Bethany England encourages WSL to ensure stands remain safe spaces for fans

Chelsea’s Bethany England scored the winner in the last London derby at Stamford Bridge (Tess Derry/PA) (PA Archive)
Chelsea’s Bethany England scored the winner in the last London derby at Stamford Bridge (Tess Derry/PA) (PA Archive)

Chelsea forward Bethany England wants the Women’s Super League to ensure stands remain safe spaces for supporters as clubs increasingly pack Premier League grounds.

The Blues face Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on Sunday in a rematch of the 2019 London derby at the same venue, this time in front of a sell-out crowd. Earlier this season, the north London derby between Arsenal and Spurs at the Emirates set a new WSL attendance record of 47,367.

Some have suggested it is time for the WSL to establish bona fide home and away sections to boost the competitive atmosphere, particularly during marquee matches, but England was not so sure.

“I think for me, women’s football is naturally completely different to the men’s game,” she told the PA news agency.

“I feel like our fans, not to put any bad light on the men’s game, but obviously as we know, we’ve all attended men’s football games. Crowds can be aggressive, can be abusive, and I feel like in the women’s game, because it’s much more family orientated, you don’t get as much of that animosity and aggressiveness behind it.

“I think it may slowly start to creep in, the bigger the game gets.”

That is not to say the Lioness, part of England’s Euro 2022-winning squad, does not welcome a rivalry like the one second-placed Chelsea are expecting against fifth-placed Spurs on Sunday. She simply wants it to be a healthy one.

England said: “In most stadiums there is a clear home and away part where fans do separate, but also there are parts where they are integrated and it seems to be an issue, so I’d like to hope that that continues, because football is for everyone, whether it’s your team or not your team, wherever you’re sat should be a safe space.”

It may be cliche to say that this WSL campaign is the most competitive yet, but that does not necessarily mean the statement is untrue.

FA Cup holders Chelsea are aiming for a fourth straight WSL trophy this season, which got off to a surprising start when they were beaten 2-1 to newly-promoted Liverpool. Brighton were trounced 8-0 by Spurs to end October, then pulled off a stunning 5-4 win over West Ham the following week.

The Blues currently sit level on 18 points with Arsenal, separated from the league leaders by a six-goal difference.

England’s fourth-minute strike was the only goal in the 2019 Stamford Bridge clash, played in front of 24,564. Though Chelsea haven’t released official sales figures for Sunday, capacity at the Bridge is north of 40,000.

“I think that’s one of the reasons you play football,” England said. “It’s because of the feelings you get and the goosebumps you get when you hear the fans chanting.”

Chelsea will not need to wait three years, nor even three months, for a return trip to the Bridge after it was announced this week that their Champions League clash with Paris St Germain on December 22 has been moved to the ground.

England is still getting used to the uptick in the number of people who follow her on social media or even stop her in the woods as she is walking her dogs following the Lionesses’ European Championship triumph, admitting it is “still a bit surreal and crazy”.

She is getting more invites these days too, and recently attended the season premiere of the Crown.

She is most envious, however, of former England team-mate Jill Scott, who is currently in Australia leading fake Lionesses chants and fashioning paper-bag footballs on reality TV show I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here, topping most bookmakers’ lists to win.

When asked what show she is best suited for, England’s reply was instant: “I would love to be on I’m A Celeb. I’m quite jealous of Jill.

“It’s been one of my favourite TV shows since I was a kid. I watch it every night, but I can’t say I’d be any good at it because I’m petrified of heights and I probably wouldn’t last five minutes if I had to jump out of a plane into the jungle.

“Jill is amazing. She’s one of the most humble, beautiful people you could ever wish to meet. I’m glad she’s coming across that way to everyone as well.”