INTERVIEW: The Growth of Women’s Football – with Naomi Layzell

The Lionesses’ success at last summer’s EUROs propelled women’s football into centre stage, and continues to receive plaudits for an unbelievable increase in attendance figures at league games, across the WSL and the FA Women’s Championship. I spoke with Naomi Layzell, a promising young centre back currently plying her trade at Bristol City in the second tier of the women’s football pyramid in England, to get her thoughts on the rapid expansion of the women’s game and her aspirations for the future.

Rising through the ranks

You’ve mentioned playing for boys’ teams during your childhood – did you feel that maybe you had to work harder than they did to gain their respect, or were you treated equally?

No, I think I did have to sort of prove to them that I deserved to be there. Once I was established in the team, it was fine – but going into a new team, everyone would be like ‘why’s there a girl on our team?’ and be a bit judgmental to start with so maybe I’d feel a bit left out.

But after a few weeks, when you’ve played a few games, you sort of show them with the football, they accept you as a player and then you’re just part of the team – you’re not just a girl anymore really.

You’ve come a long way since then, celebrating fifty appearances for Bristol City on the weekend – how does that feel?

Yeah, I mean this season’s been quite good for me. I’ve had quite a lot of opportunities and I think I’ve seen myself come on a lot compared to where I maybe thought I could be now. I take every game as another opportunity to test myself and play against other players. I’m proud of where I am now but I want to keep going and see where I can get.

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

The national team

You’ve already appeared for England’s youth sides, so is the dream to play for the senior squad one daymaybe EURO 2025?

Not necessarily that tournament, but yeah that is an aim – to aim for the seniors and see where I go. Obviously there’s a lot of other talented players coming up and the competition’s high so all I can do is focus on what I’m doing and keep getting more experience, more momentum and then the football will do the talking. If I get the opportunity, I’ll take it.

The Lionesses famously brought football home last summer. Do you think that’s played a key role in the increased attendances we’ve seen this season?

This EUROs there were high attendances at the Lionesses games, but even thinking back to three years ago – even I wasn’t going to watch women’s football. Now, I’d want to go and watch women’s football just as much as a men’s game. I think now that the coverage and exposure of the women’s game is so much more, there’s so many more young girls coming to our games.

We try to talk to them and let them know that this is where they could be in 5 to 10 years and just make sure that everyone feels welcome at the game. There’s so much progression that we’ve seen and there’ll be a lot more – hopefully we’ll get promoted, we’ll get higher attendances and that’s the aim. I think the women’s game is just on an upwards trajectory. It’s really positive and it’s great to be a part of it now.

Development, investment and the future of the game

We’ve seen transfer fees rise exponentially in the women’s game as of late. Keira Walsh set a new record fee with her move to Barcelona, and Alessia Russo came close to breaking it again with a move to Arsenal. Do you think that the fact English players are attracting world record fees highlights the FA’s investment in women’s football?

Yeah, I think so. Coming up through the youth system, the FA has done so much to support the players. In the South West there probably isn’t as much football as there is in other regions, but there was always a lot of support when I was growing up – even when I was playing boys’ football – to be scouted and then to go and play for the national side.

You get a lot of input about where they want to see you go and how much potential they see in you – which really helps your confidence going forwards. They’ve got big pools of girls now from lower age groups so they’ve got a vast number of players to see progress. There’s a lot of investment and a lot of staff that all want to see women’s football get to where it should be – winning major championships at both youth and senior level.

They’re all trying to put the best things in place, like nutritional support, psychological support, and they support you back at your club as well. The FA have definitely invested a lot into both men’s and women’s football.

We’re seeing a lot more games now played at the bigger stadiums that are traditionally home to the men’s teams. Do you think that helps fans to see that the club’s view women’s football as on par with the men’s game?

I think it’s important to get that exposure – for the players and for the fans. Playing at the HPC (Bristol City’s High Performance Centre) is great, because we get a great atmosphere and with the attendances like they are at the moment, it’s a good size venue. As the attendances get bigger, you want to move to bigger stadiums but you’ve got to make sure that you don’t move too early – that’s not sustainable. You want a good atmosphere for both the fans and the players to enjoy.

To be able to get a few thousand fans is great and they all definitely enjoy it. I think we’ve got a different demographic of fans compared to the men’s team at the moment, but I think as people start to see that women’s football is just as skilful – maybe a different pace but that’s just the nature of the game – there’ll be more people that are interested in football as a whole and supporting a club rather than just the men’s team, because it’s not. It’s more than that.

Thank you to Naomi and the media team at Bristol City for agreeing to this interview. It was fascinating to hear Naomi’s thoughts on the development of women’s football, from a professional player at such a high level.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *