Manchester United’s Millie Turner grins. “Man City was the club I grew up supporting,” she says. “But, coming to United, I’ve got a newfound respect for this club. I’m so grateful and honoured to be here and I wouldn’t want to be playing for anyone else.”

One cannot help but wonder just how deep her blue roots run. For her and her family the first Manchester derby of the Women’s Super League and full-time professional era will likely leave them at least a little conflicted. Not only is Turner going up against her childhood team, she will also be doing so at the 55,097‑seat Etihad Stadium, with Saturday’s WSL season opener the first of a host of games to be showcased on the men’s grounds.

City’s move to host their first league game of the season at the Etihad, Chelsea’s decision to play Tottenham at Stamford Bridge the following day and Tottenham and West Ham scheduling fixtures at the Tottenham Stadium and London Stadium respectively, signals a key change in approach from English clubs. Hoping to build on the Lionesses’ success at the World Cup, and taking the lead from Atlético Madrid and Juventus posting record domestic league attendances last season, City say the club are firmly on course for “a bumper crowd” for a women’s game in England.

The City left-back Demi Stokes describes it as “a massive boost” to be swapping the Academy Stadium for the men’s ground. “That is what we want,” she says. “We want it to become the norm and not to be a surprise. I think it will just be the start of getting more games in bigger stadiums.”

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Stokes knows what it is like to play in front of big crowds: the England international has experienced crowds ranging from a handful of fans in her Sunderland days to the big attendances that now come with Lionesses’ games.

“Playing in a packed stadium, it is hard to explain,” she says. “It is the best feeling to look up in the stand and see family and friends, it is surreal and such a nice moment. To be able to do that every week would be really good and I do think we will get there.”

Millie Turner: ‘Because the World Cup games were on telly, people got into it a lot more.’



Millie Turner: ‘Because the World Cup games were on telly, people got into it a lot more.’ Photograph: Manchester United/Man Utd via Getty Images

For the 23-year-old Turner, who helped United win promotion last season, difficulty hearing her teammates may be something new to contend with. “This is going to be an issue,” she says with a laugh. “But no, we know what to expect. We’ll be preparing for that. We’ve just got to make sure we shout a bit louder. We’ve already got a few foghorns in the team, so you could have a million people in the stadium and still hear them.”

Both players have noticed a change in attitudes towards women’s football in Manchester since the World Cup. “Yeah, I’ve definitely noticed a shift,” says Stokes. “We were gutted not to go all the way with the World Cup but I have spoken to people who say it is a bit bigger than winning and losing, and they’re so right.

“When I went home [after the World Cup], it is really funny because grown men are stopping us and saying: ‘The game was really good, I was with the lads and we went to the pub’. That is how the men’s World Cup was.”

Turner says: “Before the World Cup a lot of people thought of it as just women’s football and they always compared it to the men’s. But when they could watch women’s football more religiously, because the games were on telly, they got in to it a lot more. I find a lot of people enjoy it more than they thought they would once they actually watch it.”

Both teams have made changes this summer. City, having finished last season seven points behind the champions Arsenal, and having lost only a single game but drawn five, have added England’s leading World Cup scorer, Ellen White. This will help counteract the loss of Nikita Parris to Lyon and add “goals, more goals”, says Stokes with a grin. “Ellen just needs to touch the ball and it goes in, so I hope she does the same this year. No pressure, Ellen!”

White, who will have to wait for her competitive debut having been ruled out for a short spell by surgery on a knee injury, comes in to a defensively solid side that have strengthened with the addition of Aoife Mannion from Birmingham, but have missed having a poacher in the side. “She’s an out-and-out No 9 and that is what we want,” says Stokes. “We’re very good at building and I think people might say in the past that we create a lot and don’t score too many. I think Ellen will come in and provide that for us.”

United have recruited heavily to cope with life in the top tier, with Abby McManus crossing the city’s footballing divide and the Dutch Euro 2017 winner Jackie Groenen adding experience.

The derby sees the clubs reversing their noisy-neighbour roles, with City the more dominant force in women’s football. On Saturday at 3pm it will become clearer if Casey Stoney’s Red Devils are up for the challenge of toppling them. For Turner the draw felt fateful. “I actually called it, you know,” she says. “I predicted that we were going to have City. We’re just really excited about it. We’ll be ready for it.”

Saturday

Bristol City v Brighton & Hove Albion 3pm

Manchester City v Manchester United 3pm

Sunday

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur 12.30pm

Birmingham City v Everton 2pm

Liverpool v Reading 2pm

Arsenal v West Ham United 2.30pm



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