Just over 50 years ago, women were banned from playing football in this country – and England’s Euros win will help break down more barriers…
REWIND the clock a hundred years, and women’s football was thriving.
A crowd of 53,000 descended on Goodison Park to watch a famous factory team from Preston take on St Helens, an attendance record that would remain for 93 years.
An occasion of joy and celebration quickly had the opposite effect, as it was this game that triggered panic among the FA and political establishment, and subsequently one year on, a vote to ban women’s football was successful. “Council felt impelled to express the strong opinion that the game is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged,” read the statement at the time.
Some 51 years later, the ban was eventually lifted, but its impact on women’s football undoubtedly remains to this day. One of my vivid school memories is looking across a field and seeing a group of boys playing football, while I was stuck attempting to hit a ball with a rounders bat and failing. To be honest, I’m sure if I asked I’d have been allowed to play, but the thought never crossed my mind. I simply didn’t feel welcome.
Just 44 per cent of secondary schools in England offer girls equal access to football in PE lessons, a drastic drop off from primary school where participation is widely encouraged. It’s difficult to pin down the exact reasons why this might be the case. Some are tangible: a lack of investment at grassroots level, an absence of teams for the girls to join outside of school. Some are intangible: a feeling that they don’t belong, an idea that it’s not a game for girls.
One thing that can no longer be argued, though, is that a lack of role models exist. Whether you choose to follow international football or not, you can’t have missed the news that a peak audience of more than 17 million people tuned in to watch England’s win over Germany in the EURO 2022 final.
These role models in the form of Lucy Bronze, Sarina Wiegman and Leah Williamson to name a few are all the more inspiring because of the challenges they will inevitably have faced to get to this point. They will have had to fight to earn respect from their peers, played in boys teams growing up, and struggled financially with the costs of going pro as a female footballer. The playing fields are simply not the same.
Chloe Kelly deserved her moment celebrating scoring the winning goal. As she ran around Wembley in her sports bra, she represented everything that football should be about: freedom, excitement, elation, celebration. The beauty of the game is universal.
The many that came before them helped to pave the way and make that moment possible. In truth, they all deserve a winners medal, too. But now, it’s time to look forward. Millions of young girls and boys across the country will feel inspired to get out and play football, so let’s encourage them to do so. No barriers should exist.
The rise and rise of women’s football coincides with the return of Liverpool Women to the Women’s Super League. They can’t afford to sit still, and have begun to bring in new signings and tie down key players. Captain Niamh Fahey signed a new contract this week, Dutch winger and hugely popular player Shanice van de Sanden is returning to the Reds, and a second season with manager Matt Beard is guaranteed.
Now, the task is to keep them there. They’ll need all of our support to give them the best chance of doing so. The derby is being played at Anfield on the 25th September, so get yourself a ticket. Give just one WSL game a go, and if (or when) you enjoy it, take a friend with you to the next one.
“We changed society,” said the manager in her press conference. We can all play our part in making sure it stays that way.
And to those that say people don’t care about women’s football: the most-watched TV event of the year says otherwise.
“The way the @LiverpoolFCW team celebrated in front of us was just phenomenal… there’s a real connection between the players and the supporters. A really special moment…”— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) July 28, 2022
🎥 My Favourite Game
1️⃣ Download our App
2️⃣ Get FREE tokens