So far the Women’s World Cup has been the epitome of liberty, equality and fraternity, Nancy Frostick writes.
Just around the corner from Nice’s Women’s World Cup fan zone on the Promenade des Anglais is the city’s impressive Palais de Justice.
Emblazoned across it is the founding and most famous motto of the French Republic: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.
The motto of the Women’s World Cup is a slightly different trio of words, ‘Dare to Shine’ but on the doorstep of such a grandiose building, you can’t help but feel that the mood of this tournament has drawn on that earlier, iconic mantra.
From Shanice Van de Sanden’s leopard print hair to Marta’s purple lipstick, women’s football has never been louder, prouder or more visible.
It started well before the tournament this time – not just when England were in the latter stages of the competition – with magazine covers, press days and a BBC documentary all coming in the weeks preceding kick off.
In fact, this World Cup feels like it has roots long before this competition cycle. With sold out games and girl power at an all time high in the ‘Me Too’ era, France ‘19 has the potential to match the impact of USA ‘99.
Twenty years since that tournament, made iconic by Brandi Chastain’s knee slide celebration, it feels like we might be about to see a renaissance of women’s football.
It’s evident in the moment that a seven year old boy recognises Eugenie Le Sommer on the side of the bag handed to him, brimming with freshly purchased merchandise, outside the Stade de Nice. On the side of the bag, Le Sommer isn’t even sporting the Nike designed Les Bleus jersey – but that doesn’t stop the young fan from recognising the Lyon midfielder. “France!”, he exclaims in a moment of triumph and excitement as important for him as it is for the women’s game.
Players and fans alike are visible all over the city. It’s not hard to spot the Viking helmet-clad Swedes as they march in a glowing sea of yellow in the bright sunshine of the French Riviera in anticipation of their group match against Thailand.
Just a few days later, gaggles of twenty-something girls gather in the fan zone kitted out head to toe in England gear and start a keepie-uppie circle. A girls holiday becomes a Lionesses away day all wrapped up in one host city on the Cote d’Azur.
This Women’s World Cup is fun, friendly and impossible to miss.
And it’s landed regardless of the “nobody cares” brigade, the uncaring national federations and the weight of battling against a system designed to prevent women from succeeding in sport.
As Marta said after Brazil’s win over Italy, all teams at the tournament are representing women. “Let me be clear, this is not only in sport. This is a struggle for equality across the board.”
In the face of those hardships, sacrifices and social media abuse, they play with smiles on their faces. And in a year that the Spice Girls reunited, echoing back to 1999 again, it really feels like the tournament is riding the crest of a wave of girl power.
There’s unity as fans of all nationalities mix together and cheers go up from every side of the Allianz Riviera when Thailand score against Sweden – well deserved after their 13-0 demolition by the USA.
At any game you can be sat two rows in front of the England band and three rows behind Steph Houghton’s mum. And that’s where the magic is, really.
Watching this World Cup means seeing a girl like you who had a crazy dream, but who got to see it through thanks to an iron will and the parents who drove her to training.
These normal women are stepping on the pitch, or even protesting it in the fight for equality, because football is freedom for people all over the world.
A multicolour wave of fans and players descended on France this summer and while some of them will be heading home already, it’s a tournament nobody is likely to forget.
As for England? Let’s hope this summer is when we get to see one of the Lionesses have their Brandi Chastain moment and finally bring football home.
You can follow Nancy on Twitter @NancyFrostick