Sports minister Tracey Crouch believes Manchester United have “finally dragged themselves into the 21st century” after announcing plans to form a professional women’s team.
United – the only current Premier League club not to have a senior women’s side – have submitted an application to the Football Association to establish a team in the second tier of the Women’s Super League next season.
Crouch, answering questions in the Commons, said: “May I just actually take this opportunity to congratulate Manchester United Football Club, who have finally dragged themselves into the 21st century and announced that they will be having a women’s football team.”
Asked about whether enough women’s sport was broadcast on terrestrial television she said: “There can never be enough women’s sport broadcast on TV, and I would always encourage more women’s sport to be on TV.”
The Women’s Super League will be rebranded next season with WSL becoming the Women’s Super League and WSL2 the Women’s Championship.
Existing tier one and tier two clubs had to re-apply for their 2018-19 licences and then affiliated girls and women’s clubs from outside the existing WSL system were invited to apply for the remaining spaces.
Crystal Palace and Sheffield United were among the teams to bid to join the Women’s Championship, and successful applicants will not be named by the Football Association until the end of May.
United’s former women’s side was disbanded in 2005 but, announcing their new plans, chief executive Ed Woodward said: “We are pleased to announce that the club intends to establish its first ever professional women’s team and has submitted an application to enter WSL2.
“The FA has provided excellent support through the process and we believe that launching a team in WSL2 would give many more of our graduates from the Regional Talent Club the chance to establish themselves as first-team players.
“The Manchester United women’s team must be built in the same image and with the same principles as the men’s first team and offer academy players a clear route to top-level football within the club.
“If successful, the move would provide a career pathway for players who graduate from the long-established and highly successful Girls’ Regional Talent Club, which has seen some 15 of its graduates playing international football this season alone.”
The squad would be based at the club’s historic training centre at The Cliff.
United’s move into women’s football has been welcomed by female football fans.
“Manchester United have such an incredible support, so having a women’s football team will only bring more interest and bring it to a world stage,” Harriet Killen, who helps run This Fan Girl, an online community and creative platform dedicated to female supporters, told Press Association Sport.
“At Fan Girl we couldn’t believe this huge club with a massive presence was completely ignoring the fact they didn’t have a women’s team – it was outrageous they could do that when their neighbours (Manchester City) are putting so much money into it.
“It shows they are taking it seriously now, although it does seem a bit ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ and you feel a bit cynical but it will still do great things for women’s football.”
Killen is a Sunderland fan and while she has endured the struggles of Chris Coleman’s side in the Sky Bet Championship this season her appreciation of the women’s game is growing.
“Since getting involved in Fan Girl I’ve realised you can’t not support the women’s game and it has become important to go to women’s games,” she added.
Television presenter and Countdown’s maths genius Rachel Riley, a United supporter, tweeted her backing of the club’s decision.
“Brilliant news! Perfect timing for @ManUtd’s women’s team announcement, I’ve got my boots with me for 5-a-side @sportrelief Media City tomo #dreaming,” she wrote on Twitter.