Post-Euro 2022 boost can lift Championship as well as WSL – Paige Bailey-Gayle

Arsenal v Crystal Palace – Vitality Women’s FA Cup – Fifth Round – Meadow Park
(Image credit: Jonathan Brady)

The next Beth Mead or Leah Williamson could well be lurking in the increasingly competitive Championship, imagines Crystal Palace’s Paige Bailey-Gayle.

Tier two of the women’s football pyramid kicked off last weekend carrying a title sponsor, Barclays, for the first time.

Jamaica international Bailey-Gayle, 20, joined the Eagles from Women’s Super League side Leicester ahead of the new campaign and sees the investment as a sign the Championship is finally getting the respect it deserves.

“It says a lot,” the forward told the PA news agency. “They’re realising that it’s not just the top league that needs to be backed, it’s everyone.

Paige Bailey-Gayle

Paige Bailey-Gayle is one of 15 summer signings for promotion-chasing Palace (John Walton/PA)

“Because it could be someone from the Championship playing for England one day, and you never know.

“It’s not just the Super League that’s been making dreams happen or giving opportunities to play, it should be given to everyone that’s playing.

“Obviously it’s the whole nation that helped win the Euros, and I think that was all the support, all the little girls, all the little boys, the mums and dads.”

Much has been speculated about the impact of the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 victory on the WSL, but less asked about how it may also permeate down the pyramid.

Promotion-chasing Palace are certainly banking on increased interest in the women’s game. On Wednesday, they announced their September 18 fixture versus Southampton would be moving to Premier League venue Selhurst Park.

Bailey-Gayle is one of 15 summer signings for the club who finished fourth last campaign, tied on points with third-placed Bristol.

Earlier this month, Palace chairman and owner Steve Parish announced imminent plans for him to move from peripheral involvement to “fully tak[ing] over” the women’s first team and making it “mainly professional”. More matches at Selhurst Park are also expected, while the women will partly train at Palace’s recently-revamped academy.

“We are one of only a small handful of clubs investing significant sums to create a professional team,” he wrote in the Times.

Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz became the first Caribbean team ever to play in a Women’s World Cup when they debuted at the 2019 tournament in France.

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In June, Bailey-Gayle’s squad, backed by Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella Marley and captained by Manchester City striker Bunny Shaw, sealed their berth in the 2023 edition to be held in Australia and New Zealand.

The Reggae Girlz 2022 CONCACAF Championship squad boasted WSL players in Shaw and Tottenham’s Rebecca Spencer and Drew Spence, in addition to Bailey-Gayle and London City Lionesses’ Atlanta Primus.

Palace have long found success in scouting local talent for the Premier League squad, with Eberechi Eze, Malcolm Ebiowei and talisman Wilfried Zaha all boasting south London roots.

Croydon, home to Selhurst Park, boasts more Black Caribbeans than anywhere in the UK save Birmingham, with neighbouring Lewisham and Lambeth in third and fourth, respectively.

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Bailey-Gayle, who grew up in Hackney but is eligible for Jamaica through both parents, appreciates the role she could play in inspiring the next generation.

“I don’t always think about it,” she acknowledged, “but if I sit back and think about it I’m like, it could be another girl that watches me play and realises that on TV I have the Jamaica flag next to my name, it’s possible for them.

“Across the world, Jamaicans are not known for playing football. So for young girls or young boys to have that there are people in the top leagues playing with that flag attached to their name obviously means a lot.

“If I can inspire one girl to play for Jamaica, that would mean the world. Literally, the world.”

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