Barcelona Femeni breaking barriers for women soccer

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Possession, position and pressing are three P’s mainly associated with Liverpool men, Spain’s 2010 World Cup-winning men’s team and countless others. Identity is essential for teams, and when FC Barcelona’s men’s team started to forget theirs, up stepped Femeni.

We all know the history. Women’s soccer was banned, and misogyny forced many women into playing soccer on random pitches at crazy times. It was the same in Spain. Spain was emerging from a dictatorship, and the view was primarily held that soccer was a men-only zone.

Eighteen-year-old Catalan amateur footballer Immaculada “Imma” Cabecerán Soler met with former FC Barcelona president Agustí Montal Costa to discuss forming a women’s team associated with the club. They knew it was possibly going to upset a lot of people, and the idea was crazy, but the idea came to arrange a charity match at the Camp Nou for the local children’s hospitals.

Immaculada, basically copying Joan Gamper, posted a print advertisement in a FC Barcelona fan magazine called La Revista Barcelonista, asking women would they like to play an exhibition match.

Seventeen individuals stepped up. Maria Antònia Mínguez, Llera, Giménez, Pilar Gazulla, Lluïsa Vilaseca, Aurora Arnau, Anna Jaques, Maite Rodríguez, Immaculada Cabecerán, Núria Llansà, Alicia Estivill, Blanca Fernández, Lolita Ortiz, Comuelo, Comuel played on a smaller pitch in the Camp Nou with smaller goals placed behind the D. They played under the name Selección Ciudad de Barcelona, ​​the game was 30 minutes aside and eventually was won by Barcelona in penalties in front of 60,000 people.

Since then, FC Barcelona Femeni faced relegation, promotion, rebranding, being brought in by their parent club, being relegated, promoted, winning titles, record-breaking attendances (twice), player of the year accolades and recognition globally as one of the best teams in the world.

On Sunday, in a 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid, Barça joined men’s teams such as Juventus, Arsenal, AC Milan and Celtic, and women’s teams such as Lyon, Bayern Munich and Juventus in being unbeaten in the league. Barcelona finished the incredible season with 30 wins in 30 matches, with 159 goals scored and just 11 conceded.

Socially, the women’s team has broken down barriers in Spain for women soccer. In 2020, there were nearly 77,500 female players registered in the Royal Spanish Football Federation. With more than 14,000 soccer players, Catalonia was the region with the highest number, ahead of the Basque Country.

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Girls are looking up to Alexia Putellas, Jenni Hermoso, Sandra Paños, Mapi Leon, and many others. Prospects are looking up too. La Masia is allowing girls to enter the academy, and Barcelona youth girls ‘teams are beating everyone in the boys’ league. They’re also playing attractive Barcelona DNA style soccer.

Still, there are some hurdles. Financial gain is hard to come by. League games are rarely shown on tv, advertisement and sponsors are low, and some teams are still struggling to get the basics right.

Just as recently as December last year, Rayo Vallecano played Barcelona in a league game without a doctor and physio. Brazilian forward Isadora was injured during a collision and substituted in the 46th minute before being taken to a nearby hospital for further check-ups after suffering a head injury, subsequently treated by Barcelona’s team of doctors on the pitch.

The Spanish government also declared last year the Primera Iberdola, the women’s premier division, would be professional, only for that motion to get blocked as conversations failed to progress as to how this could actually happen, given the wide gap with clubs flooding teams with investment compared to those who can not even afford a doctor on the sideline.

But, there are beacons of hope. It was not necessarily financing that got Barcelona over the line. Everyone is aware of the crazy € 1bn debt that hangs over the club, so going the traditional route has served Barcelona well. Start young, open up current facilities, focus on the possibilities from within and build a club using foundations that are already there.

Next up is Barça’s toughest test yet as they prepare to face Lyon in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Before Barcelona decided to dedicate every hour, resource and funds available after a comprehensive 4-0 beating by Lyon, Lyon were the original all conquerors and victorious women’s team of the 10s, winning title after title after title, including a five-in-a -row in Europe’s best women’s soccer competition and 14-in-a-row league victories.

Women’s soccer still has some way to get on a level playing. The difference this time is now multiple stakeholders are interested in ensuring progress in the women’s game and world record attendances. The right people have to sit up and pay attention, finances have to be distributed more evenly, and player welfare has to be the primary concern. Let’s hope the powers that be invest more in women’s soccer.

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