Chelsea Football Club is considered to be one of England's pillars of the national “religion” of football (or soccer as it is known in much of the world).
But even in a country where everyone wants to inhale the scent of the stadium’s grass, women's football is pushed to the corner – and it’s not a football corner.
This past summer all of this has changed: The England national women's football team qualified for the semi-finals of the FIFA Women's World Cup earlier this summer and eventually took fourth place. Chelsea's women's football team also enjoyed a good momentum and interest in the team has grown.
This week, football fans in Israel will get a chance to appreciate Chelsea's achievements, when the women's football team plays a friendly match on Tuesday against the Israeli Women's National Team, as part of a joint project between Chelsea FC and the Israeli Football Association. The game will be held at 19:30 Tuesday at HaMoshava Stadium in Petah Tikva.
During the trip to Israel, the Chelsea Foundation - the club's charitable arm - will be working with a number of charities promoting women’s sports and girls’ football in particular.
"We are delighted to be taking the team to Israel this summer to play the Women’s national team. As well as a challenging part of our pre-season, this match will help raise the profile of women’s football," Chelsea Chairman Bruce Buck said.
"Our commitment to women’s football is driven by our owner, Mr. Roman Abramovich, who is passionate about supporting the team and promoting the sport. We hope that our visit to Israel will not only be a special moment for our Israeli fans and our players, but also help to grow the game in the country.
"Earlier this year, the men’s team played a charity game in Boston, raising $4 million for the fight against anti-Semitism. Our women’s team have also been heavily involved in our campaign, meeting Holocaust survivor Susan Pollock and marking Holocaust Remembrance Day through the #WeRemember campaign.
"In addition, the Women have been involved in season-long support for our global charity partner Plan International and have been strong advocates of Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign. This match in Israel is another step in Chelsea’s commitment to using the power of football for good causes around the world."
IFA General Secretary Rotem Kamer added: ‘The arrival of Chelsea Women for a friendly match in Israel is an excellent opportunity to place the focus on female football, certainly when such a leading team pays a visit.
"Israel’s national women’s team has begun the preparations for the European Championship 2021 qualifiers and the match against Chelsea will allow us to prepare for top rivals such as Italy (August 29) and Denmark (September 3).
"The contribution of Chelsea, led by owner Roman Abramovich, to the fight against anti-Semitism and the promotion of equality and tolerance is well known and we see the match as a combined effort in achieving important social goals. The audience attending the game is expected to have a unique professional experience and a good opportunity to make a clear statement in favor of women's football."
On the road to equality
For one star of the Chelsea Women's team, the game has received a massive boost in England since the national squad came fourth in the World Cup.
"Following the World Cup games, with all the attention from the media and fans, support of women's football has grown tremendously", says Anita Asante, 34, the team's veteran defender, in a special interview.
Even after her long career, she says that the interest in women's football since last summer is unprecedented.
"All of a sudden young girls and women discover football and we feel the interest also from the viewers that arrive to the stadiums in larger numbers than ever before.
"One of the largest banks in England decided to sponsor the broadcasting rights, so that they will be screened all over the world, similar to the men's games. I see a huge improvement in the quality of women's football and also in the budgets allocated to it.
"There are better female and male coaches nowadays in comparison to the past and the investment is starting to yield fruit. There is greater interest in the media and the coverage is advancing the industry. We have a great training facility at Chelsea."
What do you think should be done to push the Israeli women's team forward?
"It is very important that there will be role models. The interest level needs to be increased. When football games are being broadcast on TV, that also contributes on the financial side. Today not only are the qualities of women's football recognised, but people also understand that women's and men’s football is not comparable.
"The comparison is irrelevant, it is the understanding that a similar level of investment is required for both. I assume that in a couple of years’ time, women's football will become equal to men's football in investment and infrastructure, and will become more popular."
Emma Hayes, 43, has been the manager of the team since 2012, and has led the team to achievements.
"In a traditional way most of our crowd is female, but since the World Cup we are seeing more men on our field," she says.
Chelsea Women train at the Cobham training center, the same center as the men's.
"In the era of integration, these should not be separate entities. It is precisely the grouping of men and female under the same club that creates power and influence," says Hayes.
"We are going through a process very similar to the men's team in terms of approach, the training facility, food and medical services. The men's team also has female fans and the women's team also has male fans, so that our strength as a collective is greater. You can see that also in our part in Chelsea's global campaign against anti-Semitism."
The initiative for Chelsea's campaign against anti-Semitism has been the owner's, Russia-Israeli businessman Roman Abramovich.
It was launched a year and a half ago and has since gained much momentum. The upcoming showcase game with the Israeli National team is part of Chelsea's global campaign.
"I think that the increase in popularity in women's football also increases the tolerance in general and decreases phenomena including anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and chauvinism. As a leading club, we want to influence and help in creating a healthier society."
How has the MeToo movement helped on the women's football field?
"In 2019 it is obvious that we don't have to accept intolerant, sexist or misogynous behaviour. MeToo is part of the healthy development of society and sport, and women have greater confidence today to stand up for themselves."
Preparations for the next season are underway and Chelsea's match against the Israeli National Team forms a part of that.
Throughout their visit in Israel, Chelsea Women will also take part in different activities with organizations for women and girls.
The tickets to the match playing the Israeli National team are offered to the public for free.
"We are excited to visit Israel and influence the interest in women's games. I hope Chelsea fans will also come to the match. Do you have a lot of those?"
Free tickets for the match are available here