I’ve loved football for as long as I can remember but there’s something about this World Cup making it extra special. It’s seeing fellow females competing in the sport at the highest level and given priority in broadcast schedules. It’s as simple as that – but long overdue.
The games have been of a superb standard and seen by more people than ever before, with a record for the match between England v Norway of 7.6 million viewers. It was even shown on big screens at Glastonbury Festival, thanks to this tweet from forward, Georgia Stanway:
Women’s football is nothing new. One of the first teams in association football were Preston’s Dick, Kerr Ladies, that was founded in 1917 and in existence for more than 48 years. However, a ban in 1921 by the Football Association prevented the women’s game being played at its members grounds.
Retrospectively, players from that pioneering era are now starting to be given the recognition they deserve; a statue of Dick, Kerr player Lily Parr was unveiled in May at Manchester’s National Football Museum. The first female player to be honoured with a statue anywhere in the country.
Trailblazing in those footsteps have been many, but arguably at a time when there was less attention on the women’s game. The England team of 2019 are currently in the spotlight and manager Phil Neville told BBC Sport about the legacy his team want to create:
“We had a camp last year and we set out the objectives for the next 12 months… all I wanted them to say was ‘win the World Cup’.
“But they were thinking bigger than winning a World Cup, which knocked me in my stride a little bit.
“We want the Lionesses to have a name that people around the world can relate to… badass women. That was our mantra.”
Now games have been broadcast on BBC One, rather than tucked away on another channel or shown via the Red Button, it subtly helps to normalise the women’s game and makes it available to as many people as possible.
The consequence of this should not be underplayed: inspiration. Young people watching may want to follow in the Lionesses ‘ footsteps and become footballers themselves. It also shows young girls quite clearly that you can do this too. In 2019 Britain, gender shouldn’t be a barrier for anyone who wants to pursue their dreams.
There’s still more to do in this respect. The previous team England played was Norway, in that country there’s parity of pay for players of the women’s and men’s game. For equality to be achieved between both genders then pay must play a part.
It’s also quite acceptable for women’s teams to be managed by men but not vice versa. However, as seen by the calibre of play in this World Cup, I could see members of this England team: Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Ellen White et al managing a male team in years to come.
That would be fantastic. I hope that if / when it happens the overriding view of society sees it that way too. I grew up with boys telling me I knew nothing about football – just because I was a girl. How wrong they were! I trust those archaic sexist attitudes, particularly in school playgrounds, are starting to change for the better. What England are doing, as well as having broadcasters on board for this World Cup, is surely helping.
I didn’t think I could love football more but seeing the Lionesses in action, smashing stereotypes along the way, I couldn’t be prouder to support their campaign both on and off the pitch.
The next step is to face tournament favourites USA in the semi-final. Come on England!