Duncan Mackay

Today at 5pm sees yet another nerve-wracking England versus Germany clash in a major football championship. But this time, it’s the women’s turn. For coach Hope Powell, it is the culmination of many years hard work nurturing a squad of talented players, whilst working against a backdrop of uncertain financial support and broken promises.

Reaching the European Championship final is an incredible achievement, not matched for 25 years, yet it comes at the end of a season which has seen turmoil in the women’s game. Just last April, word came from the Football Association at Soho Square that promises of a Super League were deferred for at least a year, because of "financial pressures".

England’s success in Finland recently prompted new FA chief executive Ian Watmore to restate the governing body’s ambitions, but it came too late to prevent an exodus of some of our most talented players to Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), a new league in the USA.  Alex Scott, Kelly Smith and Eniola Aluko made a huge success of their first season and were all named in the WPS all-star team.

Women’s football is far from the minority sport people might expect. In fact, it is estimated that more women now play football then men play rugby, and it continues to be the fastest growing sport amongst young girls. But until women’s football can provide its young players with role models to aspire to and household names to imitate in the playground, many will still fall by the wayside before reaching their potential.

Here at the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF), we’re hoping that the WPS league can continue to be a commercial and popular success, paving the way for future models in other women’s team sports, and eventually a professional Super League here on home soil. We’ll welcome the day when our most talented women athletes don’t have to go abroad to be properly compensated for their talents, and world famous clubs like Doncaster Belles don’t have to beg and borrow just to buy training kits.

The FA did at least stick to its promise to finally provide a number of England players with central contracts that enables them to make football their career. Not quite the eye-watering salaries of Man City’s new signings, but for those women who tried to combine top level football with a full-time job, it’s an absolute lifeline. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) offered similar contracts to its players, and saw almost immediate success as the team became world champions in both forms of the game.

As the tournament has progressed and the England team played its way through to the final, interest levels have been rising. But the groundswell of support could be significantly wider if the media had awarded as much space to this women’s championship as it routinely does to the men’s game. During the early group games, Jacqui Oatley’s excellent tweets - aided by the excited twittering of Karen Carney and Alex Scott - provided pretty much the only build up and comment on the England matches and although we’re delighted to see the BBC has agreed to televise the final live, we are disappointed it’s taken the last leg of the journey to get there.

A terrestrial showing, albeit with a teatime kick-off, should provide the next generation with an opportunity to dream of pulling on the three lions and lifting a major trophy.

Finland 2009 has already provided many moments to treasure, including Kelly Smith scoring from inside the centre circle and Eniola Aluko’s mazy dribble in the quarter-finals, but I’ve a feeling that 5pm today will bring many more. Come on England! But please, no penalties…

Cassie Smith is the Head of Insight and Innovation at the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation