Remember back when Bend It Like Beckham came out in 2002? Gurinder Chadha's London-based sports filmed that followed Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) career in women's football and going against her strict Indian parents, alongside best friend Jules Paxton (Keira Knightley)'s. It was the first time I personally had seen women taken seriously in a sport beyond dancing, and [spoiler alert] when they head to America to play professionally, despite being no Beckham myself, it showed me that girls can do anything, even in predominately male spaces.
Manchester United — coincidentally Jess' favourite team — scrapped their female side in 2005, leaving them to be the only top-flight club without a women's team in the Women's Super League. Until now. It's been confirmed that the club, after 13 years, has applied to the Football Association (FA) to form a professional women's team to play in the WSL2, alongside rival clubs Manchester City and Chelsea, both of whom have won the league in recent seasons.
United released a statement yesterday, saying: “Manchester United has submitted an application to the Football Association to establish a professional women's team in the second tier of the Women's Super League. If successful, the move would provide a career pathway for players who graduate from the long-established and highly successful Girls' Regional Talent Club, which has seen some 15 of its graduates playing international football this season alone. The squad would be based at the club's historic training centre at The Cliff.”
In recent years, Manchester United have been called upon by head figures in football regarding a women's team, including Phil Neville, England's women's head coach.
“I will be encouraging them,” Neville said. “They have a fantastic community programme for female players and coaches. When they do set out their women's team it will be one to challenge City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool. A club of the size of United should be the leaders, the pioneers. I am sure they are working to do that.”
Chief executive at United, Ed Woodward, said in a statement that the women's team will be built 'in the same image and with the same principles' as the men's team.
“We are pleased to announce that the club intends to establish its first ever professional women's team and has submitted an application to enter WSL2," he said. “The FA has provided excellent support through the process and we believe that launching a team in WSL2 would give many more of our graduates from the Regional Talent Club the chance to establish themselves as first team players. The Manchester United women's team must be built in the same image and with the same principles as the men's first team and offer academy players a clear route to top level football within the club.”
With the conversation around women in football growing last year, after clubs cut male pay in favour of equal pay with female players, we're hopeful that female players will receive better pay, recognition, and opportunities in the future. Who knows, when Manchester United start in the WSL2, perhaps Jess Bhamra could manage them?