The widespread coverage and high drama of the Fifa Women’s World Cup has sparked football fever across the UK, with a record-breaking 6.9 million people watching England’s most recent clash.
There were still far more people watching men’s World Cup matches, with 26.5 million viewers tuning in to see England knocked out last year.
But there are some ways women’s football is hitting the back of the net – while the male strand of the sometimes-beautiful game bounces disappointingly off the crossbar.
1. Value for money
For the men’s World Cup last summer, your pockets had to be bulging with Russian roubles if you wanted a chance to see football come home (or not) with your own eyes.
The best seats in the house for the France v Croatia men’s final cost an eye-watering 66,000 roubles (£824.44).
But don’t despair. If you don’t have a spare 800 quid jangling around, it’s still possible for you to go to a World Cup final.
The most expensive seats in the women’s final at the Stade de Lyon on 7 July are more than 10 times cheaper than in the men’s tournament at £75.12 (84EUR).
At the Women’s World Cup in France this year, you can actually watch a game for as little as £8.05 (9EUR).
C’est magnifique, non?
This pricing imbalance manifests itself in merchandise, too.
Perhaps to Nike’s credit, the official shirts of the men’s and women’s World Cups both cost £89.95.
However, while it is free to add the name of a Lioness to the women’s shirt, it costs £13 to splash names such as Kane, Rashford or Vardy across your shoulders.
Nike hasn’t responded to a request for clarification on why this is the case.
2. More goals
The stats speak for themselves on this one.
For a start, Brazilian women’s forward Marta is the all-time World Cup top scorer for both men and women, with 17 goals to her name across 19 matches.
So far in this year’s tournament the women have scored 2.69 goals per game – just edging out the men, who scored 2.64 goals per game in last year’s World Cup.
The women are even further ahead in the UK’s top leagues. Over the last three seasons of the Women’s Super League there were 3.05 goals per match, compared with a measly 2.76 goals in the men’s top tournament, the Premier League.
3. Women stick to the rules
We’re not saying women are angels on the pitch (in fact, Cameroon were described as quite the opposite when they played England on Sunday).
But they break the rules less often than men do.
Fifa didn’t provide data for bookings in World Cup games, but we did manage to pull some together from the FA, which runs the UK’s top league games.
It turns out, in the 2018-19 season, Premier League players (men) were three times more likely than players in the Women’s Super League to be sent off in matches.
Men were also handed yellow cards twice as often.
Over the last three seasons, there were 3,777 yellow cards given to Premier League players – a rate of 3.3 per game – compared with 399 given to Women’s Super League players (1.5 per game).
Janie Frampton, who has refereed both men’s and women’s international matches in her 30-year career, said the “streak of cheating” that so many top male players express is in part down to “far too much money and far too many big egos”.
However, the data from the Football Association (FA) also suggests the amount of yellow cards given for fouls per women’s match in the UK is creeping up.
It went from 1.3 per game in 2016-17 to 1.5 in the following year and 1.6 last season.
Frampton believes an increase in rule-breaking is inevitable as women’s football becomes more popular.
“The women’s game is becoming far more professional, and by that happening, the skill factor, the determination and challenge of the game is getting much higher,” she said.
“Women’s football has become far more important, and that’s going to bring the more competitive edge, which is going to bring tougher challenges and more cards,” she added.
So if the upward trend continues, it won’t be long until the women are making Zinedine Zidane’s head-butt look like an Eskimo kiss.
Only kidding. There’s no way you can make that infamous moment look any less brutal.
4. Global competition
Men’s World Cup winners have only ever come from eight countries across two continents – Europe and South America.
There have been four times as many men’s World Cups as women’s, but the women’s tournament has already produced four countries as winners from North America, Europe and Asia.
The greater number of teams with a genuine chance to lift that treasured golden trophy arguably makes the women’s game all the more exciting.
5. LGBT+ support
It’s a widely accepted shame that there is not one openly gay footballer in the Premier League.
In 1990, former England Under-21 international Justin Fashanu was the first professional footballer in Britain to come out as gay.
The ex-Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who came out following his retirement in 2014, said there is a “long way to go” before men come out while playing in a top league.
By contrast, the women’s game is considered far more inclusive.
When ex-England player Casey Stoney spoke out about being gay for the first time just months after Hitzlsperger, she said homosexuality was more accepted in the women’s game.
And West Ham United women’s captain Gilly Flaherty said last season: “Everyone has accepted me for who I am. Women’s football is a sport where a player can be openly gay and no one acts any differently towards you because of it, which is a great thing.”
The better levels of tolerance and acceptance in the women’s game could be partly thanks to pioneer, Lily Parr.
The 6ft chain-smoker – whose wages from Dick, Kerr Ladies FC, were reputedly supplemented by packets of Woodbine cigarettes – was gay, although some dispute how open she was about this.
Parr paved the way for English women’s footballing success and was the first woman to feature in the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame.
Are England women better than men?
In the last three Women’s World Cups, England came third once and got into the final eight twice.
The men finished fourth in 2018, were knocked out of the group stages in 2014 and made the final 16 in 2010.
The stats behind these results show an almost identical track record.
In 2018 England men scored 12 goals in seven matches, while the women scored 10 in seven matches in the 2015 tournament. Both teams received a total of eight yellow cards. The men conceded eight goals while the women conceded seven.
It might be too tough to call which is the better team for now, but the women have everything to prove when they face Norway in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
Watch this space – perhaps we’ll be singing “three Lionesses on a shirt” and naming train stations after Phil Neville before the summer’s over.