THE TABLOIDS will love it, UEFA will be deliriously happy and the fans will relish the moment. The women’s Euro final is England, the hosts, against the most successful country in Europe, Germany. The competition has captured the imagination of the public in England, the momentum has been building nicely and it has been a great advertisement for sensibly-sized football tournaments.
England have been the best team by some distance and nobody can say they avoided the strong teams – they have beaten Norway, Spain and Sweden on the way. Their effervescent side has played with purpose, with guile and with determination. I am not a myopic patriot, far from it, but the Euros have finally switched me on to women’s football. I have enjoyed every game, watched it every night and found the entire competition utterly absorbing.
At the same time, I have recognised that women’s football is an alternative world from the men’s game. Look at the crowd at a men’s match and it is still predominantly male, white and ageing. The environment is very blokey, very crude, very testosterone-drenched. There is less joy and more tribalism. It is an experience that has been developed over more than a century and to some extent, is one of the last bastions of industrial Britain. It is changing, but no matter how much clubs talk about diversity, multi-culturalism and political and social awareness, the football crowd still has definite echoes of its somewhat primitive past.
Now look at the average crowd at the Euros. A child dancing in a carefree manner, face-painted adults, lots of young women and girls, audience participation (the antithesis of most male-dominated crowds) and no foul-mouthed chanting. It is a different place, but possibly more in tune with how the middle-class media wants to depict our public places. If there were trees in football grounds, we would be encouraged to hug them, with our plant-based latte in hand, of course. This is one of the reasons some male fans constantly dig at women’s football, they do not recognise it as “theirs”.
Comparisons between the two sports are unfair, and that is not just about the quality of football. For a start, most female pundits are streets ahead of their male counterparts. I would rather listen to Alex Scott than any number of Rios, Joes or Ashleys.
England, for example, have been exhilarating to watch and players like Stanway, Kirby, Mead, White and Bronze are rapidly becoming household names. They have their own game, one that is absolutely unlike men’s football and they should not even try to replicate it. Many of the spectators who have been at the Euro games up and down the country probably don’t watch male teams. There is no way they could act, react and interact in the way they have at England’s games. The male equivalent of post-match dancing and cavorting is to jump, uncontrollably, on the back of the next man when a goal is scored. I experienced this at the FA Cup final in 2017 when Chelsea equalised against Arsenal; a young man, aged mid-20s, decided to launch himself on my back, knocking my glasses off and doing untold damage to my neck. I pushed him off and his response was aggressive and he returned for another attempt. This was not my idea of celebrating at £ 150 a ticket.
UEFA has long tried to patronise its crowds, with its kick-off countdown, inflatables in the crowd (games for the proles) and pre-planted flags and strange, concertina-like clappers. For most fans, these are to be instantly disposed of, but UEFA has found its audience in the Euros. We don’t need cards to declare a goal has been scored, we don’t need a car to deliver the ball and we certainly don’t need 5-4-3-2-1 kick off! But what we do need is more civilised crowds and from the evidence of the competition, they have been found. Let’s hope that Wembley doesn’t give us a repeat of the scenes we saw last year at the England versus Italy final. I will be there, but I refuse to hold up a “Goal” card. And what’s more, I will have WSL games on my fixture list for 2022-23.