Football: Phil Neville calls for Premier League grounds to host women's games

Phil Neville, head coach of England, talks to players after the 2019 SheBelieves Cup match between England and Japan at Raymond James Stadium on March 5, 2019. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/AFP

LONDON (AFP) - England women's manager Phil Neville has urged the Premier League's biggest clubs to "blow the rest of Europe away" by opening their grounds to host women's matches in the manner Atletico Madrid and Juventus have in recent weeks.

Over 60,000 spectators saw England international Toni Duggan score in Barcelona's 2-0 win over Atletico in March to set a new world record for a women's club match.

That beat a European record of 48,000 set in February when Athletic Bilbao hosted Atletico at San Mames, one of the venues for the mens Euro 2020 tournament.

Just short of 40,000 fans also set an Italian record for Juventus' 1-0 win over Fiorentina in March, attendances bolstered by free or cheap tickets.

Neville believes there is even more support for the women's game in England on a consistent basis and called on the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea to follow suit to build momentum ahead of the women's World Cup in France this summer.

"Looking at the attendances in our league yesterday (Sunday), I actually think that is better than the attendances for a one-off game in Spain, Portugal or Italy," said Neville ahead of World Cup warm-up friendlies against Canada and Spain.

"What I would say is some of the teams in England, the big teams in England, have got to open their big stadiums and fill it.

"Let's blow the rest of Europe away because I think our game in this country is in a far better place than in Spain, Italy or Portugal."

Neville's former club Manchester United look set to be promoted to the English Women's Super League (WSL) in their first season since the formation of their female team, Arsenal lead Manchester City in a tight WSL title race, while Chelsea face European champions Lyon in the semi-final of the Champions League later this month.

"Now we've got to say Man Utd if they win the league, or Arsenal throw open your stadium. A Champions League game at Chelsea, why not play it at Stamford Bridge?

"Get 30 or 40,000 in. Our players, the WSL is at the level now where clubs have got to open their stadiums.

"Let's fill it and blow away the rest of Europe. That's my feelings having watched (Athletic) Bilbao, Juventus. They've done it but let us do it two or three times between now and the rest of the season."

Chelsea's Champions League quarter-final victory over Paris Saint-Germain was overshadowed by crowd trouble as police seized weapons and drugs from travelling French fans before the first leg in London.

However, Neville insisted that game showed that women's football can now generate the passionate atmosphere associated with men's games at the highest level.

"I don't want any of that rubbish, but it is a sign people are not just turning up for a women's game to sample the chips and bring the kids, they are coming because they want their team to win badly."

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