This weekend sees the start of the Women’s Football World Cup. A tournament that will be overlooked by many and sneered at by others, but those who dismiss women’s football are missing out on a key component of the beautiful game. There will be some fantastic ability on show and some great games.
I have been following the game closer than most, but by no means avidly, since 2005 when Sandie and I went to a European Championship match between England and Finland at what was then known as the City of Manchester Stadium. At that point, the women’s game in Britain was in reasonably good shape and has gone from strength to strength since. When I was a youngster, Southampton, affiliated to the men’s team in those days, were one of the top teams but it was a world away from today’s Super League. They played on the same recreation ground that I did.
It wasn’t always like that though, and the status that the women’s game enjoys today is still some way short of it’s peak. That point is usually considered to be Boxing Day 1920 when a 53,000 crowd watched Dick, Kerr Ladies against St Helens Ladies at Goodison Park. Sadly, that proved too much for the FA who promptly banned women’s matches being played at league grounds on the basis that “football is quite unsuitable for females”, a ban that lasted 50 years and did untold damage to the game in England.
The winners of the World Cup this summer would doubtless find it hard going against the Germany team that triumphed in Brazil last year, but then so did Brazil….
The FA ban came from an attitude towards women’s sport – and indeed women in general – that was pervasive for many decades, and still exists among many. Perhaps more significant today is the snobbery that sees women’s football as somehow an inferior sport. It also applies to lower leagues and football from other nations such as Scotland, and is a view based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what sport is.
It is competition and the physical and tactical battle that is the fascination of football for me. The winners of the World Cup this summer would doubtless find it hard going against the Germany team that triumphed in Brazil last year, but then so did Brazil. Sports people and teams can only compete at the level they are at. Brora Rangers won their league, just as Chelsea were champions of theirs. The nation that triumphs in Vancouver will have won the World Cup and the unconvinced cannot change that. Those who write off women’s football as second rate probably haven’t seen much of it. They don’t have to watch it and they don’t have to enjoy, but nor should they belittle it.
My hope is that people do watch and enjoy this World Cup and that women’s football in this country – so far behind some others – can continue the development I have seen over the last ten years.