Eni Aluko: “This is football, not women’s football”

The Juventus and former England striker speaks exclusively to RadioTimes.com about the nation's pride for the Lionesses ahead of their World Cup semi-final - and how broadcasters and football clubs need to keep up the momentum with promoting the game

Glastonbury Festival 2019 England Lionesses

The sun is shining down on the big screens, St. George’s crosses are rippling in the warm breeze to the sound of Baddiel and Skinner, an overpriced, under-quality beer sails through the air in celebration as England produce a terrific performance to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

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This isn’t the fabled summer of ’18, this is Glastonbury 2019, and thousands of fans have just watched Lucy Bronze rip the roof off the Norwegian net with a rising strike from the edge of the box.

England fever has swept through the country this summer, and the louder the Lionesses roar, the more they convince new fans to join the pride.

Over 30 million combined viewers have tuned in to watch Phil Neville’s side during their five games so far, including a record-high 7.6 million peak audience for the quarter-final clash with Norway.

But former England striker Eni Aluko isn’t surprised by the impact the World Cup has had on fans across the nation.

“It shows a great appetite for the game, people are starting to recognise this is football, not women’s football, and anyone who is representing their country, deserves the support of their nation,” she exclusively told RadioTimes.com.

“It’s not a surprise for me, as we’ve seen a trend in the last six months in women’s football, whether it be selling out stadiums across Europe in Spain and Italy or thousands of people watching at Glastonbury the other day.

“This is where women’s football is now – there’s a huge appetite for the game.

“People want to watch it, so I’m no longer surprised. It’s happening all over the world.”

Aluko now plays for Juventus Women – who were formed exactly two years ago – and is delighted by the public reaction to the women’s game.

“I’m really happy we’ve got to this point because we’ve been wanting this for a long time now,” she said.

“Growing up this was not the reality for women’s football but now it is – it’s incredible to see.”

The Lionesses were backed by 2.4 million watching their 2015 World Cup semi-final despite the match kicking off at midnight, but their final four clash with the USA will enjoy a primetime spot on BBC1 this week due to an 8pm kick-off, and a new record audience is anticipated.

Now Aluko wants broadcasters to step up their game and seize the natural momentum being generated by the World Cup in order to build a self-sustaining economy for the women’s game.

She said: “Brands and broadcasters now have no excuse not to back women’s football.

“The excuse before was ‘oh, there’s no-one watching, no-one cares’ well now, millions of people care.

“It’s over to the broadcasters to really start putting women’s football at the top of their agendas. When that happens, people tune in.

“If seven million people are tuning in for England games, that suggests there’s an appetite to watch the players on a more regular basis.

“From a club’s perspective it’s about being braver in terms of putting games on at the big stadiums and building stadiums fit-for-purpose for the women’s game because ultimately if you do that, people will turn up.”

In March, Akuko’s Juventus Women hosted Fiorentina at the impressive Allianz Stadium in Turin and 39,000 fans flocked in – a record attendance for women’s football in Italy.

Eni Aluko

One week earlier, more than 60,000 fans watched Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid 2-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano – the stadium that hosted the 2019 Champions League final.

England is gearing up for an explosive conclusion to the World Cup as the Lionesses strain to make sure football really is coming home.

Whether they do or don’t put an end to those years of hurt, clubs and players – including Aluko – will hope scenes like those at the World Cup, at Glastonbury, and in living rooms across the country aren’t limited to several sunny weeks in 2019.

“This is football, not women’s football.”

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