The season for clubs in Spain is both over and not over. Barcelona’s men’s team has won the trophy, but Barcelona’s women’s team are still fighting. For a fifth, yes fifth, successive league title.
And yet, the odds of losing it are high.
Yes. Barcelona, a team that is still unbeaten in the league, that crushed Albacete 10-0, has the best attack and, marginally, the best defence, could be losing the title - to Athletic Bilbao.
We talk about Athletic Club as a historic team, never having been relegated, with 8 titles to their name. But that’s just the men’s team, which was set up in the 19th century. The women’s team has four titles to their credit, four appearances in Europe - and that’s a team that was set up in THIS century.
For the last nine seasons they’ve had a barren run - but on the 10th try of asking all could be theirs. The title is in their hands - if they win the last three games, the title is theirs.
But it’s not just the match to watch because of Athletic Club possibly winning the title, or because this is the only conceivable game where they could drop points - even though it is.
This isn’t even about Athletic Club breaking a hegemony, and the fact that as a Rayo fan I’m rooting for them because they hated Franco, and waved the then banned Basque fan when he died, and that gives me a little happiness writing this given all that has happened this season, this unfortunate, shitty season, and I’m not sad because of their rel...
Anyways, moving on, the point isn’t even the fact that Athletic are winning the league while continuing their Basque-only philosophy (with a little help from Navarre, it must be added), even if that is no longer a surprise.
The point is that for the first time, La Liga will be televising a women’s football match. Women’s football, which has been in tatters and threatens to crumble, may finally get some respite.
Crumbling? Women’s football has reached a level where, this season, Lorca Deportiva’s players stripped for a calendar to raise much-needed cash for the club. In 2013, the average wage in the first division was 5,000 euros, there were just 48 professional players (the rest are amateur and can be paid nothing) and the youth structure contains gems such as no structured youth leagues for domestic level football, no formal links between schools and clubs, and no girls’ football in the school curriculum.
And the RFEF hasn’t helped - they recognised women’s football in 1980, when Spain’s women’s team was invited to the 1971 World Cup AND to organise the 1972 edition, provide women’s footballers who represent Spain at international events an allowance of 30 euros a day (for meals), once ignored a 6.6-million euro offer submitted by CGP SPORT to sponsor women's football competitions in Spain for six seasons, and that didn’t remove the national team’s head coach Ignacio Quereda until last year, even though they received, in 1996, a letter signed by all members of Spain’s women’s team to draw attention to the intimidation and scare-tactics they had been subjected to.
You couldn’t think of a better person to represent the state of women’s football than Ainhoa Tirapu, Athletic’s goalkeeper and Spain’s 2015 World Cup no. 1. She works at Decathlon in the morning, practices with her team in the afternoon, and studies for a PhD at night. Could you imagine Iker Casillas working at a store selling abominations like this?
This season has shown, however, that there is hope. With the new TV deal introduced last summer, 25% of a Spanish club’s TV revenue deal is determined by "social significance", which includes size of a club's membership, ticket sales, and so on and so forth. It would actually be in the financial interest of an existing club to buy a women’s team. Step forward Deportivo, who’ve bought Orzán SD, an existing women’s football club, to compete for next season.
The cruel will remain cruel - there’s a team actually using Málaga’s kit, Málaga’s facilities, sits on Málaga’s website and runs on a budget of zero euros, and Málaga haven’t even recognised it.
But with new sponsors and an increased budget - slowly but surely - women’s football will improve. But it needs to be faster - and Athletic Bilbao winning the league will change little. La Liga needs to televise more matches, but the real question - whether the LFP will change for the better - hilariously eludes many each season.
Until then, though, the real question remains. Could you imagine your shopkeeper lifting a league trophy?
Some Bilbao residents might have already.