Ajax women celebrating winning the 17/18 title after beating FC Twente.
Ajax women celebrating winning the 17/18 title after beating FC Twente.

Women’s Football in The Netherlands, looking back to look ahead

Dutch Football Association catching up?

These are exciting times for Dutch women’s football: Ajax played against  Chelsea in the Johan Cruyff Arena in front of a record home attendance, plans for a new professional women-only club – HERA Amsterdam – were announced, and Jeanet van der Laan – former player in the Dutch national team and former MP – proclaimed her bid to become the first female president of the KNVB (the Dutch Football Association).

Additionally, the promotional weekend for women’s football, entitled WKND, in the Eredivisie led to record-breaking crowds and, finally, players in the women’s Eredivisie launched a protest against poor payment in their “professional” league.

Weighing wages

Dutch NOS reported that the highest standard of players in the Eredivisie Vrouwen are paid minimum wages for a 40-hour week. Many receive half of the highest bracket of earners and the majority obtain a form of expense allowance. The KNVB shrugged its shoulders at these differences, arguing that the clubs in the Eredivisie are responsible for payments. 

A century throwback

Profits in women’s football were apparent well before 1900. British Businesswoman and feminist Nettie Honeyball toured the British Isles with her British Ladies Football Association and played dozens of fixtures encouraging the attendance of thousands of spectators. This ended when the FA decided to ban clubs that accommodated matches played by women. Conservative Holland banned women’s football before it even began.

When Nettie Honeyball was invited by Sparta Rotterdam in 1896, the Dutch Football Association (KNVB) panicked and immediately ruled out any initiative in this direction. Women’s football was condemned to the fringes of sport in the Netherlands for about a century. This conservative streak in the KNVB was evident in its extremely slow acceptance of a professional league for men as well. Later compared to other continental associations, the KNVB finally allowed Women’s football to join their national association. .

Where we are now

The current Azerion Women’s Eredivisie is in its ninth season and again the KNVB is lagging other associations. The most recent FIFA Benchmark Report tells that players in the Netherlands are far less frequently paid conforming wages than in other leagues. The US, Spain, Germany and England are further ahead, and Mexico, Morocco and Australia offer professional women footballers better working conditions. Just as in 1896 and 1954, there is momentum of spirit and determination to grow the women’s game. 

The solution?

One way forward can be seen in professional cycling. The UCI has gradually increased its requirements on payment for professional women cycling-teams. This policy could inspire Dutch professional football. The eventful last month has pointed out that it is no longer imaginable for clubs to abolish their women’s team, as AZ Alkmaar did in 2011. The women of this club returned to their home-ground last weekend, in front of a crowd of 4000. That’s promising for now, but it is likely that the AFAS-stadium will be packed in three years time!

Thinking points

Educators working with young people on the issue of gender equality and history could tap into the fast moving developments in Women’s football in their society, and try and take a historical perspective, also working with questions such as:

  • How have football governing bodies obstructed or supported the development of the Women’s game?
  • Which factors are important to determine a fair wage for women’s football and in general?
  • What roles do other stakeholders in football, such as sport media, education, and clubs, plan for the future?

Find out more

You can study the timeline of Dutch women’s football provided by the Dutch Institute on gender equality and women’s history Atria. Dutch professional football player Tessel Middag did her history thesis on the history of women’s football in The Netherlands as well, entitled ‘voetbalschoenen op heur verlanglijstje’ (footballshoes on her wishlist). You can also read more (in Dutch) into the news around the demand for better wages on the NOS.

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Ajax women celebrating winning the 17/18 title after beating FC Twente.
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