‘Man City are leading the way in women’s football but where are United?’

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Given the number of young talented female players in Manchester, it’s bizarre that Manchester United don’t have a women’s football team.

That’s the view of Greater Sports chief executive officer Yvonne Harrison, one of the speakers at a panel discussion on women in sport held in Manchester last week.

“Ironically, they’ve got a fantastic youth female structure so basically they are creating players for Manchester City,” she said.

Karen Bardsley and Geraldine Ryan

Women off the Pitch: Women on the Board looked at the changes happening in women’s sport in Manchester and beyond, as well as the lack of women sat in seats of power, tokenism, grassroots and life on the pitch.

Harrison believes one reason there aren’t many women at board meetings is that these opportunities often aren’t marketed the right way or, even worse, aren’t marketed in places where women can read about them.

Women need to make sure they’re not hired just because a company needs to meet a quota of female employees, she said.

“As women on boards, we should be challenging back, and ask ‘what is that you actually need?’ We don’t just need more of the same. We need a whole range of skills.”

Manchester City and England Women goalkeeper Karen Bardsley said that when it comes to performance, women have proven they are capable of creating and adapting to change.

“We are capable of doing a lot very quickly. I don’t know if I’m the only one who feel this way but England Women are a lot closer to winning something big than the men are.”

She said she feels fortunate to have Baroness Sue Campbell as head of of the women’s game.

“I’ve recently had the chance to speak to Martin Glenn [FA chief executive]. He holds Sue Campbell highly with regards to what she has already done for us and changing his perception of what we’re capable of doing.”

Bardsley believes that promoting figures like Jessica Ennis-Hill as well as normalising women in positions of power will lead to young girls wanting to get involved in sports.

Karen Bardsley, Geraldine Ryan, Luisa d’Aprano, Hayley McQueen, Piers Martin, Sarah Brown-Fraser, Yvonne Harrison

She pointed out that despite women’s cricket’s performance and women’s rugby are broadcast on Sky, media coverage of female sports isn’t yet as good as it should be.

“It’s not just about the major tournaments. It needs to be league fixtures too. There’s the BBC Red Button, which is helpful, but do a lot of people know about the women’s football show that’s on at 11.30 at night?”

She acknowledged the fact that, although there is a real need for more dedicated channels to broadcast female sports, change is happening and people should focus on the process rather than on the end goal.

She praised Manchester City for initiatives such as the One Passion, One Club movement,  saying they understood that women are interested in football and that in order to grow audiences, they need to make the sport more relatable to them.

The debate called for changes in coaching, as only 18% of female coaches in Greater Manchester are qualified.

However, Bardsley said that Casey Stoney’s appointment to the England coaching staff should stimulate more involvement and change the “I can’t” mindset.

Asked to comment on the future of women’s football with Phil Neville now in charge, Bardsley said that, despite the controversy, she is confident he is the right choice.

“I’m hoping that, with Phil’s knowledge and his coaching experience on the men’s side, he can start to make a change in how things have been done in the past.

“How do you expect to reach different levels and different heights and become number one in the world if you keep doing the same things that you’ve always done? I think this is going to be a great hire for us.”

Women off the Pitch: Women on the Board was the latest event organised by Sports Influencers and took place at KPMG’s offices in St Peter’s Square.

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