Roger Alton

The rise and rise of women’s sport

The rise and rise of women’s sport
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You might have missed this but something very big is happening in women’s sport. The sheer numbers watching are sensational: the crowds might have been papered, but who cares? At Madison Square Garden, 19,000 watched Katie Taylor of Ireland just have the edge on Amanda Serrano in a brutal ten-round title fight. At the same time Newcastle United women’s football team attracted more than 22,000 to see their first appearance at St James’ Park – for a fourth-tier match against Alnwick.

In France, more than 42,000 saw Lyon put PSG out of the Champions League, where they will now meet Barcelona in the final in Turin. A world women’s football record of 91,000-plus at the Camp Nou had already seen the Spanish side hammer Wolfsburg in their semi-final. The women’s European Championship final in July has sold out Wembley, with or without England. And England women won the Six Nations rugby at a packed stadium in Bayonne. Breathless stuff…

Katie Taylor’s achievement is phenomenal. Early in her career she pretended to be a boy so she was allowed to box, and she has battled through the gangster-ridden corruption of the fight game in Ireland to get to the top of the world. Pro boxing in Ireland has been effectively a no-go area since the fatal gangland shooting at a weigh-in in Dublin in 2016, involving the Kinahan cartel, well known to followers of Tyson Fury’s career. Taylor’s father and former coach, Peter, was himself hit in the arm when a gunman started shooting at his gym in Bray. Eddie Hearn said Katie Taylor’s bout against Serrano was ‘a fight for the ages’: well, he was promoting it, so fair enough. And if her success encourages more women and girls to take up boxing, then all strength to her well-muscled arms.

It was only a paltry £300,000 but it might have been one of the most significant transfer deals of the January window when Wimbledon striker Ollie Palmer agreed to join Wrexham of the fifth-tier National League for a vast pay increase.

The Welsh club, owned by two Hollywood bros, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, are splashing the cash and are currently locked in a tasty battle with Stockport for promotion to League Two. Both sides are regularly pulling in gates of about 10,000. They meet on Sunday at the Racecourse Ground and it’s on TV too. Meanwhile, Wimbledon have been relegated from League One and could meet Palmer’s new team next season. The new home for aspirant clubs is clearly now the National League.

It’s that time of year when the yo-yo clubs take their regular bow, with Norwich and Fulham passing each other again in opposite directions. Naysayers are predicting a quick return to the Championship for Fulham, but hey, what does a club with a swimming pool and a gym in its new super grandstand care about promotion and relegation?

They love Rob Key at Kent and the top brass there rhapsodise about England’s new cricket boss for his imaginative and instinctive captaincy and meticulous and astute preparation. He’s going to need all that and more when Test cricket bowls up again in June. There are plenty of young hopefuls scoring big runs on the county circuit, notably Ollie Pope, Ben Compton (of that ilk) and Harry Brook of Yorkshire, who’s averaging around 170 or something equally ridiculous. It’s hard to see Key and Ben Stokes getting too attached to Valium merchants like Dom Sibley or Alex Lees, who spend all morning getting to 23 and then perish soon after lunch. One hopes he is searching for the new Marcus Trescothick, not the new Chris Tavare. Or is that just wishful thinking?

Written byRoger Alton

Roger Alton is a former editor of the Observer and the Independent. He writes the Spectator Sport column.

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