Laura Lawrence is grateful to the Euro champions for sparking change for the younger generations, but for women in football like our columnist who were excluded from playing, bullied at school for their love of the game, battled sexism and ignorance, the feelings of joy are mixed with righteous anger.Embed from Getty Images
“We changed society.”
This was the closing remark of Sarina Wiegman’s winning press conference after thanking her players and staff. It’s fine if you want to stop reading to go and have a little cry. I haven’t been able to stop since the final whistle went in the final of the Women’s Euros.
This is not just the reaction of a perimenopausal woman, although the hot flashes were harder to distinguish from genuine anxiety sweats on Sunday. This reaction was that of relief. It’s not about ‘football coming home’ or being compared to the men’s game, my emotions come from it finally being accepted that it really is OK to be female in football.
Jonathan Liew, one of my favourite football writers, wrote in The Guardian: “And as England celebrated, the tableau that greeted us at Wembley would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. Women commentating on television. Women tapping away in the press box. Women officiating, women coaching on the touchline, women bellowing in the stands. Over the last few weeks these sights have become normalised because they are, in fact, normal.”Embed from Getty Images
Normal. It’s not a word female football fans of my age are used to. I was bullied by some boys at school for liking football. For being dressed in my Sheffield Wednesday kits, training tops and shell suits on a daily basis. The girls weren’t allowed to play football in PE. We had to play netball and do trampolining. A small group of like-minded girls managed to convinced the PE teachers to let us participate in football. It happened once!
I was called “manhead” and ostracised by some girls, because I wasn’t quite what society wanted me to be as a teenage girl. It didn’t stop me! I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a sportswriter, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t hurt by it, that it didn’t pierce me through the heart, that it didn’t make me anxious about truly being myself.
My nine-year-old stepdaughter is football mad. More interested than any of her three brothers. She plays every week; she watches the games and she’s engaged. She is going to live in a society where it will be ‘normal’ for her to be those things. To enjoy what she wants to enjoy. To be the footballer/vet she wants to be without anxiety or judgement.Embed from Getty Images
What this team of Lionesses have done transcends football. It feeds into the zeitgeist of women finding their voice to speak up about all the shit they’ve had to deal with over the years and decades. Society is starting to take violence against women seriously. It’s starting to believe women. It’s starting to believe in women and, in turn, more women are starting to believe in themselves.
There might be a bit of eye-rolling at that notion but to us women it’s freeing. Once women find their voices you just wait for the echo of the roars. Joy mixed with righteous anger is a good place to start. Just watch Alex Scott’s reproach after the match, of those who ignored the previous generations of female footballers; the corporate sponsors, the ones who said women could never fill grounds, the ones who ignorantly look down their noses about the quality of the women’s game.
You have indeed changed society, Sarina Wiegman and the Lionesses.
Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR