My earliest memory of playing football was as a 7-year-old. The school bell would ring for break, and as the other girls would group together to play games, I was racing to the cloakroom to change into shorts, ready to be picked for the playground match of the day with the boys. For me this was the norm, and I was never made to feel like a girl playing football.

Things started to change as I grew older and the challenges of being a girl in football were realized. I was no longer allowed to play for the local boys’ team and was forced to play girls only football. At the time it wasn’t something I was too happy about, as women’s football back then wasn’t anything like it is now. But still I carried on.

The ups and downs of early women’s football

I joined Manchester United Girl’s Academy, before progressing to Senior women’s football, eventually representing Manchester City. I continued to play throughout my studies in the US and upon returning to the UK, I had the perfect start to the early stages of a football career. But still, becoming a professional woman footballer wasn’t even something I dreamt about. How could you aspire to be something that didn’t exist? I didn’t know any women players who were considered professional.

I soon realised that as a player, there simply weren’t the opportunities or financial support for football to be something I did full time. But I wanted to ensure my future remained rooted in sports and that in some small way I’d be contributing to the growth and development of women’s football.

Woman performs knee-ups with a football on a football pitch.
Professional women’s football is on the rise.

The growth of women’s football

“Women’s football has become the largest growing sport in the world”
Francesca Sullivan, Women’s Football Players Global Coordinator

Since my time as a player, women’s football has grown in both prominence and maturity. In fact, women’s football has become the largest growing sport in the world, with viewing figures and attendances consistently growing from tournament to tournament. In recent seasons, we have witnessed record-breaking match attendances, game-changing broadcast and sponsorship deals, and more leagues announcing the professionalism of women’s football across Europe.

This increased popularity in the game is recognized in the participation, with 29 million girls and women participating worldwide, according to FIFA. In fact, FIFA’s ambition is to double this to 60 million by 2026. This commitment from football’s global governing body shows there is still huge investment to come for women’s football and this growth isn’t stopping soon!

Joining adidas and paying back into women’s football

In 2014 my adidas journey began. My favourite boots were the F50, I idolized David Beckham and I was mesmerized by Zidane, so joining the brand that I’d carried through my football journey was the perfect start to my professional career, giving me the opportunity to work in an area I truly love.

Woman dribbles ball between orange cones on a football pitch.
adidas is combining its strategic priorities of football and women to support the incredible growth the women’s game is seeing.
“Over the years, adidas has steadily increased its focus on women in sport.”
Francesca Sullivan, Women’s Football Players Global Coordinator

With our continued brand focus on football and the ever-growing interest in women’s football, it was clear to me that we were going to go big in this arena. But if you’re going to make something happen, you need to have the people onboard to do it.

To ensure we achieve our targets, a coordinated global approach as to how the brand is represented across women’s football – both on and off the field of play is critical and I’m happy to be a part of that.

Now, as Women’s Football Players – Global Coordinator, I can bring my passion into my professional role. I’m responsible for the strategy and coordination of recruitment, management, and activation of adidas contracted female football players.

How adidas is supporting the rise of women’s football

Our commitment to women in sport and our push for equity is clear. But for adidas to be considered the best sports brand in the world, it is essential we are not only present, but pushing to lead the largest growth area within sports at the moment. Between now and summer 2025, women’s football will take the stage at a major tournament every year (Women’s Euro 2022, Women’s World Cup 2023, Olympics 2024 and Women’s Euro 2025). For us at adidas, it’s important that we develop a clear strategy to ensure our brand is at the forefront.

Women were at the forefront of this year’s Predator Edge campaign.

In line with the growth of women’s football, we will continue to invest into key partnerships and establish a portfolio of world class players, clubs and federations. We will continually work to provide a platform to celebrate our women partners as the key faces of the modern game.

Most notably, the recent launch of Predator Edge brilliantly encompasses the direction and commitment we have to supporting and recognizing this new era of football. This new model of adidas’ most iconic boot was launched with adidas contracted women players at the forefront of the campaign. This is the first time we’ve ever done so, and it kicked off the year with a bold statement, underlining our commitment to women’s football.

Our presence at the Women’s Euro 2022

The major milestone in the women’s football calendar for 2022 is fast approaching, with the Women’s UEFA European Championship kicking off in England on July 6. The tournament will feature 16 teams and will be played across nine different cities, ensuring maximum visibility and opportunity for fans across the country to access games.

Following the pandemic, we’ve been eagerly awaiting this moment for the women’s game. In light of the recent developments in women’s football across Europe, this summer’s tournament is expected to hit new heights, with ticket sales records smashed and a sell-out Wembley final, with all tickets sold in under an hour!

The German national team in the lead up to the Women’s EURO 2022. 
Michy-Batshuayi
The German and Belgian men’s teams showed their support for the movement by wearing the women’s kit at the 2022 Nations League.
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While adidas is the official tournament sponsor, we will also show up on pitch with five adidas sponsored federations: Sweden – the highest ranked team in the tournament – together with other top contenders Spain, Germany, Belgium and Northern Ireland. That’s not to mention the individual players we’ve partnered up with.

Looking to the future

The development of the women’s game is there for all to see, and I’m proud to have witnessed the opportunities for female players grow from strength to strength, with new possibilities still becoming reality. It is now possible for young girls to look up to female athletes and dream of becoming a professional football player.

I’m also extremely proud adidas has a part to play in re-writing the story for the next generation of aspiring young women footballers. We’re committed to supporting the women’s game as it goes from strength to strength, and we will continue to push boundaries, challenge the status quo, and provide opportunities to help inspire the next generation of women football players.

CAN PLAYING FOOTBALL BE A POSITIVE FORCE FOR CHANGE IN THE WORLD?

adidas thinks it can.

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by Gonzalo Calvo 07.07.2022
Amazing to see adidas pushing female football and to have women passionate about it leading the charge on behalf of the stripes. Keep it up Francesca, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done, but it only takes one spark to light a fire!
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by Rachel 19.07.2022
Thanks for the great read Francesca. I think you have hit on an important point when you talked about lack of representation for young girls to look up to role models many years ago. I think we are at a tipping point in the women's game where young girls can find their role models and see a path forward. It has been built on many years and many generations beforehand and I'm excited to see the future, and especially looking forward to see how adidas can challenge ourselves to not only support women's football but be innovators in this sphere as a brand and how we embrace women's football overall.
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