I’ve loved football for as long as I can remember. It was something my dad drilled into me from the moment I was born and although over the years it has brought a lot of heartaches, I’m so glad that he did. Tonight really does feel like the start of a new era, an era I’m excited to be part of from the sidelines. Because like so many other women, I wasn’t given a chance to experience it in any other way.
My experience of football
When trying to excite my sister this afternoon, a memory suddenly flooded back from when I was ten years old. I spent every break and lunchtime playing football in the playground with the boys at school. We used the painted-on netball court as guidelines and kicked around a tennis ball. To this day I still remember the first time I scored, everyone on that ‘pitch’ was thrilled for me. I remember saying that one day I’d play for Italy’s women’s team and my peers totally supported that fantasy.
Kids don’t see gender they simply see people, however, the staff weren’t quite as open-minded. So when I and a few other girls asked if we could train with the boys, we were told it was too dangerous. We were forced to play netball on the concrete playground- literally forced. But we couldn’t play football on the field. That awkward conversation with the football coach was something I’d totally forgotten until today.
As I moved on to secondary school the barriers were different but they remained. Sports were an after-school activity and I had a bus to catch. I also didn’t have particularly positive experiences of PE or time spent with my peers. So staying behind with bullies in the form of both students and teachers was simply too overwhelming for me to consider.
I’m sure there were local clubs I could have joined but for me, school was already enough. I just never had the energy and my social anxiety was too high. When I was 13 I actually started going to an athletics club, I could’ve been a pretty good hurdler but it just so happened my main bully also went there. After a few weeks, it became too much and the experience put me off from looking anywhere else. There’s so much I’ve quit over the years due to anxiety but football was something I never even started.
The thing is, no one ever even suggested it was a possibility. It never occurred to me that football was possible outside of school. So when I went to uni I was determined to play but by that point, I’d totally let my fitness go. I went to a few training sessions and even got initiated. But that was as far as I ever took it.
What’s to come
I accepted that I would forever be an onlooker of the sport I love. However, tonight I am filled with excitement. There’s simply a buzz in the air, a sense of knowledge that girls will no longer be left out. That generations to come will play. This is the start of something big.
What those women achieved tonight was phenomenal. Anyone who knows me knows I am an Italia fan through and through. I’m really concerned about the upcoming world cup as, despite being European champions, Italy didn’t qualify and I don’t know if I can bring myself to support England even though they’re technically my home team. The reality is I’ve never actually identified as being English, but that’s a whole other discussion. The point I’m trying to make is that when it comes to women’s football, I connect to the team in a different way because I do identify with them. Jonas Eidevall put it perfectly, the lionesses ‘didn’t win because of the system, they won despite it’.
Gabby Logan’s final statement tonight sent a shiver down my spine, she said, ‘the lionesses brought football home but it is down to us to keep it here’. And I agree with all my heart. I went to my first and only women’s football match in September 2019. My dad and I went to see the Arsenal Women in Borehamwood and the experience was exhilarating. The stadium may be small but the atmosphere was large. We made a deal there and then to try and do it monthly but then I had my surgery and by the time I’d recovered COVID had hit. This year we’re attempting to get season tickets.
Watching women my age (Beth Mead is just 5 months older than me) achieve the unbelievable is so inspiring. And watching them do it with passion and commitment is even more magnificent. I think the reason that football is such an emotional sport is because of the history it holds. This is the first time England has won a major tournament in 56 years and it was won by the women!
In reality, this victory is far more than just a trophy. I don’t want to veer away from football too much but I think this says a lot about the many gaps there still are in gender equality. And I simply hope that watching our girls bring football home helps trigger some bigger changes in and out of football.
I won’t deny I watched far less of the tournament than I should have. But that final has left me overboiling with emotions. I can’t wait to see where women’s football goes from here and I’m excited to watch it from the stands. Tonight I’m proud to be a woman!