Ashworth took on responsibility for the club’s women and girls programme during the close season, and admits the growing interest in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League hasn’t surprised him, but the speed of the growth has.
The former FA supremo oversaw the nation’s women’s and girls’ teams in his position as technical director, a spell which included a bronze medal at the 2015 World Cup.
Asked if the recent surge in popularity and people watching women’s football was something he envisaged when he oversaw the England set up, Ashworth explained, “In some ways yes and in some ways no.
“Our nation has a thirst and hunger for football, when you look down the pyramid in the National League, as well as the sixth tier, the crowds which those clubs are getting are incredible.
“That thirst and hunger for football is amazing — it’s something our foreign counterparts would comment on all the time. So in that way, I’m not surprised at all that so many people want to watch our women’s teams or tune in and watch live football on the television, or however they take their content.
“However, the speed at which it’s gone, I have been surprised — but that is testament to the players, clubs and everyone involved and the quality of football they are producing. We’ve already seen a higher total attendance in the first few weeks of the WSL season than the whole of last season.
“Partly because we’ve had some games like Manchester City v Manchester United, Tottenham v Arsenal attracting really big crowds — and our own game at the Amex against Birmingham City. But Phil Neville’s Lionesses and their exploits in the World Cup has generated that passion and enthusiasm, and long may it continue.
“The more people that get involved, and the more people watch the teams, the better it is for the game in general — and we want to reflect that here at the Albion, and I think we are.”
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As part of his role as technical director, Ashworth is plotting how Albion can play a major part in the future of women’s football from grassroots through to the top level, and he has been impressed by what he’s seen so far from Hope Powell’s side in the WSL this season.
“It’s been good to work with Hope again, I worked with her briefly with England and it’s been good to get to know the women’s set up better since the start of the season.
“We had a very good run of three games [against Arsenal, Barnet and Birmingham City]. Hope and I speak regularly and those performances have been very encouraging.
“The aim now is to get a foothold in the top division, being a new club and new women’s programme compared to some of the teams in that division.
“We aim to do that by maximising our resources, trying to recruit cleverly, coach well and get the results to keep us in the division.
“It comes back to the club’s long-term vision, which is to make us a top four women’s team. It will take time, effort and investment to do that, but we’re on the right lines to do it.”