Women’s football has come a long way but misogyny is still not beaten

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first_img“I’m taking her to Le Havre to see England’s women next week,” he said, proudly. “And I’m actually more looking forward to that than being here.” At least she will get the chance to shine, when in the past so many were shunned. Sportblog Twitter Rubbish games? Guilty as charged, some of the time. But World Cups always have games that work as a slow-acting sleeping tablet. My favourite two World Cups, Spain 82 and Mexico 86, had many stinkers and shellackings – but several bone fide classics too. That is the nature of the beast. There have been some fine matches at this World Cup, particularly Australia’s thrilling victory over Brazil.Uncompetitive matches? Sure, no one wants to see a 13-0 drubbing. But as Sophie Tomlinson, an analyst at the football consultancy 21st Club, points out, when World Cups expand that is what tends to happen at first. Eventually weaker teams catch up and make the tournament even more competitive. “Teams finishing top of their groups are also dominating less than they used to,” says Tomlinson. “And the gap between the very best teams and the chasing pack – those teams that are looking to make the quarter-finals – is narrowing.”The domestic game, too, is on the up. That is obvious not only in the standard of play, as reflected by English sides’ performances in Europe, but in Opta’s data for the Women’s Super League. In the 2011-12 season, for instance, the pass accuracy across the league was 60%. Last season it was 72%. According to Opta, teams are now taking more shots per game (26.3 compared with 14.5), are more accurate with it (50% shooting accuracy in 2018-19 compared with 39% in 2011-12) and have a higher conversation rate (12% compared with 9%). Share on Facebook Tough World Cup start for England has set them up nicely for latter stages Facebook Share on LinkedIn The 15-year-old Paula Rayner celebrates England’s equaliser against Argentina in an unofficial women’s World Cup in Mexico in 1971. Argentina went on to win 4-1. Photograph: National Football Museum Read more Twitter Topics No one wants to see a 13-0 drubbing such as USA’s win against Thailand but when World Cups expand one-sided games can happen. Photograph: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Getty Images But when it comes to altering attitudes within the game there is still some way to go. That much is clear from a 2015 study by three academics from Liverpool John Moores University who asked 10 women’s coaches, four of whom were studying for Uefa A or B badges, for their experiences of the Football Association’s coach education process. Sadly the responses were almost uniformly depressing. Women’s football Share via Email Share on Pinterest commentcenter_img The next interview is even more sad, with a 16-year‑old admitting that while her boyfriend had never opposed her taking up football he had been angry to learn that she would be competing for England in Mexico. “They had reached a compromise,” the academics write. “She would give up the game at the end of the year.”Just imagine it: your partner gets to represent her country and your first instinct is for your blood to boil and to choke her ambitions.Times are at last changing. Attitudes too. But we need to hear these stories, especially when the women’s game is getting lift-off with record TV audiences in France, Britain, China and Australia in recent days – partly to appreciate how far we have come but also as a warning against the neanderthals who sneer about the quality of the matches, how uncompetitive the tournament is and incessantly whine about women’s football being shown at all, as if we have tumbled back to the misogynist ages again. Most of these arguments can be picked apart with the ease of the USA team waltzing through Thailand’s defence. Here is something I was unaware of until recently. When England took part in the second unofficial women’s World Cup in Mexico in 1971, they played in front of crowds of 80,000 and 100,000. More staggeringly still, their squad included two 16-year-olds, a 15-year‑old and two 14-year-olds. In some ways the tournament was 50 years ahead of its time. But even as England’s players were enjoying the greatest moment of their careers they knew it was an oasis.Two interviews with England players in 1971, dug up by the academics Claire and Keith Brewster in the latest issue of History in Sport, illustrate that bluntly. “I never thought I’d be a professional footballer and play for my country,” one tells the Mexican paper Excelsior. “They don’t like women’s football [in England]. Everyone criticises us. They think that football is for men and has nothing to do with us”. “Because I was a female he made me feel a bit silly and useless,” said one. “I was made to make a show of myself most of the time, which just killed my confidence. I was starting to ask myself: ‘Why am I putting myself through this?’”Another said she “overheard one of the lads say I’d love to give her one, and then he made a humping action with one hand on the back of his neck and the other on his hips … But it’s strange; there is a nothing you can do. You are made to feel as though you just have to accept it.”A third said that what really wound her up was “that as soon as it was my turn to coach, all the men seemed to take it in turns to mess about. You know, mess things up on purpose. Make you look stupid. I don’t know why the course tutors team allowed them to get away with it but they did.”Yet we should be optimistic. One of the more interesting conversations I had following England’s men in Porto was with a former Gillingham player who had a 10-year-old daughter that his mates promised was a future star. The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email. Women’s World Cup 2019 Women’s World Cup Facebook Reuse this content ‘You can feel this surge’: how France has caught Women’s World Cup fever Share on Twitter Eni Aluko Pinterest Read more Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Pinterest last_img

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