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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 05:40 GMT 06:40 UK
FA takes long view
By Phil Harlow

Imagine the scene at next year's World Cup finals in Germany.

The FA see developing the women's game as a long-term project
England's women finished bottom of their group at Euro 2005

Sven-Goran Eriksson's England side win their opening game with a thrilling last-minute strike - but lose their next two games to find themselves eliminated from the tournament.

Even if the Football Association could persuade current rugby union spin doctor Alastair Campbell to work his magic, the English public would struggle to accept the tournament as a success.

But England's early exit at Euro 2005, the women's football European Championships, has not dampened the FA's enthusiasm for developing the sport in England.

For the FA, whose long-term aim is to establish a professional women's league, the goals for and against figures are secondary to the impressive 69,481 combined attendance at England's matches.

"The future's bright," FA spokesman Alex Stone told BBC Sport.

"If you look at the crowds and media coverage, it has been phenomenal.

England fans cheer on their side against Sweden
England 3-2 Finland:
29,092 (Ewood Park)
England 1-2 Denmark:
14, 695 (Ewood Park)
England 0-1 Sweden:
25,694 (City of Manchester Stadium)
Combined total: 69,481
Average attendance: 23,160
"Just under 70,000 people came to watch England's three games and it was way beyond our original expectations - it's a fantastic achievement.

"The quality of the football the team played was obviously instrumental. Hopefully a fair number will come back to watch when the team play their World Cup qualifiers in September.

"When we bid for the tournament three years ago, we saw it as part of a long-term plan to assist the development of the women's game here.

"It's part of our plan to get more women participating: there is that opportunity to go from a local club, to a centre of excellence and potentially into the England set-up.

"There are England teams at the under-17, 19 and 21 level. The structure is in place to support those who just want to play for fun and for those who want to push on to the highest level."

Women's football has long had to struggle against a lack of interest - both from players and, just as importantly, the media.

Investment has to be sustainable - that's the key
FA spokesman Alex Stone
But with live coverage and highlight programmes on BBC television, together with increased coverage in newspapers, the women's game is finally starting to receive the profile its supporters believe it deserves.

"It helps to open people's eyes to the quality of the players and to dispel the lazy clichés about the standard," added Stone.

"People will have seen that these players can play and that it can be just as entertaining as the men's game."

Women's football in England has had a Premier League since 1993, with Northern and Southern leagues below.

Attendances are growing but the goal of a professional league is still a distant prospect until the game starts to attract significant sponsorship.

"The aim of setting up a full-time league was set up some time ago when Adam Crozier was FA chief executive," said Stone.

England v Finland:
2.6m average, 2.9m peak, 12.12% audience share
England v Denmark:
1.7m average, 2.3m peak, 11.5% audience share
England v Sweden:
2.4m average, 3m peak, 15.2% audience share
"Realistically, that's not going to happen in the next month or year. It comes down to financial investment.

"They tried setting one up in the United States and when it didn't quite come off, investment started to fall away. The investment has to be sustainable - that's the key to it."

Before the tournament started, England coach Hope Powell said that her team's job was to promote the game.

"It's an opportunity to showcase the sport," she told BBC Sport.

"We want to leave a legacy so young girls will play the game. England can become a team to be reckoned with."

While England, despite some encouraging displays, manifestly failed to produce the results needed, it seems the FA are more than happy to play the patient parent and help the adolescent game into adulthood.

England squad guide
03 Jun 05 |  Women's Euro 2005
England Women 0-1 Sweden Women
11 Jun 05 |  Women's Euro 2005
Denmark Women 2-1 England Women
07 Jun 05 |  Women's Euro 2005
England 3-2 Finland
05 Jun 05 |  Women's Euro 2005


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