Manchester City, Chapter 9: Man City, far from a male-only domain
In late September, a record crowd of more than 4,000 people turned up at the Academy Stadium, first-team captain Vincent Kompany included, to watch another of Manchester City’s sides achieve success.
On that day, Manchester City Women overcame title-holders Chelsea to clinch the Women’s Super League crown and become national winners for the first time in their history.
They followed that achievement by winning the WSL Continental Cup a week later.
I won the league with Arsenal and that was an amazing feeling, but this one beats everything because I’ve seen how this club has changed over three years
The team was only founded in 1988 and the FA’s decision to include them in the top tier of the new, expanded Super League in 2014 was not without its controversy, with some questioning whether they had done enough on the field to merit their place.
But Brian Marwood, managing director of football services, and City had persuaded the governing body that they had big plans.
While Manchester United currently have no women’s team at all, the City Football Group wanted to invest heavily in the female game and succeed, too.
Soon they began snapping up some of England’s best players: Toni Duggan, Karen Bardsley, Jill Scott, Izzy Christiansen, Lucy Bronze, and Steph Houghton, captain of the national team and star of the Team GB side at the 2012 Olympics.
“It was a risk,” Houghton admits of her decision to leave Arsenal, where she had won two league titles. “But when I signed, I knew the club wanted to win trophies, even if it might not be possible in the first couple of years.
"It has been a fantastic season. I won the league with Arsenal and that was an amazing feeling, but this one beats everything because I’ve seen how this club has changed over three years and how hard everyone has worked to get here.
“It was a risk worth taking. I knew I wanted to come here as a full-time footballer and better myself. I’ve had very good coaching here and I have developed as a player. I feel we are leading the way in this country now in terms of women’s football.
"The facilities are amazing – I have to pinch myself sometimes. Sometimes in women’s football, people say they can make it professional and they can provide this and that, but I believe anything that anybody says at this club because if there’s a promise, then nine times out of 10 it will happen.”
Should the men’s team win the Premier League title, Manchester City would hold both male and female national titles at the same time
They aren’t the only women’s team in the City Football Group to have enjoyed success, either – Melbourne City’s female side won every game last season. The two sides met for a friendly in Abu Dhabi in February. Man City won 3-0.
They've given up some ground to Chelsea nearing the Christmas fixtures, but should the men’s team win the Premier League title this season, Manchester City would hold both male and female national titles at the same time.
“That would be unbelievable,” Houghton says, having spent her lunchtime at a Christmas photoshoot with Pep Guardiola and Kevin De Bruyne – in early October. No one can say City don’t plan ahead.
Houghton believes that the progress of City’s women and their many England internationals will benefit Mark Sampson’s national team, and the club hope that the work they’re doing in youth football will do the same for England men.