I cry at anything and everything – weddings, birthdays, even at Eastenders. But if you’d told me a few weeks ago I’d have a tear glide down my cheek at a women’s football game, I’d probably have laughed at you.
The sport just never interested me. I was that man who said it was ‘too slow’. I was that man who said it was ‘boring’. I was one of many men who got proven wrong.
My experience speaks to a journey much of the nation has been on, especially men.
A year ago I wrote about how the England men’s team inspired a nation, yet just a summer later their female teammates were out doing the same thing on the same scale. Pretty unthinkable a year ago thanks to the significantly lower profile the Women’s game attracted.
Just like Chloe Kelly’s extra time goal on Sunday, this is a game changer.
Maybe women’s football has finally received the jump-start it needed to be treated with the respect it was denied for so long.
On Sunday night, former player and pundit Alex Scott struggled to find words following the victory. She described how clubs refused to host women’s games when they needed larger stadiums with all the passion and torment of someone who’d spent years selling the game to boardrooms of balding men who frankly didn’t care.
“You’ve missed the boat” she told them on Sunday night, a parting shot to the people who’d ignored her as the revolution in women’s football sets alight.
Scott is one of the newest links in a decades long chain of women trying to tug their way to equality in football. Until 1971 it was illegal for women to play at football league grounds, forcing teams to play on amateur play parks and pitches barely fit for purpose for Sunday league, let alone an international football team. The England international football team were forced to play in stadiums abroad because they were banned from doing so at home. A national embarrassment.
Everyone should be able to play football, and its everyone’s duty to make sure that happens now to make up for lost time. Equality won’t happen overnight, but in the long-term investment is needed and wages need to rise, that means more people going to games, more being shown on TV and ensuring everyone keeps riding the wave of enthusiasm we’ve seen over recent weeks. It’s a challenge, but one any football fan has a moral obligation to face.
There will be people who don’t like this newfound popularity, but to all the haters, the people who look down on women’s sport, who continue to exploit it to make cheap political points, I’ve got some bad news. As Gabby Logan said at the end of her stint presenting the tournament, “Think it’s all over? it’s only just begun.”