On Women’s Month, dreams come true

MADRID—The ovation when the world-record crowd was announced at the Camp Nou Stadium was just as loud as when Barcelona had scored its goals.

Everyone in attendance knew they were part of something special: Never before had so many people watched a women’s soccer match.

Wednesday’s record crowd of 91,553 at the Champions League game between Barcelona and Real Madrid was being celebrated by women’s soccer everywhere, seen as a demonstration of how far the sport has come and bringing hope about how far it can go.

“Dreams DO come true,” Nadine Kessler, UEFA’s chief of women’s soccer and a former player, wrote on Twitter. “History made & world record set. Proud to see it all come together, proud of our game. A night to be remembered.”

The previous record for any women’s game was 90,185 for the 1999 World Cup final between the United States and China at the Rose Bowl. At the 2012 Olympic final in London, 80,203 people saw the US defeat Japan, 2-1, to win the gold medal.

“Let’s keep it growing,” said the Twitter account of the United States’ women’s national team while comparing the crowds at the Camp Nou and the Rose Bowl.

US stars Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan were among the Americans celebrating the world record on social media.

“A crowd fitting for the team on the pitch! You LOVE to see it,” Rapinoe wrote on Twitter.

A stadium-wide mosaic featured the words “More than Empowerment” on the grandstands of the Camp Nou in a show of support for women’s battle for a more equal society.

“This evening, the reason why it’s incredible, (is because) I used to watch (Lionel) Messi or Dani Alves (play here),” former England player Alex Scott told DAZN Football from the Camp Nou. “Now every young girl is dreaming of playing at this stadium, of playing in a Champions League game, and it’s possible because they are witnessing it.”

The previous club record was 60,739 in a match between Atlético Madrid and Barcelona at Atlético’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in 2019. The previous women’s Champions League record was 50,212 for a game between Lyon and Frankfurt in Munich in 2012.

Juventus set an Italy record in its first women’s game at the Allianz Stadium in 2019 with 39,027 people on hand, and recently English women’s teams have also been playing at their clubs’ main stadiums, including at Manchester United’s Old Trafford.

“Just looking at it, I couldn’t believe there were 91,000 people there for a women’s game,” former England player Karen Carney told Sky Sports News. “I was a bit emotional looking back at it. For a long, long time in women’s football we’ve been after this. … It was amazing. The sport is in a great place and it’s only going to continue to grow.”

Barcelona is one of the hottest teams in women’s soccer and won Wednesday’s match 5-2 to advance to the Champions League semifinals. Madrid was one of the few top clubs in Europe still without a women’s team until a couple of seasons ago. Now nearly every major club on the continent has one, though even the professional women’s leagues lag far behind their men’s counterparts when it comes to generating revenue.

It was the first time Barcelona’s women’s team played a match at the Camp Nou in front of fans. It had played at the stadium before but behind closed doors because of restrictions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. The team usually plays at the much smaller Johan Cruyff Stadium, which holds about 6,000 fans. The Camp Nou has a 99,000-capacity.

The match sold out quickly after free tickets for club members were snapped up two months in advance. The cheapest tickets for non-members were priced up to 15 euros ($16).

Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas scored one of the goals for Barcelona and made headlines after the game for putting the Barcelona-Madrid rivalry aside and taking a photo with Madrid fans who were at the Camp Nou.

“I don’t have the words to describe it,” Putellas said about the game and the world record. “It was super magical.”

The record came ahead of the 2022 women’s European Championship, which will be played in England this summer.

“What a moment for our sport,” said Chelsea player Bethany England.

Image credits: AP