Changing the Game – How football came home for me this summer

My first memories of football were on the concrete pitch at my primary school in central London, playing with another girl in our Velcro school pumps. Even at that age we felt condemned, as our choice of pants over skirts for lunchtime play at the school gate was considered controversial. When it came to game time, I can still remember the amazement on the faces of my male classmates when one of us or Chloe – far more nimble on the ball than me – managed to score and the thrill of all proving this guys wrong.

Although I’ve always loved football, the pitch didn’t always feel like a place I grew up on. Nothing beats the thrill of watching my team play. But even for me as a young woman, the macho stadiums never really felt comfortable. Until now. Whatever the outcome of tonight’s game – England’s Lionesses meet Sweden in the semi-finals of Euro 2022 – the nation can keep their heads high at the friendly atmosphere being created in packed stadiums across the country.

play catch up

If the boys underestimated us on the playground, it’s no surprise that they did. Ever since 1921, when the Football Association’s Advisory Committee was successful, women have sought to catch up on their visibility and fight for inclusion in football forbidden women soccer based on the assumption that it was a threat to women’s health. As ‘quite unsuitable‘ Medical ‘experts’ claimed football can affect women’s ability to have children.

The impact this ban had on attitudes towards women in sport was felt for decades. 2020, YouGov found that nearly one in five men (18%) were still opposed to equal coverage of women’s sport. Luckily, they should be in the minority as interest increased among men, with 24% more interested in watching women play. In football, documentaries such as Alex Scott on the BBC this week have highlighted the enduring prejudice against British players who must be taken seriously and strikingly the online abuse they face. The whocares hashtag is still trending when a young woman’s miracle kick goes viral.

Given the online trolls, that’s encouraging see brands and companies The audience potential in women’s football, however, awakened the although the Women’s Super League in Great Britain, is one of the first to offer professional contracts to all players, but still needs investment to be profitable. Brands aren’t afraid to address the troubling in-game abuse, as campaigns such as B. is becoming increasingly popular EE’s Hope United Encouraging viewers to take a stand against sexism together – ‘Sexist hatred is not their problem’ during this Euros. Similarly, the Lionesses were supported by other players on the England men’s team That’s what Georgia Stanway is said to have said – ‘[they have] Just [been] support us, encourage us all the way and say they are coming to the next game. We are definitely a united nation.”

A new spirit of inclusion

I finally felt that unity and belonging – as I sat in my seat last week to watch England’s 8-0 win over Norway. Surrounded by a welcoming crowd of 28,281 it was packed with young girls and boys and excited women all of us awaiting with anticipation for the gates to begin. A combination of affordable tickets that are within easy reach of stadiums like Brighton’s has been a winning strategy for the FA to demonstrate the appeal of women’s football and a national team we can all stand behind. “It’s Coming Home” chants echoed around the stadium long after the final whistle.

This Sunday’s sold-out Wembley final will break attendance records. TV viewership for tonight’s game is likely to do the same, as the more inclusive crowd of England fans – of all ages and genders – clearly appeals to a new audience and is the standout success of this tournament. It sets a new meaning for inclusive English by supporting Lionesses.

The elephant in the room for England’s elite game when it comes to inclusion is the ethnic diversity of its players, which is still low – there are only 3 black women in the England squad at this tournament. Access to training and sports grounds in more economically and socially diverse areas is seen as a key factor in the lack of progress on these fronts. What was good to see in the game with my own eyes was that whoever was cheering for the lioness in the crowd didn’t seem discouraged. But there has to be more done To improve opportunities for the next generation of young girls, England cannot give up and must enlist the help of great organizations such as Football beyond the borders.

In contrast, the all-encompassing nature of women’s teams at grassroots level mirrors the atmosphere seen in stadiums. That made me want to get back on the field and watch on the sidelines. I got myself a copy Break 2019 Find Goaldiggers FC – a non-profit club founded in London to make football more accessible and accessible to all women and non-binary people, regardless of previous experience or ability. The team’s well-loved ethos of picking players based on availability rather than ability means their 200+ teams and queues are full – while recognizing more can be done to include specific groups – they have priority spots for People of Colour, non-binary people, trans women, gamers over 40.

I’m now part of an ever-growing inclusive community of football fans who are proud to support this England team and with whom I’ll eagerly watch tonight’s game – 100+ women in a bar, left to right and gender stereotypes smashed in the middle! Of course, the best way for the Lionesses to address the sexist trolls online and speak up for the many women and girls who have been underrated on and off the pitch is to win tonight and reach the finals of the tournament and repeat the success of the England men’s team last year.

But whatever the outcome of today’s game, rest assured that women’s football is here to stay. That’s worth cheering about. Now the inclusive message of women’s football must continue to grow and men’s football should never again underestimate its appeal.

Lucy Buckerfield, Events and Engagement Manager at British Future

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