Sunday 1st May 2022 a historic day for Newcastle United Women when they played at St James Park for the very first time. Everything about this event was truly exciting and the build up was really good to promote the history making event. I still I don’t really think though that anyone could have imagined just how utterly incredible it would turn out to be.
The attendance of 22,134 was out of this world!
A 4-0 victory was the icing on the cake with Katie Barker scoring the first goal to cement her place in history as the first female goalscorer at St James Park, wearing the number 9 shirt and bringing back a rather familiar celebration in the style of legend Alan Shearer.
The thing is that attendance and the support for the game is outstanding for women’s football on the whole, how far it has come and how far it can fully go with the right backing and advertisement. Considering that this not only broke the record for the National League (tier 4) but was a record for a league game in England this season!
As this game was taking place Charlton Women and Durham Women were playing at The Valley. Other women’s teams have also played at the mens stadiums in the past few seasons as well, including Sunderland at the Stadium of Light and Manchester United at Old Trafford. This highlights just how far everything has come in the past two decades.
My early playing days would see women’s teams have strips handed down from men’s teams, all in the size of large which was certainly not fun on a windy and/or wet afternoon! Playing on the worst pitches after men’s Sunday league games had taken place on the mornings and the less said about the changing rooms/toilets the better!
For those reasons to see Newcastle in tier 4 of the current structure playing at St James Park was truly breathtaking, young girls no longer just have to dream of playing in a big stadium. It’s now actually a reality and I cannot even describe how excited I am for those next generations. A lot of hard work has been put in at grassroots and within the Regional Talent Club (formerly Centre of Excellence structure) to push girls and then women and we are starting to see the results. A ten year old girl can now actually become a professional footballer as a female and I am so proud that can happen, it wasn’t even thought about when I was ten.
One of my favourite things on a Sunday afternoon is seeing the tweets with starting line ups for all different levels of the women’s game and recognising so many names! Some of former teammates, players I have coached and that is across all different levels. Not just within the RTC set up, but also from primary school after school clubs and these now young women still playing football really makes me happy.
At St James Park on Sunday, a few of the players I worked with at U11/12/13 age groups and to see them out on that pitch was truly special. Along with others who were in older age groups that I knew and it certainly felt surreal. Seeing so many girls in attendance is another bonus as they really do have real role models now! It is a massive forward step that wouldn’t have been possible without the new owners coming in to Newcastle United though, and I feel that this is going to have such a huge impact on the community and the North East region as a whole.