It’s fair to say that Manchester United were late to the party when it came to women’s football.
They disbanded their women’s team in 2005 after the Glazers took over and weren’t reformed until 2018.
Meanwhile, Manchester City had consistently been in business since 1988. They officially got off the ground in 2012 and were contentiously awarded a place in the top flight in 2014 at the expense of Doncaster Belles – five years before United joined the top flight.
During that time, a number of Manchester United fans were keen to support the women’s game and had no other local option than to follow their arch rivals.
Arno Ricketts, 29, from Manchester was a season ticket holder at City prior to 2018. He said: “It was good quality football. It was in the summer at that time as well, so there were no clashes with the men.”
Despite watching the team at what was called The Academy stadium back then, Ricketts never owned a City shirt or scarf.
“My nephew got given a City shirt as he walked on the pitch with Lucy Bronze once but that’s as far as it goes!”
Ricketts fondly recalls watching United men at Old Trafford: “I grew up as a United fan, went to my first game when I was 12 or 13 against Middlesborough, we won 4-1. Nani, Tevez and Ronaldo scored.”
At the time, affordable ticketing was a draw as the WSL began to grow.
Fiona Lynch, 30, from Bolton, is now an active committee member at Manchester United Women’s Supporters Club. She recalls bagging cheap tickets and seeing some of the biggest stars of the game.
She said: “Their stadium was easy to get to, and if I was free and they were playing a big club, I would get a cheap ticket. It was an easy way to see some of the big names like Alex Scott and Karen Bardsley.”
For both Lynch and Ricketts, when United announced their reformation, it was a no-brainer to switch allegiance back to United.
Ricketts said: “It was a very easy decision to switch back. I felt no connection towards City, it was just a team I was watching, so as soon as United announced a team the first thing I did was buy an Alex Greenwood shirt.”
He continued: “I know there were some people who found the switch difficult but that wasn’t the case for me.”
Lynch had a similar feeling: “As soon as Manchester United announced a women’s team, I knew I needed to get a season ticket. I am Manchester United so get behind any and all of their teams.”
Last week saw City host United for the second Manchester derby of the season in the Conti Cup, and Ricketts says the feelings he experienced on derby day proved to him he is well and truly over his days following City.
“I still feel the rivalry on derby day, I hate them. When Keira Walsh used to get sent off for them against United a few years ago, it was one of the greatest things I’ve seen on TV. There was no passion for City, I didn’t cheer their goals when I used to watch them but I did enjoy the football.”
Despite being five years behind their neighbours, United’s average attendance in the WSL is now much higher than City’s.
In the 2022/23 season, United’s average attendance was 10,174 compared to City’s 7,195, across 11 home matches.
United will host Brighton at Leigh Sports Village at the weekend while City host Leicester in the WSL.