International Women's Day: Q&A with England and Arsenal legend Rachel Yankey

Rachel Yankey on Footy Pups
Ex-England and Arsenal ladies winger Rachel Yankey helps put the fun back into kids’ football on CBeebies show Footy Pups

Former Arsenal and England winger Rachel Yankey believes that women's football attendances and participation would be on par with the men's game if it had not effectively been banned by the Football Association for 50 years.

The women's game attracted crowds of more than 50,000 before the FA move in 1921.

To celebrate International Women's Day, the 37-year-old took part in a Q&A session in her role as BBC Sport's guest editor.

She discussed topics such as Manchester United's lack of a senior women's team and England's hopes for Euro 2017, along with the CBeebies show Footy Pups, which Yankey hosts in a bid to help encourage a new generation of sports stars.

BBC presenters Clare Balding, Gabby Logan and Jess Creighton were among those to fire questions at the former winger.

Rachel Yankey Q&A

What would women's football look like now if the FA had not banned it and what improvements would she like to see? (Clare Balding)

Wow, what a fantastic question! It's a tricky one to answer. No one really knows but I'd like to think the attendances and participation levels would be on a par with the men's game.

And to the follow up question, I would love to see the standard of play improve to make the game more attractive as a spectator sport. And of course the amount of coverage within the media could always be better.

Can England women win the 2019 World Cup? (Gabby Logan)

The Euros this year will be a massive challenge for the team but with two more years of experience, who knows what can happen. Hopefully with talent like [forward] Georgia Stanway from Manchester City coming through, the team will have a bright future!

What can England take away from their 1-0 defeat by Germany in the SheBelieves Cup? (Jess Creighton)

I don't think it's a bad result at all. I think if you take a look at where England are in preparation, obviously our league hasn't started yet. The French and German teams are in season so our players are naturally not as match fit as everyone else. Losing 1-0 to Germany… in years gone by I've been on the side losing by many more goals than one.

The real test now is in the Euros. It's a chance for [manager] Mark Sampson and the squad to gel as a team and for him to look at his players and make a difficult selection for the Euros.

The difficult thing now is the expectation and the players have to take that on their shoulders. That's the hard thing to handle and it's more than just going out on the field and playing. Why not dream big? We saw that with [Premier League champions] Leicester.

England women
The Lionesses finished third in the 2015 Women's World Cup, higher than any other European team

What do you think about a club like Manchester United which does not have a senior women's team? (Martinez Anibiko Koosa)

I imagine as a football club run as a business that somebody didn't see having a women's team as a financial business idea. Hopefully things will change because Manchester United are a huge club in world football.

If they were to get on board and have a women's first team that would really show a massive turnaround because they had one many years ago. The fact they have a pretty good youth department shows they are keen to progress young players.

How do we encourage more girls to play football from a young age? (Andrew Aspinall)

I am often asked this question, which is why I got involved with the Cbeebies show Footy Pups! On there, I coach a group of children as young as five or six to play football and encourage being active and healthy.

I think it's really important that both boys and girls see a female coach so it doesn't give the impression that football is just a boys game!

My two boys love watching you on CBeebies. Thank you for helping show them women are just as good as men. (Amanda Lombard)

Footy Pups has done really well. We've done two seasons and there are about 60 episodes out there. It's been brilliant. The idea came to me and as soon as I heard what they wanted to do I got involved.

Football is so much more than just kicking a ball. There are so many life skills and we can teach our kids from a really young age that anyone can play football.

Rachel Yankey on Footy Pups
In each episode of Footy Pups, a group of children learn a new skill from Rachel, then follow the pups on an animated adventure where they put their skills to practise

What are your thoughts on more women being board members at the FA? (Mark Lygo)

It's positive. Boards need to be diverse and have more women on the board. There's 10 members. If three of them are women, who are the other seven? It can't be the same people who were there previously.

The whole thing needs to change and we need to look at getting more women involved and more ethnic minorities and different age groups. Football is a sport that goes out to everybody and covers so many different people. We all love the game so why not let it be represented by the people!

Should football be a mixed game and will it ever be? (Adam Jonathon Asa Scholes)

Do I want to see senior football as a mixed game? No. I just think the way we're built and made up, it's like having the fastest woman in the world against the fastest man in the world. The guy is going to win. They should play together and develop at a young age when the physical attributes are pretty much the same.

It depends on what you want to see. If you're going to watch a women's game to see high-tempo physical game you're not going to get that. You need to look at it and be open-minded in what the game is. It is still high-speed and physical but at the tempo of the women's game.

Opinion on future (hopefully) female managers managing male senior football teams? (Aaron Case)

Each individual will have different aspirations. I think outside influences will make it extremely difficult for a female to manage a male team. We've seen how the media and fans are looking at [Arsenal manager] Arsene Wenger and [former Leicester boss] Claudio Ranieri.

Imagine if that manager was a woman. People still sadly have the perception that it's a men's game and women don't understand football. People who pass the qualifications and get the right badges should be looked at.

Managing is managing people and managing players, you don't have to be a man to do that. If you've passed those courses you know your stuff anyway.

Chairmen and boards need to be open-minded and if that's the route they want to go down and they find a coach who is the best fit for their club and happens to be a woman, then go for it. But can I see it happening at this moment in time? No, not in England.

Steph Houghton Rachel Yankey
Yankey, right, played for Arsenal ladies between 1996–2000 and 2005–2016

Comment on Arsenal's Champions League performance against Bayern Munich. (Zax Wander Hood)

I was on a train up to Manchester so I didn't see the game. I am an Arsenal fan and obviously you never want to see your team lose so I'm disappointed in that.

I think for me it is the bigger picture and we are all looking at Arsene Wenger and pointing the finger there, but as a player you have to look at the players and now I really want the players to stand up.

At the end of the season everyone will look at this season and decide what they want to do moving forward. At this moment in time the players need to stand up, especially with a massive game on Saturday [against Lincoln in the FA Cup].

A chance to get through to the FA Cup semis. The team needs to stick together and the players really need to show what they've got.

Do you think Arsenal Ladies could dominate English football again soon or are Chelsea and Man City too strong? (James Wyatt)

Obviously I'd love to see that happen but I don't think any one team will solely dominate in the way that Arsenal did.

My question for the legend: What law change or adaptation to the game do you think we need in the 21st century? (Kate Vogelsang)

Thanks for the legend comment! It would be difficult to pin down one thing but with the amount of stick referees get these days, something to help them make accurate and fair decisions would always help.

I have actually refereed grassroots football and it is extremely difficult. The pressure from the sidelines was overwhelming and unnecessary so anything to help out the officials would be brilliant. But then I guess fans lose their debate in the pub!

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