“It’s coming home, it’s coming home”
Just over 10 years ago, I sat, starry-eyed and briming with pride and sheer joy, as the Opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics took place. On Sunday evening, I did the same thing, watching the Lionesses – in current parlance – bring football home.
It was inspirational and amazing and wonderful to see. 101 years ago the FA banned women from playing football on their property and at their grounds because they were afraid that too much money would be diverted away from the men’s game. Oh sure, it was dressed up as being ‘physically unsuitable as a sport for females”, but it was down to money, it always is, if you look hard enough.
Sunday’s game wasn’t perfect, but what game, played at that level ever is? There was some argy-bargy – you didn’t need to be an accomplished lip-reader to get exactly what Jill Scott was shouting at Sydney Lohmann – some lucky breaks and Chloe Kelly’s goal might not have looked out of place in a school playing field scrap. But isn’t part of success in sport being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to make the most of those lucky chances? I could watch the video clip of the Lionesses gate-crashing Sarina Wiegman’s press conference all day and that Beckham-like goal of Ella Toone’s was a thing of beauty.
Sunday saw, not only a record crowd for a Euros game – of any gender – at Wembley, but the Duke of Cambridge – the man who will be King – getting really quite huggy with the team, who were hot, sweaty and probably a bit whiffy by then. I did feel a bit sorry for the swimmer James Wilby though, whose achievement in besting his team-mate, the phenomenal Adam Peaty, in the Commonwealth Games 100m breaststroke that night, was a little over-shadowed.
Football’s not the only sport that women have been making their own, of course. We have Commonwealth, Olympic, Word and European medals and of all hues in hundreds of sports. We’ve won two Women’s Rugby World Cups and the Six Nations 18 times. Yet football is in the national psyche in a way that other sports aren’t. By winning on Sunday, and playing so well in the run-up to it, the Lionesses have ensured that women’s football has planted itself on the world stage and isn’t moving. This is not the start of something great, it’s the continuation of years and years of commitment, dedication, training, sacrifice and hard work, going right back to those early women’s teams, banned for just being women. As Gabby Logan said: “You think it’s all over? It’s only just begun.”
Sport, as the wonderful sports psychologist Michael Caulfield always says, is the most important of the unimportant things. It has the power to uplift, inspire, devastate and disappoint, all at the same time.
It also has the power to distract from other, more depressing things, even for a little while. In October, we will need the memory of Sunday to keep us warm when the price cap and energy bills rocket again. By then we will also have a new Prime Minister and Conservative Party Leader. The two candidates seem to be playing a game of Policy Soundbite Bingo, plucking ideas out of thin air and then discarding them quicker than a goal-scoring forward can rip their top off.
Southgate and team, the gauntlet has been laid down. What happens in Qatar is up to you.
We are Lionesses, hear us ROAR!!!