What the Lionesses Win Means to Me
So, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now, the England women’s football team just won their very first international trophy yesterday.
I watched the match, of course – I spent most of it pacing around the living room, trying not to flip tables when something exciting happened. I’ve watched football my whole life, and it’s always been a point of bonding between me and a lot of the people I love – by chance, especially women – something to share, to watch together and catch up on life, to yell and cry and celebrate together.
I played football in high school, on a girl’s team that never got the support the boy’s team did. While boys in our high school talked excitedly about the possibility of getting scouted for local teams, of which there were a few decent options, and making a career out of their love for the game, there was a tacit understanding that none of us girls would be able to do the same. A career in football, for women, didn’t have a shape. The girl’s team at our school was only a few years old when I joined it, an afterthought to the men’s.
The men’s game was pockmarked with various instances of misogyny; in the fandom, the commentary, from the players and the managers, and the women’s game was consistently sidelined. The first time I saw the international England women’s team play in a major tournament, most of the players were taking time off from their other jobs, one even in the midst of her A-levels. Their games were played in smaller stadiums, their results limited to bottom-of-the-page comments in the back of the sports’ section. The women’s game, on a local scale and a national one, wasn’t even secondary to the men’s sport; it was tertiary, beyond an afterthought.
So let me tell you, when I heard that whistle blow and watched the team lift that trophy a few minutes later, it was a moment. Not just because I got to see an England women’s team win, but because of everything that came with it. It’s a path carved for women who want to make their careers in the sport – not just football, but others, too. Sarina Wiegman on the sidelines, well-earned respect from her exceptional coaching career, the women on the park, playing at this high level, playing exciting, genuinely brilliant football. Jill Scott getting her winner’s medal, sixteen years after she first started her international career, when the thought of an accolade like this gaining such public support and passion seemed impossible.
But not just on the park – around it, too. A whole packed stadium screaming with excitement, another few hundred thousand people watching. The “it’s coming home” banners around the stadium, a phrase I’d only ever really seen applied to the men’s international squad. The unarguable, undeniable, unfathomable importance of this team, these women, this moment – people cared. People really, really cared.
And to see people care like this, after spending most of my lifetime watching people not give a shit, it’s something so, so special to me. No, it doesn’t undo the mistreatment of women in the sport in the past, and, though it’s a big step forward, we need to act on this momentum to make sure we secure women in the game for good. But, for now, I am very, very happy about this win, and what it means, and what it will mean for future generations in the game.
(header image via Sky News)