England lose, but give us heart to go on.
In the immortal words of the Guardian Saturday quiz, what links: Mark Steel, Sam West, Tom Goodman-Hill, Jane Garvey, Saddiq Khan MP, me and my friend Jim? Give up? We were all up in the small hours watching England versus Japan in the semi-final of the Women’s World Cup – not together, I hasten to add (Obviously there were more than this, but these are just a few famous names I picked up on).
We were all watching it on BBC1. We were all getting ready for 30 minutes of extra time. We were all gutted when Laura Bassett scored that own goal in the last minute of injury time.
I’m struggling to find the words this morning. I’ve been determined to write about it, but didn’t know what to say. After a telephone conversation with said friend Jim, I am ready to give it a go.
England were brilliant. They gave their hearts and souls on that pitch. They were all over Japan and should have won. I tweeted during the match that they needed to take one of the chances before Japan hit us with the sucker punch. And so it proved – in the worst way possible. Jonathan Pearce called it “the fickle finger of footballing fate”, which I think he should copyright.
But what I’m most excited about is that the country is finally talking about women’s football, and in a good way. Those “No-one gives a toss about women’s football” decriers have been largely silenced and the numbers in vociferous favour have swelled beyond anything anyone could have imagined. I will never utter the words, “taking the positives from it” (and if Alastair Cook utters those words at any point during the Ashes I will scream loudly and long), but surely this is the long-awaited catalyst women’s football in this country needs.
I have been writing about women’s football, its qualities, its drawbacks and, above all, its worthiness, for some time. But its not until we stop comparing it to the men’s game that we will finally make progress (I’ve written about this too). This World Cup has been inspiring; full of quality play, goals, defending and all played in a fantastic spirit. Who can fail to be inspired?
So England didn’t make it to the final, and, in all probability they will get roundly beaten by Germany in the third-place play-off on Saturday. But that’s not the point. It’s bigger than that. So much bigger.
We need to build on this – just as we did after London 2012. We need to break the vicious circle of no crowd so no sponsorship so no coverage so no crowd etc.,
There has been major investment by the FA in women’s football in recent years, but they and we can do more. We have a long way to go before we reach the infrastructure in place in Germany or France. But it’s not just the governing body which needs to work harder.
And so we mention the media yet again. The BBC took a big punt on its coverage of the World Cup, which has proved to be money and time well spent (even though sometimes you could strangle Jonathan Pearce).
The print media finally realised something was afoot when England reached the semis. So look to yourselves media outlets and invest in this game. Invest time, invest column inches, invest money. Get your journalists on board. Get them knowledgeable and get them promoting the game that we all love.
Laura Bassett and all of the England team have been stars, ambassadors and gifted footballers over the last month. The least we can do is show them that means something to us all.