Two days before this year’s Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich, the top two women’s clubs in Europe played on the same pitch, at Munich’s Olympic Stadium, in the final match of the Women’s Champions League. In a pairing of the defending champion, Olympique Lyon, and the club that has won the most titles in the tournament’s 11-year history, FFC Frankfurt, the French side took the cup with a 2-0 victory. The game drew just over 50,000 spectators, by far the most people ever to attend a Women’s Champions League final. UEFA officials and organizers in Munich had worked deliberately to ensure a record-breaking turnout. Match time was moved to the early evening, and special family-priced tickets were available to ensure that mothers could attend with their children. Men’s clubs in the Bundesliga have adopted similar family pricing along with other measures aimed at bringing women to the grounds. As a result, matches in the German first division draw a higher percentage of female spectators than any other European league. Add to that the large number of girls and women who play football in Germany, along with the seven European championships and three Olympic bronze medals, and the country presents an impressive picture of female involvement with the sport. This is striking, as it was only in 1970 that the German Football Association lifted its ban on women playing.
Women’s soccer in the United States has had a similarly remarkable rise in the last four decades. Women weren’t banned from the game. They simply didn’t play. But with the expansion of athletics for women and girls in the Title IX era, soccer has boomed. The U.S. has become the center of the women’s soccer world, with players coming from other countries to play for American university teams and American players going overseas to play, coach, and act as advocates for girls’ sports. Tim Grainey tells the story of these women, as well as players and coaches in other world regions, in his book Beyond Bend It Like Beckham: The Global Phenomenon of Women’s Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2012). As a longtime journalist and organizer, Tim draws upon decades of experience in the sport. The story he tells is encouraging, showing how the profile of women’s soccer has grown. However, girls and women still face resistance to their desire to play. FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that the future of soccer is feminine. Tim’s book shows that the statement is not simply the empty phrase of a sportocrat. At the same time, though, its fulfillment is not assured.