Paid-for tickets drew larger crowds to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium during the Women’s Super League (WSL) opening weekend than the free match at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea, Manchester City and Bristol City hosted their first league games of the season at the home of their men’s teams, as teams looked to build on the success of the summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in which England reached the semi-finals.

The Manchester derby at the 55,097-capacity stadium, which cost £7 for a ticket, welcomed a WSL record attendance of 31,213 to a game that saw City beat Manchester United 1-0.

Meanwhile, more than 15,000 that obtained a ticket for free for the London derby between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at the 41,000-capacity Stamford Bridge did not show up.

The 24,564 fans that did show up for the match broke the club’s match day record by more than five times.

For perspective, last season’s average attendance across the WSL was just 833.

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes told the BBC: “We have won a lot today in people’s consciousness. Women’s football will continue to grow and I’m so proud of this football club.

“It’s always been our men’s home and for us it’s about taking those opportunities. It is about sharing information and driving standards. Now I have to put everyone under pressure to do this more.”

The opening weekend also saw Bristol City, whose average home attendance at Stoke Gifford was 565 last season, managed to pull 3,041 to their season opener at Ashton Gate.

Spurs manager Karen Hills added, according to the Telegraph newspaper: “We spoke on the way down that 10 years ago, we were playing in front of five or six people. Now we’ve come all this way. Every single one of them deserved that opportunity to have that credibility, to walk out on that pitch. We’re here because we deserve to be here.”

Spurs, West Ham and Reading are all hosting games at their men’s stadiums before Christmas.

Image: Tuga M