Football fans in Bahrain are eagerly awaiting the start of the Uefa Women’s Euro 2022 semi-final between England and Sweden which takes place in Sheffield tonight.
Clubs, sports lounges and cafes across the kingdom have been showing all the games live and excitement has reached fever pitch, especially amongst English fans, who are hoping to see their team win and go on to clinch their first-ever title in the final next Sunday.
“I think the level of interest in women’s football here in Bahrain has gone up in recent years,” Dilmun Club general manager, Stephen Chartres, told the GDN. “More people have stopped by to see the games this year than in the past and, I think, quite a few will be in attendance tomorrow as well.”
The British Club has also been showing the matches live with manager, Daniel McRae, saying the organisation was very supportive of women’s football.
“The club is doing its bit to support the women’s game by ensuring the games are screened live so that fans can watch them,” he told the GDN.
Interest in women’s football has soared worldwide in recent years. But this year’s Euro competition has seen spectator attendance and television viewership records for the competition easily broken.
More than 68,000 people showed up at Old Trafford to watch hosts England beat Australia 1-0 in the tournament’s opening game, comfortably overtaking the previous highest attendance total of 41,301, set when Germany beat Norway in the 2013 final in Sweden. The new record is likely to be broken again in this year’s final, especially if England win tonight and go on to play in the 90,000-seater Wembley Stadium.
And, by the halfway stage of the 31-match tournament, another record had tumbled with more than 248,000 spectators having flocked through the turnstiles, easily overtaking the previous mark of just over 240,000 set in the 2017 edition in Portugal.
By the end of the group stage, that number had swelled to nearly 358,000 spectators, meaning that the previous record average of 9,000 would be comfortably beaten by the time the tournament finished.
TV viewership has also seen a healthy upswing, with England’s quarter-final win against Spain watched by more than nine million people on the BBC – the highest audience figure of the tournament so far – with another, combined nine million following the game on BBC One and the organisation’s digital platforms.
“I think the way they’ve gone about organising the tournament this time around has been really good for the women’s game,” 29-year-old English football coach, Sean Brereton, who runs his own academy in the kingdom, told the GDN. “They’ve spread it out, just like men’s tournaments, and also taken it to places in England where there are good women’s teams.
“And they’ve marketed it really well – pushing lots of tickets to younger people, gifting tickets to schools, academies, etc. So, yes, it’s picked up a lot in terms of interest, as we’ve seen over the course of the tournament.”
Brereton, who moved to Bahrain three years ago, has been involved in a major push to promote women’s football in Bahrain and has also helped organise a charity football tournament during the annual breast cancer awareness month last October, as well as promoting awareness of sexism in sport.
“Interest has grown in the women’s game in Bahrain and is being boosted further by this competition being so easily accessible on TV and online,” he explained. “A lot of my students are girls under 12, 13 and are keenly following the matches. Also, I’ve heard from the mums of some of the girls who are from the UK and are back in England for the holidays that they’ve gone and seen the games in the stadiums. That adds to their interest in pursuing the sport and that’s the way the game grows.”
Interestingly, Bahrain was the first country in the region to stage a highly competitive women’s league and also boasts a successful national women’s team. And, the Bahrain women’s team defeated Kuwait 2-1 in the final of the futsal event to clinch the gold medal at the third GCC Games, held in Kuwait last May.
Meanwhile, Laura Sherrington, a keen football fan and lifelong Aston Villa supporter, who works as a private airline executive, will try to watch the game at a popular sports lounge in Adliya, despite the late hour at which it will start. (Kick-off is at 10pm Bahrain time.)
“I haven’t been able to watch the earlier England matches because I was travelling,” Sherrington, who moved to Bahrain from the UK in 2006, told the GDN. “But I’m very keen to watch the semi-final. As a nation, we’re all so proud of our women’s national team. They’re certainly giving the men a run for their money.”
The Dilmun Club’s Chartres, who is also from the UK, agreed, adding that he was hopeful England would do well in the semi-final.
“They’ve played remarkably well so far,” he explained. “Perhaps, this time, they might go all the way and win their first Euro title.”
McRae, a Scotsman who has been in his current role at the British Club since 2018, echoed Chartres’ sentiments.
“The British Club are hoping England reach the final and, hopefully, clinch the trophy too,” he said.
Sherrington shared that hope as well.
“It’s great to see women’s football getting more and more popular,” she exclaimed. “I certainly hope England win the championship!”
England, who were runners-up in 1984 (incidentally, to Sweden, who won their only title in the tournament’s inaugural edition) and 2009 (losing to Germany), will be hoping for that too.
The tournament has been held after every four years since 2005, after previously being organised every two years. Originally scheduled for 2021, it was postponed to this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.