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Women's Clásico breaks world attendance record

The final of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, contested by the US and China at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, set an impressive attendance record for women’s football: 90,185. Soccer, as it’s called across the pond, was surging in popularity in US society at that point. For Americans, it was a longed-for tradition of the old continent their forebears had left behind. It particularly caught on in expensive schools, more as a sport people played than as entertainment. And it caught on among girls, at a time when in Spain a girl who liked football was still viewed with unease. That explains the huge attendance at that final, won by the US on penalties.

That record had endured, surviving the growth of women’s football in Europe, where the most-watched Champions League final remains the 2012 showpiece, between Lyon and Frankfurt, which drew a crowd of 50,212. Until recently, no-one would have thought the record would be broken in Spain. But the persistent drive of a group of pioneers slowly but surely made its mark, like a fine rain. Women’s teams have been established at our biggest clubs, who, engaging in a welcome bit of competition with each other, have sought to promote the cause by opening up their stadiums on special occasions, in record bids: 48,121 at San Mamés, 60,739 at the Wanda Metropolitano, and now 91,553 at the Camp Nou

The sceptics may say that the tickets were cheap or even given away, that it’s a consequence of oneupmanship between cities and stadiums, and that in this case the ideal conditions had come together: a Champions League Clásico, with Barcelona the reigning champions; Alexia Putellas and her Ballon d’Or; family-friendly scheduling… Of course, women’s football remains far off the men’s game, but it’s even further from the beginnings I saw in the 60s, when people in Spain would say fútbol feminino was neither football nor feminine. Now it has the institutional and social support it deserves. This record will resonate throughout the world today, and reflects well on us as a country.