Date: 6th August 2022
After a summer break, we’re back with a new blog from our resident writer Donald Stewart.
No Grudge Match Here
I am a passionate Scot who cannot abide the English sporting media’s obsession with 1966.
But the lionesses deserve more than the usual prejudicial squint from us.
I was rooting for them against Spain and so wanted them to win against Germany.
But my reasons were not altogether altruistic.
My step-daughter used to play the game. Like many young people, as time went on, she decided to stop playing for all the usual reasons. Who knows if she would have ever been on the cusp of a professional contract but the intelligence with which she talked of the lack of opportunities, the lack of ambition within the game to resolve that and how her love of the game itself moved her from participation to the terraces of watching the National Women’s Team made me think.
Many years ago, I had been involved in taking a careers day at my old school with 3rd year pupils. In the crowd, was one young lady who would have been close to a professional contract – if any had existed for women. She spoke with equal eloquence of how hir career path was never going to include playing football. Statistically she was more likely to be barefoot, pregnant and tied to a kitchen sink than a media darling of the beautiful game.
These two events are more than 20 years apart.
To be fair, there has been a lot since that conversation with my step-daughter. Contracts exist now, professionalism is rife within the set up and we are seeing change. It has come because the Scottish Women have had success and the English Women have courted the media. “Caught the imagination” has become the stock in trade commentary upon their win at the Euros.
But change needs to be significant. We need to move from tokenism to an attitudinal revolution.
And so, when England won, this proud Scot managed to smile broadly. It helped that I only heard 1966 mentioned once in a podcast and that was towards the end of the conversation – and it was relevant. Up until then it was about how the game could change and what positive opportunities there are for people to become involved and show how it is a force for good. Their win is a force for equality but that depends upon whether the sport itself can manage to keep the door open and the glass ceiling shattered for the women who could transform the game.
But it does have its own issues with which to wrestle.
The lionesses, great though they were, were hardly an advert for diversity themselves. Predominantly white they are an example of how this sport has gone from a route out of poverty to a middle class indulgence in many areas. Despite being a mass participation sport, football has taken its elite centres into places where troubled and working class teenagers are unable to access. Why? Principally cost.
We are now entering into yet another financial crisis where the cost of a loaf of bread or heating the family home shall come well before any boots or transport to team practice. Buying essentials is at the forefront of the future far more than being inspired by the efforts of elite athletes.
The Olympics in 2012 did not leave the legacy because that legacy was left to look after itself. If the couch looked welcoming before then the effort to get off it, was not spurred on by the elite getting their medals.
The women’s game already has plenty of idols and tons of role models. It needs investment and it needs to see schools encouraging it. We need girls to access what boys have as a birth right.
We need investment which may mean giving up some of the cash going into the men’s game and taking the hit. Equality means far more than a co-efficient.
It means taking the work of teams like Ayr United, who had their team photo taken this month with BOTH the men’s and women’s team in it and making that the norm. it means headlining the small to show that significant change can happen. It means equity in coverage as our SWPL team make waves in Europe.
The lionesses were worthy winners and their iconic celebrations, their unreconstructed joy at the sport shows us one thing – the game transforms. Who would not want a bit of that? You may be surprised…
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