Do not compare us to men's England team - Rachel Yankey

By Nigel AdderleyBBC Sport

England star Rachel Yankey is urging new fans of the team not to compare the women's style of play with what they are used to in the men's game.

Interest in the team has increased since they qualified for the World Cup and Yankey hopes the wider fan base will watch matches with an open mind.

"The men's game is so massive here people often compare what we do against them," Yankey, 31, told BBC Sport.

"Football is one sport but we play it in different ways."

The Arsenal midfielder added: "I grew up playing against boys but you get to a certain age where I wasn't as physically quick or strong so you can't really compare it as the same game.

"Once people appreciate the differences and the national team does well, the women's game will become bigger."

Yankey has been a key figure in the development of the women's game since making her international debut as a 17 year-old back in 1997. She has now won more than 100 caps and was awarded an MBE in 2006 for services to football. Yankey has also won numerous domestic honours with Arsenal.

The left-winger combines her playing career with coaching youngsters and has noticed the higher profile she and her team-mates have received.

"When I go into schools, children are starting to take notice and people who take an interest in women's football are really starting to look up to players like myself and others in the England squad," she added.

"I remember when I was a kid I couldn't name anyone and didn't even know England had a women's team. Now young kids are starting to learn more about it."

While Yankey provides the experience in the England squad alongside players such as striker Kelly Smith and captain Faye White, there are five members who are playing in their first World Cup.

But Yankey, who missed out on the 2009 European Championship when she was surprisingly dropped, has some simple advice for the younger players.

"You have to enjoy playing - it would be a shame to walk away from the World Cup thinking 'I didn't enjoy it due to the pressure'," added Yankey.

"We've closed the gap on a lot of teams. People are now taking us seriously because of the results we've had in recent months."