England Women’s National Football Team should be proud of what they’ve achieved

Credit: ESPN
Credit: ESPN

The England Women’s National Football Team’s defeat in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final has just about sunk in now. After becoming European Champions just over a year ago, England made the first World Cup Final in their history in Australia and New Zealand this Summer.

While missing out to an impressive Spain side will hurt the Lionesses now, what they’ve achieved is nothing short of remarkable. After enduring systemic sexism for decades, women’s football is finally on the up in England and getting the respect and recognition it deserves.

England Women’s National Football Team – From Outlaws to Champions

It came as a huge shock to me to find out that women’s football was illegal in my country for almost 50 years. I knew that girls have been discouraged from playing football for a long time and instead steered towards what were termed “girl sports”, such as netball, handball and field hockey.

My own experience growing up in the United Kingdom in the 2000s taught me that you had different sporting opportunities in school depending upon whether you were a boy or a girl. For my parents’ and grandparents’ generations though, it was far worse.

Image credit: FourForTwo
Football was off limits to women in the UK for almost half a century. Image credit: FourFourTwo

Between 1921 and 1970, football was completely off limits to women of all ages. The FA justified their decision by stating “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.”

What they really meant was that women’s football was getting too popular and threatening the men’s game, in their eyes at least. While other countries also banned women’s football, the fact that some like the United States didn’t meant they had a huge head start on the Europeans when prohibition was over.

Because of this ban in the UK, the first generation of female footballers in the 70s and 80s had no role models in their sport. Those that came later in the 90s and 2000s had some, but none were household names and women’s football was only shown on TV when it was being mocked by pundits.

Now though, the glass ceiling has been smashed through and just like when I wrote last year after England’s Euros victory, this World Cup will only further cement this generation of England players’ legacies.

The Future is Bright

While the Lionesses didn’t win the World Cup, they are European champions and England also possesses one of the youngest squads in international football. Lauren Hemp, Lauren James, Alessia Russo, Ella Toone, Esme Morgan and Katie Robinson will all be entering their prime soon.

I’m very excited to see how they all get on in Euro 2025, where they could become the first senior England side to win a tournament on foreign soil.

Euro 2022 might not be the end of the silverware for England. Image: FourFourTwo

It has to also be mentioned that the pre-tournament favourites the USA were humbled in 2023, showing the strength in depth of the women’s international game has now reached. That means that games are rarely easy, but the upward trajectory has been huge for England in this time.

The Lionesses have reached at least the semi-finals in the last three World Cups, but 2023 was the first time where you really thought they had a chance of winning it. Sarina Wiegman has got her ladies playing football that’s effective and easy on the eye, they’re a joy to watch.

There’s still a long way to go, though

Before getting into this, I’m not talking about on the pitch, because England have acquitted themselves so well there. Off the field though, while things are improving, attitudes remain extremely backwards in some disgraceful circles.

Take the injury of Keira Walsh, in this year’s World Cup, for example. BBC Sport uploaded a video of the midfielder being stretchered off due to a knee injury. Her tournament was in doubt, she was clearly in pain and was understandably upset.

Image credit: Reuters

It wasn’t in any way funny, yet the Internet, as it always seems to do, brings out the worst in the worst kinds of people. That social media post got a significant amount of “haha” reactions on Facebook. I was appalled, and I voiced my disgust by leaving a comment.

Most repliers agreed with me, but some, shockingly, defended those that were laughing at Walsh’s misfortune. Some of the comments were abhorrent and I won’t repeat them here, but they had more shades of 1921 than 2023.

I’m all for a laugh and a bit of banter, but if you’re getting a kick out of someone getting seriously hurt and potentially missing the biggest tournament of their lives, you need to take a long, hard look at yourselves.

Would people have laughed if Harry Kane tore his ACL before the last World Cup and was screaming in pain on the pitch? I can’t speak for all countries on this issue, as I generally stay away from most social media for my own mental health, but I’d be surprised if this wasn’t the case for most nations.

That’s all without mentioning the negative personal experiences that female footballers have and still face today. Something that’s worth an article or two of its own at some point.

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