Wednesday, 8 July 2015


“… the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.
The FA

A lot of people think football isn't for girls. Until now.
The FA

Both official English Football Association statements, ninety-four years apart. The former, minutes from the meeting which resulted in a ban against female football that would come to last for fifty years.

So that’s progress, right?

2015. The Lionesses have finished third place in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, securing the best finish of an English national football team since the men won a home-turf gold in 1966. As the team makes their way home, the FA greet the women with the following tweet:

A gentle reminded that whilst the times have changed these women still have to be, first and foremost, defined by these classic labels just in case there is too much confusion in just celebrating their achievements as football players.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We are all daughters, sons, and in some instances also mothers, fathers, partners, etc, and these are all badges to be cherished and worn with pride. But if it had been the men’s team returning home with bronze medals around their necks, would anyone have even thought to congratulate their sporting legacy by reminding them of their everyday roles?  

Comparatively, as the USA team won the gold, President Obama tweeted the following:

Heroes of the pitch they are, on many levels. So naturally, and in particular with consideration to England’s long history of football pride and obsession, they ought to have been a prime focus in the media coverage.

Surely a few front covers? News bulletins galore? Headlines? Pages of coverage, maybe a few posters too, as we can all guarantee would have happened if this was Brazil 2014. No?

Saturday’s match finished late, and understandably a lot of papers missed the printing deadline but put up bulletins online instead. Fair enough. Come Monday I found myself scouring the sports pages only to spot a blurb here, maybe almost half a page there (mostly filled by a picture and a minor write up) if lucky… Nothing particularly inspiring, not to mentioned that there wasn’t even a single mention of the fact that the US ladies team had won the World Cup. 

So what DID the Women’s World Cup look like in 2015?

  • This was the seventh world cup for women (the men are looking forward to their 21st).

  • The Lionesses performance is the second best by an English side EVER (beaten only by the 1966 men’s home gold).

  • The USA National Women’s Team won their third World Cup Gold (1991, 1999, 2015).

  • This is the first Women’s World Cup where all matches will be broadcast in the UK – either on the primary BBC channels or via the red button. They also took great care to ensure no one might be misled into accidentally tuning in when expecting the men’s team:


  • The 2015 Women’s World Cup Final had 20.3 MILLION VIEWERS in the US (Fox Sports) alone, who saw USA beat Japan 5-2.

  • In 1999 the Women’s World Cup final (USA v China) had 18 million viewers. The previous record.
  • This season’s men’s FA Cup winners will secure £1.8m in prize money. The women who lift the trophy will net £5,000.

  • The semi-final between the USA and Germany scored 8.4 million viewers in the US, making this the most watched FIFA World Cup Semi for either women or men on record in the country.

  • 9.3 million Japanese viewers tuned in to Fuji TV for the semifinal against England. That’s just below the 9.8 million that watched Japan win the trophy four years ago on the same channel.

  • 1.7 million watched the Lionesses in the same semi final match in England on BBC1.

  • 21,483 fans sat in the Stadium to watch England beat Germany in the fight for third place.

  • FOX Sports (USA) devoted 200 hours of programming to the Women’s World Cup, and the six USA matches averaged 5.3 million viewers.

  • The audience for the women’s World Cup was ca 38% female.

Money Talks

  • Wayne Rooney earns more in two weeks than the entire England ladies’ squad does in a year.
  • The 2015 Women’s World Cup winner receives $2M in cash from FIFA.
  • The German men’s team received $35M when they won the World Cup in Brazil, 2014.
  • Comparatively FIFA spent $24m on a feature film about itself called ‘United Passions’.
  • This was the only ever World Cup played on artificial turf, and the teams threatened FIFA with a lawsuit claiming the decision was gender based discrimination. FIFA claimed artificial grass is the (cheaper) future. No plans have yet, however, been put forward to replicate this with the men’s cup.
  • This season’s men’s FA Cup winners will secure £1.8m in prize money. The women who lift the trophy will net £5,000.

So what does the achievement by the Lionesses really mean, and what impact if any can we expect from the above?

I remember vividly following the 2003 World Cup where my native Sweden was to secure a silver finish (heartbreakingly, for myself, Germany beat them to the gold).

As the ladies returned I made my way to Stockholm’s central park with my girlfriends, finding a space in the crowd that seemed to contain the entire city’s population and cheering as the women made their way onstage, medals proudly on display.

There was nothing in that atmosphere that suggested their achievement was somehow less than if they had been male players. National pride kicked in and men, women, boys and girls alike sang and clapped and cheered. I’ll never forget that.

Equally I’ll never forget that time an audience member shouted out that we ‘ran like girls’ during a football match. Or the time a coach asked that we vacate our training pitch because the men’s team had to get some proper practice in. Or when someone gently suggested that it ‘isn’t really a girls sport’ and ‘how about volleyball?’

Never underestimate the power of what children grow up seeing and hearing. Give them equal role models, on equal playing fields, met by equal respect, and they will come to not only expect but demand the same treatment for themselves and their peers as adults.

That doesn’t just stop at equality between the sexes, but crosses boundaries across the board. 

However, show them the opposite and you shouldn't be surprised at what they grow up believing each other (in) capable of.  

Give a young boy the chance to cheer Toni Duggan as well as Steven Gerrard, and give a young girl the chance to wear both Suarez and Carli Lloyd’s jerseys with equal pride. No lame jokes. No suggestions. Just performance, passion, the game…

I remember the pride I felt at walking to practice in a Mia Hamm jersey, with a WUSA football under my arm. It matters. Seeing role models that you can identify with growing up makes a huge difference. I loved watching Real Madrid’s men’s team play. And I had posters of Hamm and Ljungberg on my walls as well. Seeing both sides putting on fantastic performances, actually seeing that on my TV screen, made me believe that if they could, if they were ‘allowed’, so could I. And so could any of my friends, boys or girls.

In the USA the audience got behind their girls, with increased viewing figures and vocal online support before each game. Celebrities, politicians, everyday sport fans, news anchors… Everyone was involved, and vocal. Men, women, boys and girls. Very few people seemed to care that they where female players – this was the chance at a US world cup win! End of story.

Some of the UK based male football stars got in on the action too, showing their refreshing support for the Lionesses.  

And what a show we were treated to. Football at its best. Passion, fighting spirit, team work, brilliant technique, strong hearts. It has nothing to do with your reproductive organs. It’s a sport for anyone and everyone who loves to play. End. Of. Story.

Progress is being made, but it's far from enough and nowhere near quick enough. The disappointment at the lack of exposure and headlines about the Lionesses fantastic achievement was disheartening, but equally seeing the slight increase in support visible online and through viewing figures... That shows there's both an audience and a bright future for the game.

Oh, and for the record. In 1921 the Dick Kerr’s Ladies Team played to a live audience of 53,000 at Everton’s Goodison park (with a further 10,000 stuck outside as they reportedly could not fit into the stadium).

In 2014 the average men’s Premier League match attendance figure was ca 32,000 and Everton’s highest recorded attendance throughout the 14/15 season was 39,000.

Imagine where the women’s game in England would have been without that 1921-71 ban that followed?



No comments:

Post a Comment