I’ve been writing this column for five years now. I have witnessed many landmark tournaments and turning points, and heard the word “legacy” numerous times.
Every year there is a new record audience, a new attendance record, participation is growing and more and more people can nominate more female athletes than ever before.
So let’s go back to last Sunday.
Imagine England football fans have been yearning for a major football title for over six decades. It’s a women’s team that got them over the line.
For context, this women’s team wasn’t even formed when England last won a major tournament, the World Cup in 1966. When England last won a major soccer trophy as a nation, women couldn’t even play soccer, they were banned.
Now, just a year after the men lost a European final on home soil, a women’s side have had to make their way through a tournament and win a major trophy for England after years of struggling for the men.
In fact, this women’s team won at the same spot where the men lost. This is a nation where anyone other than a straight white male will encounter difficulties on their path to a football career.
This is a nation where hooliganism is rampant and football is associated with rowdy crowds of men (we’ll never forget you, butt-flaring dude). Girls always have to fight for their place here, whether as a player or a fan. I’m far from being an English fan. In fact, my Irish feminism tells me to be happy for women but sad that they are English women.
In addition, well over 17 million people watched the final of the European Championship on German television, 64.8 percent of the total viewers. Most importantly, viewership for the 14- to 49-year-old demographic was 71 percent. According to so many football officials, a section of the population that is no longer interested in football.
Of course, this European Championship has reminded us how amazing women’s football can be, but also how decades of prejudice, misogyny and a lack of recognition of women have slowed the development of one of the most exciting elite sports of our generation.
There are so many incredibly annoying arguments associated with women’s football. Despite the Euros going on, I’ve heard over and over again that women’s football doesn’t attract as many spectators or make as much money as men’s football, so they don’t deserve the limelight or the same pay.
This has been proven wrong on so many occasions. After the First World War, women’s football was most popular in England. In fact, on December 26, 1920, more than 50,000 people came to see the women’s game at Goodison Park, along with another 12,000 queuing outside.
At that time it was used to collect money for returning soldiers. But the FA saw this as a threat, and less than a year later the FA banned women’s football for over 50 years. So you could say that it was the men’s side of football that held back the growth of women’s football.
Then I hear that the women’s game is of lesser quality than the men’s; Therefore, it does not earn any interest or investment. I have no idea what the definition of a beautiful game is. I will not deny that men are faster and stronger.
But there’s plenty of research showing that women resort more to the tactical side, keeping the ball in play much longer, making time for more sophisticated attacks and committing fewer physical fouls (although the final minutes of the European finals said otherwise). .
So what are we doing now for the future? It’s critical to acknowledge the game we have right now, market it, support it, and stop talking about legacy for now.
Unfortunately, discussions about growth and legacy don’t attract new people. People just want to see a sport and the competition and now they know it’s a great competition with some incredible talent.
The biggest factor in the biggest game in all of Europe was the fact that over 90,000 people watched, got involved, got frustrated with the referee, whistled and freaked out every time something happened.
The exact same theories and principles can be applied to all games. Lure in the fans that are there now, let fans be fans, and focus on selling the product that is now in front of us. Ensure a consistent matchday experience, from round one to the final.
We can discuss the future and all that later, but what matters is now. Go to the games now, boo, jeer, whistle and cheer. Dive into the rivalries, build an emotional connection and everything will grow organically. The future is now.
Read more from Joanne O’Riordan