I’ve been writing this column for five years now. I’ve been through many great tournaments and defining moments and I’ve heard the word ‘legacy’ thrown around many times.
Every year there is a new audience record, a new audience record, participation increases and more and more people can nominate more female athletes than ever before.
So, back to last Sunday then.
Imagine, for more than six decades, English football fans have been hungry for a major footballing title. It was a women’s team that took them over the line.
For context, this women’s team wasn’t even established when England last won a major tournament, the World Cup in 1966. The last time England as a nation won a major football, women couldn’t even play football, they were banned.
Now, just a year after the men lost a European final on home soil, a women’s side have had to step in and fight their way through a tournament, winning a major trophy for England after years of failing from the point of view. view of men.
In fact, this women’s team won where the men lost. This is a nation where anyone other than a straight white male will face difficulties on their way to a football career.
This is a nation where hooliganism is common and football is associated with mobs of rambunctious men (we’ll never forget you’re an ass-burning dude). This is where the girls must continually fight for their place, whether as a player or a fan. I am far from an English fan. In fact, my Irish feminism tells me that I have the right to be happy for women but sad for English women.
In addition, more than 17 million people watched the Euro final on German television, or 64.8% of total viewers. More importantly, viewership figures for 14-49 year olds were 71%. According to so many football administrators, a demographic that is no longer interested in football.
Of course, this European Championship has reminded us of how fantastic women’s football can be, but also how decades of prejudice, misogyny and the refusal to recognize women have held back the development of one of the top sports most exciting levels of our generation.
There are so many incredibly annoying arguments associated with the women’s game. Despite the Euros, I’ve heard time and time again that the women’s game doesn’t attract as many spectators or as much revenue as the men’s game, so they don’t deserve the spotlight, nor equal pay.
This has been proven wrong many times. Women’s football was at its height in England after the First World War. In fact, on December 26, 1920, over 50,000 people came to watch the women’s match at Goodison Park, along with another 12,000 queuing outside.
At the time, it was to raise funds for soldiers returning home. But the FA saw this as a threat, and less than a year later the FA banned women’s football for over 50 years. So, you could say that it is the male side of football that has hindered the growth of women’s football.
Then I hear that the women’s game has less quality than the men’s; therefore, it does not deserve interest or investment. I have no idea what the definition of a beautiful game is. I’m not going to deny that men are faster and stronger.
But plenty of research shows that women rely more on the tactical side, keeping the ball in play much longer, allowing time for more elaborate attacks and committing fewer physical fouls (although the final minutes of the European final said opposite) .
So now what do we do to move forward? It’s crucial to acknowledge the game we have right now, market it, support it, and stop talking about legacy for now.
Unfortunately, discussions of growth and legacy don’t attract new people. People just want to watch a sport and the competition and now they know it’s a great competition with amazing talent on display.
The biggest factor in the biggest game across Europe was the fact that over 90,000 people went to watch it, got involved, got frustrated with the referee, whistled and went ballistic every time that something was happening.
The same theories and principles can be applied to all games. Attract the fans who are here now, let the fans be fans, and focus on selling the product that is in front of us now. Make the matchday experience consistent, from the first round to the final.
We can have discussions about the future and all that later, but what matters is the present. Go to games now, boo, jeer, whistle and clap. Dig into the rivalries, make an emotional connection, and everything will grow organically. The future is now.
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