I surprised myself at how thoroughly immersed and excited I was watching the Lionesses steam into the final and then onto victory in Euro 2022.
Anyone that knows me, knows that when it comes to football (men’s), I’m an ardent Italy supporter. In fact, so much so, I can’t care less about the England men’s team. However, watching England women play was truly inspiring and I was blown away by their attitude and performance. It was a delight to watch the final with my three daughters.
In the past, I’ve found England women’s football lacking in pace and – dare I say it – skill. This probably accounts for why (shamefully) I didn’t watch the Lionesses’ early games in this competition. However, I’ve been converted. The lack of flair I’d historically witnessed was almost certainly due to chronic underfunding of girls and women’s’ football across the board; something which creates a vicious circle. I’ve no doubt that the natural ability and commitment has always been there.
The Female Players of the Past
The history of women’s football stretches back further than many would imagine with female clubs established as far back as the 1880s. However, in the absence of a league, all games were played for charity.
On Boxing Day 1920, 53,000 football fans packed into Goodison Park (the same ground that today has has an all-seated capacity of 39,414) to watch a match between Dick, Kerr Ladies and St Helens Ladies. It seems that women’s football was pretty highly regarded during that era.
Crushingly though, the next year the Football Association banned women’s football from its clubs’ grounds deeming it ‘unsuitable for females’. This ban remained for almost 50 years. It was probably the catalyst for the denigration of women’s football.
The Lionesses at Euro 2022 – the Legacy
Alongside the actual win itself, there is even more to celebrate. This was the tournament where women’s football was much more visible and taken far more seriously by the media and pundits/commentators. Ian Wright displayed such passion for the team and demanded change as a lasting legacy of the historic win. He called for an injection of cash at both grassroots and league level and said girls need the same footballing opportunities as boys at school.
“Whatever happens in the final now, if girls are not allowed to play football in their PE, just like the boys can, what are we doing?”Ian Wright
As a mother of girls, that’s music to my ears.
The tournament has paved the way for normalising women’s football and bringing it mainstream. This is reflected in the record-breaking crowd at the final where 87,192 crammed into Wembley. Euro 2022 has already been a catalyst for girls and women wanting to take up the sport. The i reported that grassroots clubs are already snowed with requests to join.
The team has inspired and empowered women and girls. My youngest daughters commented that they’re often made to feel inferior to boys when it comes to football and this has put them off playing. Now they say they’ll feel far more confident to play alongside. All of my daughters were absolutely jubilant at the victory and understood both its sporting and social significance.
Football is for everyone. Let’s hope that after the headlines subside we’ll still remember that.