That’s me playing football in the 1990s. The women’s game has moved on quite dramatically since the days when we were viewed as a bit of a novelty and asked ridiculous questions, like, ‘ Do you swap shirts afterwards?’ and ‘ Can you chest the ball down?’ What an absolute joy it’s been over the last month to watch England Lionesses storm through the European Championships with such incredible skill, professionalism and positive energy. To witness the record-breaking crowds cheering them on and to see women playing football being taken seriously, at last. Of course, it helps that the Football Association (FA) is putting money into the game, we now have Super League players being paid to play professional football (this has only been the case in the UK for the last four or five years) and an amazing, award-winning coach, Sarina Wiegman.
No matter how many times the story of Dick, Kerr Ladies attracting a record crowd of 53,000 on Boxing Day in 1920, followed by women being banned from playing football by the male-run FA for 50 years because it was seen as ‘unsuitable for females’, is repeated; it’s still impossible to comprehend. In the Weekend FT, Simon Kuper suggested ‘a programme of investment in the women’s game, paid from men’s football revenues to start redressing the damage.’
For many years, I played in the Greater London Women’s League on Sunday afternoons. What started out as a group of friends having a kick-around gradually became a proper team. After a few months we decided to join the league so we held a fund-raiser to collect money for a football strip and our own nets (which we had to put up and take down before and after every home game). I can remember going to a meeting at the old Arsenal stadium, sitting in the boardroom with a couple of other founding members as we convinced the men in charge that we were serious about competing in the amateur league. They accepted us but refused to allow our first choice of team name: the Old Fallopians. Ne’er mind, it became our nickname and on the sidelines our loyal fans chanted ‘Up the Tubes’. I played from the late 1980s through the 1990s, retiring at the age of 40 in 2003. I think I might’ve been the only football-playing, fashion editor in London – my deputy had a black belt in kung fu so we were another kick-ass team.
Regardless of today’s result, the Euros 22 competition is a massive win for women who play football. As Ian Wright said in his post-semi-finals analysis, ‘Whatever happens in the final now, if girls are not allowed to play football in their PE – just like the boys can – what are we doing? We have got to make sure they are able to play and get the opportunity to do so. If there’s no legacy to this – like with the Olympics – then what are we doing as this is as proud as I’ve ever felt of any England side.’
UPDATE: WE DID IT!!! So proud of England Lionesses, what a team, what brilliant role models, what a change – women playing football is front page news. Now if we could just have equal pay…