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The year 2013 marks the 150th birthday of the Football Association (FA) – and the English women's game will have even more reason to celebrate.
Hot on the heels of the huge crowds that watched the women's football tournament at the Olympics last summer, the UEFA Women's Champions League final is coming to Stamford Bridge on 23 May. England will also travel to UEFA Women's EURO 2013 in July and at the end of the year the first eight-team UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship finals will also be hosted by the FA. Before all that, the third FA Women's Super League (WSL) season is about to start.
Matches in the FA WSL Cup get going this weekend, before the televised eight-team league kicks off on 14 April, with an expansion to a second division planned next year. Overseeing all this is the FA's director of the national game and women's football, Kelly Simmons.
"It's now the biggest female sport in this country, participation has grown phenomenally, a quarter of a million women and girls play the game every week," Simmons told UEFA.com. "You look at the England team, it never used to qualify for any tournament, and it has qualified for all the last few tournaments, got to the final of the last EUROs, and in the last two World Cups it's got to the quarter-finals.
"The Women's Super League is unrecognisable from the old level of women's football, both in its standards but also in its support off the pitch as well. We are seeing now that the Women's Super League has got regular broadcast coverage, it's got sponsors that are supporting the women's game; it has moved beyond recognition."
The UEFA Women's Champions League, where 2007 winners Arsenal LFC are hoping to compete in the London final, also helps that. "I think it shows where countries are in terms of their development of club level women's football," Simmons said. "It's no surprise that Germany and France have been in numerous finals ... it would be great if Arsenal could get there again, because it says that the Women's Super League is up there in terms of the strength of its top clubs.
"It helps raise standards, really, in women's club football right across Europe, because not only are you striving to be the best in your country, but you've got to compete on a European level."
Whoever makes it, that week in May will be another important moment in the English women's game, building on the success of the Olympics. "We've got a really exciting year again this year, following on from what was a really flagship moment, I think a really key moment in the game through having the Olympics here," Simmons said.
"We've got the women's Champions League final here, hopefully it would be great if Arsenal are in the final. That weekend we've also got the [FA] Women's Cup final, and then we'll break for the EUROs as well. So it's a fantastic time again to promote the women's game in this country."
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