-12s, as there was no real interest there before; now more are coming, they bring a friend and it snowballs.”

That positive change brings problems though – both Lydeard and Wellington are attracting more girls than they have coaches to look after.

Funding travel to matches is another concern, as is – in Wellington’s case – having the facilities to cope.

Waller added: “We know that we could provide more than the Under-10 to Under-14 levels that we cater for; with one or two more parents helping out we could provide it.

“We have to hope that the next girl that comes along brings a parent who can help.

“We’re running out of facilities in Wellington, the town as a whole, so we don’t have any more pitches for more teams.

“Some of our teams have to play at Milverton or Rockwell Green School, with kick-off times staggered to fit all the games in!”

But, who knows, one of the girls coming through a Somerset youth section today could be playing at the very top level in years to come.

“It seems a long way [from the South West] to the World Cup,” said Robins. “But all the players in France started out as young players too.”

Can Yeovil Ladies return to the big time?

The South West was well represented in last season’s FA Women’s Super League, with Bristol City Women and Yeovil Town Ladies both taking part.

But Yeovil finished bottom, and were demoted two divisions after their bid for a Championship licence was turned down by the FA.

Dogged by financial concerns, it was a tough season for the Lady Glovers, but attendances were very encouraging – despite playing at Dorchester Town’s Clayson Stadium rather than Huish Park in Yeovil.

And Robins is optimistic that the club can bounce back – but there's plenty of work to do.

“Support from a men’s club is still crucial,” she said.

“Yeovil Town Ladies haven’t had that support from the men’s club, which is having a tough time too [being relegated from League Two].

“There’s still a lot of work to do, and clubs like Bristol City and Yeovil are crucial in that, but they need more investment.

“The problems at Yeovil were awful, but the support from the wider footballing community was quite humbling, with Man City fans saying ‘I hope you come back’.”

Key to that is working closely with the local community, as well as nurturing homegrown players.

“Football in the South West needs that progression from young players, and Yeovil are looking to keep their academy going,” adds Robins.

“You have to keep giving young players a chance and keep inspiring fans, in the right venue – you have to have a home.

“Yeovil have had brilliant crowds, but it’ll take a lot of nurturing to start winning games again.

“Yeovil Town were in the Championship, Yeovil Ladies in the WSL, and there’s no reason why they can’t come back.”

That focus on young players is an outlook shared by Bowker, who said: “It was such a shame what happened to Yeovil, as it was a fantastic opportunity for Somerset to have a team in the WSL.

“It’s great to have a local girl [Yeovil player Emily Syme] in the England Under-19s, who is so accessible – she took the whole weekend off to come to a tournament we had.

“Emily, and [Yeovil team-mate, also from Somerset] Erin Bloomfield, are great role models for young girls.”