There can be no doubt left in anybody’s mind that 2019 has been the most important and progressive year for women’s football, writes Tom Dean.
It has been a year for trailblazers to emerge, future stars to be born and titles to be won and lost which in its purest form - is what football is really about - winning and losing.
England’s fourth-place finish at that World Cup was considered by many to be an underachievement which just goes to show how far the nation has progressed in unison with the sport.
Next year Phil Neville will have the task of leading Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics and who knows what position we will be in by the time the home European Championships roll around in 2021?
But in the meantime, here’s a look back at some of the most memorable moments of this year.
World Cup fever
The FIFA World Cup - the biggest platform there is to showcase footballing talent to the world.
Just hearing the words has probably already set your mind racing; Ellen White celebrating, Parris and Houghton penalties, Lucy Bronze making everyone else look average and the sheer drama of the semi-final defeat to the USA.
This was always going to be a landmark year for women’s football 🤩— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) December 27, 2019
But in the end, the eagerly anticipated 2019 #FIFAWWC – unforgettable as it was – proved to be just the tip of the iceberg 💪
The competition itself was by no means perfect with question marks over attendances and organisation throughout but viewing figures in the UK tell you all you need to know about the impact it had on the nation.
England’s semi-final defeat to the USA was watched by 11.7 million people and the live match audiences more than doubled from 2015 - these are the type of statistics that suggest just one thing; progress.
Money, Money, Money...
It seems crazy to think now that prior to the beginning of this season, the top division of women’s football in this country was unsponsored.
That means there was no official prize money for 2018/19 winners Arsenal, but now there is a £500,000 prize-money pot for this year’s champions.
Barclays to become first title sponsor of The FA Women's Super League with multimillion-pound partnership #BarclaysFAWSL— Barclays FA Women's Super League (@BarclaysFAWSL) March 20, 2019
The numbers are still desperately low in comparison to the men’s game, but Barclays' reported £10 million three-year investment was another landmark moment for women’s football in the UK.
Tumbling attendance records
So far, women’s football headlines have told just as much about off-the-pitch events than on-the-pitch action – in a good way.
New attendance records are constantly being set in women’s football, both at an international and domestic level.
First, England broke the record for the highest attendance at a Lionesses’ home fixture when 77.768 watched their 2-1 defeat to Germany at Wembley before Spurs broke the WSL attendance record by bringing 38,262 to the Tottenham Hotspur stadium for the North London derby.
Meanwhile, Chelsea secured the record for a WSL game at a women’s home ground with 4,790 at Kingsmeadow in November and inbetween we’ve seen crowds of more than 20,000 flock to the London Stadium and Stamford Bridge – all positive signs for the women’s game.
The Bronze Age
If there was one player from the home nations who stood out head and shoulders above the rest in 2019; it was Lucy Bronze.
Her talent with a football is one of the worst kept secrets in the sport but for anyone who hadn’t heard about it - they have now.
A three-time WSL winner during her time on these shores and back-to-back Champions League winner since moving to Lyon - it’s her individual award trophy cabinet that now looks fit to burst.
Bronze picked up the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year award and finished second to the USA’s Megan Rapinoe at the Ballon d’Or awards to prove herself among the very best players on the planet.
Kerr signs for the Blues
In November, Chelsea announced they had completed the signing of Australian Sam Kerr in what is widely considered to be the most high-profile transfer in the sport.
Kerr, who captains her country, has won five consecutive golden boots in the American and Australian domestic leagues and opted to sign for the Blues because ‘the WSL is the best league in Europe.’
Whether that is true or not, it is clear that both the message and the product has gone truly global and if the WSL can attract more players like Kerr, the future certainly looks bright.