There are encouraging signs that tonight’s Uefa Women’s Champions League game between Hibernian Ladies and Bayern Munich at Easter Road could be watched by a sizeable crowd as well as being televised live.
Despite a surge in playing numbers and growing public awareness, the sport struggles to attract spectators in what has always been a male-dominated environment. The Scotland national team often plays in front of less than 1,500 fans despite having qualified for Euro 2017.
Part of the problem is that Scottish men’s clubs have not put their weight behind their women’s teams as they are now doing in England – and have been for years in countries like Germany.
In that regard, Hibs’ decision to make Easter Road available for tonight’s last 32 first-leg tie has to be applauded as a step in the right direction. The club reported that some 1,000 tickets had been sold throughout yesterday, and with admission available on the gate tonight it will be interesting to see how Hibs fans respond to what is, after all, the first-ever Champions League game at the ground.
Their women’s team, who normally play at Albyn Park in Broxburn, will need all the support that can be mustered against a Bayern side which, on paper at least, holds all the aces. Nevertheless, Hibs head coach Chris Roberts promised that his squad of largely young players will not be overawed.
“The target is to be as competitive as possible,” he said. “For me the German league is the strongest in the world. At the last international break Bayern had 17 or 18 players away playing for nine different countries.
“Our girls work full time or are at university but they try to train full time around it. The average week for a player is five morning sessions and three evening ones.
“They’re going to get the chance to play against full-time professionals – some of the best players in the world including Olympic, European and world champions. It will be great for them to see where they are, and we are as a club, in relation to that.
“We know it is going to be extremely tough but it’s not just about containing. We want to play realistically and try to get something from the game.”
The two clubs are at very different stages of their seasons, with Hibs having just three SWPL1 games left and Bayern only four games into their traditional European winter campaign. That might present a glimmer of hope for Hibs, because Bayern, whose fortunes are on the ascendancy under coach Thomas Worle, found themselves dumped out of the competition at the same stage last season by Dutch side FC Twente – despite not losing either leg.
“We had many years without playing in the Champions League, whereas Twente had a lot of experience of playing in the last 32,” said Worle. “We were a bit unlucky to go out because we played well.
“We have had to wait for almost a year to play on this stage again. This is a game we’re excited about.”
Among the multi-national Bayern squad is Scotland’s Lisa Evans, who admitted she had never been inside Easter Road, even as a spectator, before last night’s training session at the ground.
She is now well into her fourth year in Germany, having joined Turbine Potsdam from Glasgow City before switching to Bayern last summer. “Scottish football is definitely growing, as you can see in the fact we’ve now qualified for the Euros for the first time ever,” she pointed out, “but the league in Scotland hasn’t got the same week-in, week-out competition for Hibs and Glasgow City.”
Such is the strength of Bayern’s squad that even Evans is not guaranteed a start. One of their key players is midfielder Melanie Behringer, who retired from international football after helping Germany win Olympic gold in Rio.