September 12 - Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe has called on the Football Association to introduce a professional women's Premier League in England "as quickly as possible".

England women's team reached the final of the European Championships in Helsinki, going down 6-2 to Germany in the Olympic Stadium on Thursday.

It was England's best performance at the Championships for a quarter of a century and Sutcliffe is keen to capitalise on the team's success.

Sutcliffe said: "I think the women did tremendously well for the first time in 25 years to get to the final, particularly after losing the first game [to Italy] in the group stage.

"It sends out a strong message about the success of women's football and that's why I want to see a women's Premier League in the UK as quickly as possible.

"Girls football is the fastest growing and these girls need to have role models.

"The England team are providing role models, but it's unfortunate that our top players have to play in America rather than being able to play in an elite league in England."

The likes of Kelly Smith, Alex Scott, Alex Carney and Eniola Aluko (pictured) ply their trade in Women's Professional Soccer in the United States, the former two for the Boston Breakers, Carney for the Chicago Red Stars and Aluko for the St Louis Athletics.

The national league system in women's football in England is the FA Women's Premier League, which is split into two levels: at the top level is the FA Women's Premier League National Division, with relegation to two equal leagues below this: the FA Women's Premier League Northern Division and the FA Women's Premier League Southern Division.

Many of the top teams in the League operate under the umbrella of top clubs but are mostly amateur.

Asked if there was a time-frame for introducing a professional league in England, Sutcliffe said: "I've said to the FA I want them to do it as quickly as they can."

Women's football has been played in England for more than a century but has only recently started to become really popular.

In the period from early in the First World War until the Football Association's ban on women playing football on the grounds of its affiliates in 1922 - which lasted for 40 years - women's football was very popular and a true rival to the men's game.

One match featuring the Dick, Kerr's Ladies team from Preston, played at Goodison Park, Liverpool on Boxing Day 1920, attracted a crowd of 53,000 with up to another 15,000 reportedly turned away because the ground was full.