WSL: Etihad Stadium & Stamford Bridge to host 2019-20 season openers | Total Football News
England left-back Alex Greenwood captained Manchester United to the Women's Championship title last seasonManchester City and Chelsea have switched their opening Women's Super League fixtures next season to the Etihad Stadium and Sta...

WSL: Etihad Stadium & Stamford Bridge to host 2019-20 season openers

England left-back Alex Greenwood captained Manchester United to the Women's Championship title last season

Manchester City and Chelsea have switched their opening Women's Super League fixtures next season to the Etihad Stadium and Stamford Bridge.

City's derby against Manchester United will be played at the 55,000-capacity ground on Saturday, 7 September.

Chelsea play Tottenham at home the following day and entry to that match is free for all supporters.

The move is aimed at building on the increased interest in women's football after the World Cup.

England's semi-final loss to the USA, the eventual winners, was watched by a peak television audience of 11.7m viewers on the BBC - a new record for women's football in the UK.

Chelsea announced their latest venue switch as a "celebration of women's football" following England's performance, while Gavin Makel, City's head of women's football, said the club "wanted to kick off the new season with a bang" following the Lionesses' fourth-place finish.

It will be the second time that City's women's side has played a game at the Etihad, having beaten Everton there in the League Cup in front of less than 1,500 in May 2014.

Likewise, Chelsea have also previously played at Stamford Bridge, having hosted Wolfsburg in a Champions League tie in 2016 which was watched by a crowd of 3,783.

The London club are now looking to bring in a bigger audience, with Chelsea making entry to their match on Sunday, 8 September completely free at the 41,000-capacity stadium.

City have a ticket offer which will allow children aged under-16 in free to watch a Manchester derby that could see eight Lionesses in action, with England captain Steph Houghton and top scorer Ellen White among seven in the City squad and Alex Greenwood set to lead out United.

'Expect bigger stadiums more often'

Manchester City's women's team usually play home games at the Academy Stadium, which is located beside the Etihad Stadium and holds just 7,000.

Chelsea, who normally play eight miles away from Stamford Bridge at the 5,000-capacity Kingsmeadow ground that they share with League One side AFC Wimbledon, and City are among the best supported teams in the WSL, averaging crowds of almost 1,900 and just over 1,400 respectively last season.

Both City and Chelsea have played in front of record-breaking crowds in the Women's FA Cup final at Wembley in recent years, with Chelsea's 3-1 win against Arsenal in 2018 watched by 45,423.

Chelsea have said their WSL match against London rivals Tottenham at Stamford Bridge will be a "celebration of women's football"

Chelsea Women boss Emma Hayes said the the FA Cup is "great proof" that crowds of tens of thousands will watch women's football.

"In the past I would have been unsure about whether we could cope with playing in big stadia," she told BBC Radio 5 Live's Football Daily podcast.

"I think we are at that point, going into this season, where we can expect that teams will be playing in big stadiums more often - not every week, because we are building to that, but I think it is ready to do that."

Hayes said the derby game against Tottenham, and future fixtures against Arsenal and Champions League games, are the sort of matches best suited to switching to Stamford Bridge.

The fixtures also mark the WSL arrival of both United and Spurs, two of English men's football's biggest clubs, after both won promotion from the Championship in 2018-19.

United have also previously said they could play a game at Old Trafford in their first season in the women's top flight.

WSL champions Arsenal are not following suit on the ground change for the opening weekend - they will be playing their opening WSL fixture against West Ham at their normal home ground at Boreham Wood FC.

However, they will play at the Emirates Stadium on 28 July when they face Bayern Munich in the Emirates Cup, two hours and 45 minutes before Arsenal's men face Lyon on the same ground.

A record-setting move?

Relocating matches to bigger stadiums is nothing new in the women's game in England, with Arsenal sealing their league title at Brighton's Amex Stadium in April in front of a new WSL-record crowd of 5,265.

The record surpassed the 5,052 who watched Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium in 2012.

Chelsea and City are the latest in a fast-growing list of major football clubs to move a women's game to their home ground.

In March, a new world record for a club attendance was set in Spain as Atletico Madrid welcomed 60,739 fans for the visit of Barcelona.

Lyon won the French title-decider against Paris St-Germain in front of 25,907 fans in April, while in Italy Juventus were watched by 39,000 when they took on Fiorentina.

Free tickets and discounted entry helped both Atletico and Juve demonstrate there is an appetite for such fixtures.

'Massive potential audience'

While women's fixtures at England's biggest venues are not immediately going to become the norm, the Football Association is pushing to make them more regular.

Kelly Simmons, the FA's director of the professional game, said a number of WSL matches will be "double-headers" with men's games next season.

"I think one of the things the World Cup has done has made our players household names, and now people can follow them back at their clubs," she said.

"We know there's a massive potential audience of fans coming across from the men's game and the men's clubs. We're seeing very much this 'one-club ethos'.

"There's a massive chance for the game to pull those across this season with the Women's Super League and get more people coming to games and watching games on television.

"The stand-alone games in the men's stadiums, we've already seen when we've done that before a big uplift in numbers coming to the games."

A full fixture list for the rest of the season will be announced on Wednesday, when any double-headers will become clear because the men's fixtures have already been announced.

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women's sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women's sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.


This news item was provided by the BBC Sport - Football website - the original link is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/48912097