Future of the game

Today we celebrate international women’s day and Chelsea Ladies manager Emma Hayes discusses her side’s integration into the club and what the future holds for women’s football.

I’m approaching my six-year anniversary here at Chelsea and I’m so, so proud to see how far the Ladies set up has come during that time.

We’ve gone from being also-rans to one of the top eight sides in Europe, as Champions League quarter-finalists for the very first time, which is a wonderful achievement. But I think I take most pride from the fact that we have become such an integral part of the club over the past few years.

That wasn’t always the case in years gone by and I remember speaking to the Chairman, Bruce Buck, at the Women’s Champions League final in 2013, which was being held at Stamford Bridge a year after my appointment.

It became clear we both shared a vision to make Chelsea Ladies one of the elite European sides, and the only reason we have taken giant steps toward that goal is through a collective effort.

There have been tremendous efforts right down from the very top of the club’s hierarchy to support Chelsea Ladies to become not only a professional side, but one that is competing in the upper echelons.

We’ve enjoyed success on the pitch, with three trophies coming our way over the past few years, and now we have our own home at Kingsmeadow, which is a sign of just how far we have come. The fans are turning out at a rate we’ve never seen before with our Ladies team.

It’s incredible to be a part of this club, which is forward thinking and inclusive for all. I’m so excited to help write the next chapter.

In a broader sense, the profile of women’s football in this country continues to grow – as shown by the recently released figures which predict this year’s attendance at UK women’s sporting events will increase by 49 per cent compared to 2017, taking it over the half-million barrier for the first time.

I think interest in women’s football will continue to grow if we get things right during this crucial period.

I was on Sky Sports on Tuesday night to take part in The Debate, alongside Ian Wright and Kelly Cates, and we discussed the relative success enjoyed by the England team.

I think you have to look at the success of the 2012 Olympics, and what that did for women’s sport and what happens when you give it the coverage.

I think England winning a major tournament will push it to a new level, because it’s another England team dominating.

But it’s also about getting the investment right in the domestic leagues. You see with the top clubs now, they’re putting in the right investment, but it’s about getting other teams up to that level, as well as supporting the rest of the pyramid. We’ve got a way to go, but hopefully it will happen in the next couple of years.

Can the women’s game become something that is a product that makes money, is viable, and can fill stadiums at a level that is greater than anything we’ve seen in our game?

In my opinion, it’s a sport that is just waiting to burst – it just needs someone to take a risk.