Sometimes words feel insufficient. Being there to see Fulham Women play again at Craven Cottage on Sunday was something else. Watching Georgia Heasman clinically convert Helen Ogle’s cross to a cacophony of cheers from the Johnny Haynes brought happy tears streaming down my face. Seeing those wonderful role models in black and white cheered even after defeat at the hands of a clinical AFC Wimbledon outfit warmed the heart: as did the brilliant scenes of young girls telling their sheroes that they loved them. Surely, it won’t take another two decades for the women Whites to play on the hallowed turf.
Heasman told Dan after the final whistle that showing young girls that football was for them was one of the team’s objectives. They certainly achieved that. For a fifth tier side to attract more than 3,000 fans on an afternoon when there was a massive London derby in the WSL mile a couple of miles away as well as the first men’s World Cup fixture was remarkable. If Fulham’s top brass were surprised by the support for Steve Jaye’s side, they shouldn’t be. The team have attracted a hardy band of followers in the past few seasons with little promotion prior to their acceptance back into the club’s academy. Imagine what they’d achieve with more visibility.
There will be lessons to learn for Jaye and the players from the way Wimbledon ruthlessly took their chances to progress to the third round of the Capital Club, but Fulham should also start planning now how they can make the most of a captive audience for the women’s game. It was disappointing that none of the illustrious names from Fulham Women’s past were at the Cottage. Rachel Yankey would have been received rapturously on the pitch at half time, for instance. The closest we got was hearing from Siobhan Chamberlain on the concourse screens as she provided pre-World Cup punditry for Sky Sports News. The Lionesses goalkeeper, whose playing days started and finished in Bishop’s Park, would surely have preferred to join the FFCTV coverage of an historic occasion for her home club.
There was no mention of Fulham’s partnership with Her Game Too in an otherwise well-produced free programme, although I understand the club’s Her Game Too ambassador Amelia Armstrong oversaw a social media takeover from the press box. Likewise, the groundbreaking work of the Fulham Lillies, set up in the summer, went unremarked as did the FA’s Women’s Game Review and the FSA’s projects that have brought thousands of women and girls back to the football. Since Craven Cottage hosted the first Fans Europe women’s football summit last month, the club can’t claim ignorance on these issues – and promotion of the inclusivity of London’s oldest football club might even have delivered revenue from progressive partners.
A tier five side still needs support to reach the heights identified by the brilliantly bold Chloe Christinson-McNee on our The Green Pole podcast. Fulham’s side are entirely amateur, spread between students and stalwarts who had played the game for a decade, and have to balance their football commitments with full-time jobs as well as families. Women undoubtedly face far more barriers to sporting success than their male counterparts – and levelling the playing field should be precisely what Fulham Football Club stands for. The integration of an under-18 side into the women’s set-up is already baring fruit, witness Alex Hayman scoring her first goal for the senior side in the FA Cup recently, the emergence of Ede Buchele and the impressive strides shown by Ilana Harris-Walters since the summer. Financial support is part of it, but the fans can play a role between now and the end of the campaign, too.
The programme advertised Fulham’s next home game, to be staged at Motspur Park, against Dulwich Hamlet on Sunday 4 December. But if Jaye’s side are to shake up the race for the only promotion place they will need support away from home as well. The first opportunity is this Sunday when the Whites travel to league leaders Millwall at St. Paul’s Ground in Rotherhithe. As with women’s football nationally, the fans will have to take the first steps themselves – and be the change we want to see. I’m sure the Fulham family can rise to the challenge.