In my younger years football wasn’t really something I felt a connection with. My small family had no favourite team when I was a kid, and locally there was no team that you heard a regular cheer about…Oxford United were never particularly big, sadly.
At school boys AND girls were interested in the beautiful game, with many following the biggest team in the country. At the time it was Manchester United or nothing. Eric Cantona was in his heyday and popular celebrity players like Ryan Giggs made the sport even more appealing.
I got the supporter scarves and had a couple of official shirts, but it was for popularity rather than love of the sport.
More recently I’m one of those horrible fans who only watches the big games – usually England and usually when they reach the latter stages of an important tournament. Real fans would probably refer to me as a ‘glory hunter’. How awful.
Saying that, I would actively encourage our daughter to take up any sport, regardless of its usual player gender, and that includes football. I’d be incredibly proud to watch her play a game, deftly weaving a ball around other bewildered players and hitting the net from a free kick 25 yards away. Obviously she’d be the best on the pitch 😉.
Despite not finding a true love for football, my love of sport in general has been huge for over a decade. When I made the decision to lose weight for the first time I did it mostly by improving my fitness…very slowly. After around 18 months I’d gone from struggling with one flight of stairs to running 10km in 44 minutes. Although those abilities are in my past now, I’m glad I found them when I was able.
As a result of my fitness exploits I now understand how important sport is, and the relationship it builds not only with our own well-being, but within community groups, schools, fans and friends. I met many wonderful people with a shared interest when I became a runner. The same happened when I started Triathlon as part of a relay team. It was fun, competitive, friendly and most importantly, healthy for mind and body.
So I guess you could say that when it comes to football…although I don’t have a specific team to cheer for or a legacy of one in my family…I genuinely get the love of the game. The joy of fans watching on in stadiums, pubs, community centres and at home is infectious, especially when you hear those cheers for your country.
Yesterday that’s what I heard, and for the first time football made me emotional.
Watching the game
I’d planned on watching the England Team play in the final yesterday, but I had no idea how wrapped up and emotionally involved I’d become.
A gripping 94 minutes unfolded. England and Germany fighting tooth and nail for possession, then England went 1-0 up…Wembley went wild at the thought of 56 years of hurt being erased and belief seeped into the veins of every England player and spectator. But England were playing their long-term rivals, and Germany don’t worry about conceding a goal. They see it as an opportunity rather than a loss. Within a few minutes it was back to a draw, and that hope we’d all felt earlier started to drain away. Germany would fight until the end, we all knew it. So now they had work to do…and work they did. But neither side could finish the job. At 94 minutes, extra time was declared.
For anyone that doesn’t know, England have a history of losing after extra time forces penalties. It’s not just the players that feel the pressure of those goals, it’s the fans too. We just don’t want to get that far.
So with a huge amount of worry in millions of bellies, extra time started and it seemed to fly. The England team took it in their stride, putting pressure on Germany for most of the 30 minutes. Ten minutes before the whistle blew, Kelly appeared from nowhere and Germany conceded again.
England were 2-1 up, and as the seconds ticked by the anticipation built.
The whistle blew, and they’d finally finished as victors. England had the win, the trophy and the respect they’ve deserved for so long.
It’s coming home.
Oh, did I mention the players were all female?
Yes, I find it incredibly easy to become an expert in a sport that I know nothing about when I’m this invested. Very quickly I know the rules, understand good skills, hate the opposition and shout ‘fucking ref!’ when I’m certain a decision was wrongly made.
I loved watching and being an armchair expert.
The glass ceiling
Lets talk seriously for a moment.
When they lifted that trophy I got genuinely emotional, needing a towel to mop up a few tears of joy I felt for those players.
But something unexpected happened to me. Something unthought of when I turned on the television and sat back in the hope of watching the girls succeed.
As a woman there was an audible shatter of a glass ceiling that’s existed over football and so many other sports in the past. This isn’t a mans world, nor a mans game, and as women we can apply ourselves to something previously dominated by men, and do a bloody great job at owning it.
Then I realised why that shattering is so important. It’s the next stage for us all, the next step toward a new level of equality. A level where women’s sports are revered and enjoyed just as much as men’s. And I got to see it shatter.
Many of the players still have ‘normal’ jobs, using their free time to train. Women’s football doesn’t give it’s players the money that mens football does. From what I understand they have to work even harder for equipment and kit too.
I really hope this win will make it easier for players in the future (that might include my own daughter) to play football on their own terms with the right pay, kit and grounds available to them.
So I’ll be playing a more active role in supporting the womens football teams both locally and nationally (even if it’s only from home), and I’ll be encouraging my daughter to do the same, hopeful that she’ll give the sport a go and not care about the gender of those she’s playing with.
Teaching her to cheer ‘Come on England’ was another highlight for me yesterday.
But we have a long way to go, with a national television presenter saying on air this morning…
“Womens football is so good you could almost be watching mens.”.
Those women, and so many others, are still being compared and downgraded as ‘second best’ to men.
The work of the England Team yesterday will certainly help change that narrative. It’s up to all of us to keep that change going.
You did it Lionesses. Now it’s time for us all to lift you up, so we can hear you roar.
A kawaii lioness was the only way to go.