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Oct 24, 2012

FA plan promotes women's soccer

Leading figures from within women's football and the Football Association called on England's top men's clubs to invest more money in their female teams as the game took another step toward a professional structure Wednesday.

The FA announced five-year 'Game Changer' plan that it hopes will help women's football overtake men's cricket as England's second most played team sport.

Under the plan, the FA will appoint a head of elite development, look for increased sponsorship and broadcasting of the women's game, and expand the eight-team Women's Super League (WSL) in to two divisions by the 2014 season.

The expansion of the WSL means either 10 or 12 clubs currently competing in the lower leagues will be able to apply to join the WSL, a semi-professional competition runs through the summer and began last year.

Of the eight teams currently in the WSL, only four are affiliated with a Barclays Premier League men's side. Manchester Ladies, who are linked to Manchester City, are in the tier below while Manchester United currently do not have a full women's side.

The FA want to see more high-profile teams follow the lead of Arsenal, who have invested heavily in their women's side with impressive results both on and off the pitch.

"It would be great if big clubs were involved in (the expansion of the WSL)," FA general secretary Alex Horne said.

"We are talking to a number of big clubs now about connecting or reconnecting with their women's sides.

"Clubs need to be brave enough to invest in the model and look at their own corporate reasons for looking at investment in the women's game.

"Arsenal is a great model. They have been a big part of the women's pyramid for a long time and they are reaping the benefits, they are winning trophies regularly and the engagement that the men's club have with the women's club is powerful for them on a number of levels.

"The relationship with big men's clubs is a really interesting model to make (women's football) more sustainable."

Arsenal Ladies defender Steph Houghton, who was the star of Britain's Olympic team this summer, hopes both Manchester clubs commit a women's team to the expanded WSL.

"To have clubs like Manchester United or Manchester City involved would be great for the women's game," she said.

"All they need to do is look at Arsenal, at how successful we have been over the last few years.

"We haven't been a detriment to the men's game and it's been quite successful so fingers crossed a lot more clubs will get involved."

England manager Hope Powell, who has been a key player in the push to get more recognition for women's football, spoke today about how she wanted the country to be the envy of the rest of the world.

The 45-year-old, who also led Team GB at the Olympics, thinks the big professional men's clubs in England can help maintain the momentum built due to the success of London 2012 and finally help the women's game become professional.

"It's not easy to get to a professional level, it's about investment, and maybe we need to get men's professional teams on board because they have the facilities and have that pocket of money," Powell said.

The FA will have to get 253,600 women playing each month if they are to reach their target of becoming the second-most played team sport in England, but Powell thinks it is possible.

She added: "From the discussions that we have had, we firmly believe that it is achievable.

"It's very ambitious, but what's wrong with that?"

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