Chelsea manager Emma Hayes believes women’s football in England would benefit from elements of the ‘Ultra’ culture her side thrillingly defied in Paris to reach the Champions League semi-finals.
Maren Mjelde’s dramatic last-minute goal saw Chelsea edge through with a 3-2 aggregate win after hosts Paris St Germain – roared on by a crowd approaching five figures – had outclassed the visitors and wiped out a two-goal first-leg deficit.
One week ago the discovery of drugs and weapons aboard a minibus of PSG fans bound for the first leg in London had raised fears of crowd trouble in the second leg in the French capital.
But Hayes relished the atmosphere and another notable attendance for the women’s game on the continent, in stark contrast to the United Kingdom where the Blues’ first leg attracted fewer than 3,000 people to the home of non-league Kingstonian.
Hayes said: “I think in England we’ve put in place a lot of the right infrastructure and the next step is now how we market the game to get bigger audiences.
“I’m very traditional about it – I think having the right presence in the local community is what matters. Hopefully with the win tonight and some success in the summer at the World Cup we can build on it again.
“That’s got to be the next big goal of the FA because the sport has reached a level where it warrants a crowd.”
Positioned on the halfway line, PSG’s vocal element sang and beat drums throughout, repeatedly igniting red flares as goals from Kadidiatou Diani and Shuani Wang – the latter after an horrendous error by Chelsea keeper Ann-Katrin Berger – pulled them level on aggregate.
With the decibel levels increasing, the PSG fans unfurled a series of banners – one read ‘Treated Like Criminals’, appearing to allude to their treatment in London last week, after which they had received the official backing of their club.
There was no hint of trouble before or during the game and the 50 or so Chelsea fans who had made the journey – and had little to shout about until Mjelde’s intervention – were housed in their own section well away from the ‘Ultras’.
The defender admitted the atmosphere had been “challenging” but reiterated Hayes’ hopes that a similarly febrile environment might one day develop on big nights in the British game.
Mjelde said: “I’ve played in front of a bigger crowd but never one as noisy as this one. PSG has amazing supporters – so do we, but not as many.
“It’s a good experience and hopefully it’s going to develop in England also. I’m just happy to see the popularity getting bigger across the whole of Europe.”
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