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LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 25, 2022: Both teams line up before the FA Women’s Super League match between Liverpool FC Women and Everton FC Women, the Women's Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by Jessica Hornby/Propaganda)

Liverpool Women’s record Anfield night – but was there a missed opportunity?

Liverpool Women made a return to Anfield after nearly three years, playing in front of a record crowd in their derby defeat, but there was a sense an opportunity was missed to surpass the 30,000 figure.

“Come [watch], because the product is fantastic on the pitch, the players will run through a brick wall for the badge.”

Those were the words Liverpool manager Matt Beard spoke to This Is Anfield on the eve of the new season, which sees the Reds back in their rightful place in the Women’s Super League.

The Merseyside derby, then, at Anfield.

Another chance to showcase women’s football presented itself on Sunday evening, with a record 27,574 in attendance for the first women’s fixture at the ground since 2019, which had a crowd of 23,500.

The stadium was made up of mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, friends, families, and the ever-presents who follow the women’s team around the country each and every week.

The ground was abuzz, there was anticipation and expectation with every forward foray from Liverpool, a cacophony of sounds from all four corners of the ground as the Reds flirted with finding the net.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 25, 2022: Everton's Megan Finnigan (2R) celebrates scoring the first goal with team-mates during the FA Women’s Super League match between Liverpool FC Women and Everton FC Women, the Women's Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by Jessica Hornby/Propaganda)

And yet you sensed there was still an opportunity missed beyond the scoreboard that read 3-0 in Everton‘s favour.

Ticket sales were cut off two days before the match, with access prohibited by sales taking place alongside online queues for the men’s games and tedious boxes to tick to complete the transaction.

And advertising to a wider audience was limited and the late kick-off time of 6.45pm, thanks to Sky Sports, will have certainly been offputting for those with young children on a school night.

Not to mention the legends match the previous afternoon at Anfield will have forced fans to make a choice during an otherwise free weekend thanks to the international break.

It’s not to be overly critical, but there is a market to be tapped into, one that is ready to answer the call should the right steps be made at each juncture.

It’s a fine balance of learning to walk before you run, as Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, who has been instrumental in the growth of the game, noted after a record Prenton Park crowd witnessed the Reds’ win over the reigning champions last week.

“It’s marvellous that there’s 3,000 here but I think we need to fill this stadium first. Sometimes we all get unbelievably ambitious, which is wonderful,” Hayes said.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 25, 2022: Jill Scott taking photos with fans during the FA Women’s Super League match between Liverpool FC Women and Everton FC Women, the Women's Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by Jessica Hornby/Propaganda)

“But fill this place and then we can talk about it, or at least get half-full here every week, not one week, for us to talk about the builds beyond our home stadiums.”

Sunday, though, showed what is possible with the right investment, marketing and strategy, but more than 30,000 was achievable after the waves made by Liverpool last season and the success of England in the Euros.

Women’s football in England is embarking on an exciting new era and one day the discussion of crowds in the tens of thousands at league matches will be commonplace, but there are still a number of significant steps yet to make.

Liverpool can be at the forefront if they so choose, and their new training ground, promised for 2023, is both long overdue and representative of the growth still needed.

The club has previously been criticised for placing the women’s side on the back burner but if they need any further reason to invest they need only look at the faces that made up the record crowd on Sunday.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 25, 2022: Liverpool supporters during the FA Women’s Super League match between Liverpool FC Women and Everton FC Women, the Women's Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by Jessica Hornby/Propaganda)

Many were experiencing an Anfield matchday for the first time, new heroes and dreams emerged and I know witnessing such a moment in my childhood would have been transformative.

There is a pathway and every player and fan of the game deserves more moments like Sunday at Anfield, perhaps with more goals for the women in red next time around, though!

Liverpool could’ve made different choices on this occasion but are slowly heading in the right direction, as too the WSL with more than 89,000 fans watching the competition in stadiums across the country this weekend alone, as abovementioned one day it will be commonplace.

We’re not quite there yet but the sooner women’s games are handled as a fixture of the footballing calendar rather than a showpiece during breaks from the men’s games the better – and that extends to coverage and access.

As Beard told TIA: “The product is there, the players are getting fitter and stronger every year.”

So while it may not have been a winning performance for Liverpool Women in the derby, the fixture showcased what is possible and what needs changing to continue to propel the women’s game on Merseyside and beyond.