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Emilie Silverwood-Cope: Lionesses show what girls can do when they are given half a chance





The Football League lifted the ban on women playing the game in 1971. In about 1982, when I was nine years old, I asked to join a summer holiday football club. I can remember viscerally how embarrassed and stupid I felt. I wasn’t just the only girl, I was the only child who’d never played football before. I felt conspicuously incapable, unclear of the rules or what to even do when the ball came towards me.

England celebrating victory over Germany in the Euro 2022 final. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA (58429812)
England celebrating victory over Germany in the Euro 2022 final. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA (58429812)

When we were put into teams, I was put with the side told to keep their tops on. A boy, a year below me at primary school, pulled out his T-shirt to mimic breasts and talked about Sam Fox, the most famous Page 3 model of the time. I knew, without fully understanding, that the joke was on me. I’ve not been much interested in football since.

Like 17 million other households though, we sat down to watch the final of the Euro 2022 to cheer on the Lionesses. Since their win, there has been a lot of talk of legacy and cultural change. What does this win mean to parents - especially to those of us with girls?

Manager Sarina Wiegman said girls need to be playing in school from day one. My daughter is about to go into Year 8 and, like me, she has never played football at either her primary or secondary school. She’s now at an all girls’ secondary school and football is not part of timetabled PE lessons. Instead she plays netball and hockey, alternating with tennis and rounders in the summer. Exactly as I did decades ago.

The impact of girls not playing at schools isn’t just that they don’t get to take part physically - it means they don’t develop an early love of the game. This is a game that is embedded into our national psyche and women have been left on the sidelines. For too long, women and girls have simultaneously been discouraged from playing and then made fun of for not understanding the game (men use the offside rule like some kind of litmus test for female intelligence).

Parents of girls who want to play have to do the legwork and find a club who will teach them instead. Locally, we are well served by Cambridge City Ladies and Girls FC. Their determination is matched by their organisation - a pathway to harness the talent of the next generation is mapped out. What we also need to see are girls playing at break time because they can, without mockery. Not every boy who plays football does so because he's going to be good enough to join a club. The real equality comes when girls get to just enjoy a playtime kick about.

I hope this Lioness spirit transcends football. What I loved seeing as much as the win, was the women themselves. I loved seeing how they won, how they got up after they fell, how they behaved when they were interviewed and how they celebrated. I cheered Alex Scott’s righteous and justified anger at the people who said no to hosting the Euros. Their unashamed competitiveness, their joy at being the best team was contagious.

They showed what girls can do when they are given half a chance - and it really was just half a chance - they had to fight to make the rest happen. Jill Scott’s mum said another parent shouted ‘just kick her down, she's only a girl’.

England's Chloe Kelly, right, celebrates scoring the winning goal at Wembley Stadium in the Euro 2022 final. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA
England's Chloe Kelly, right, celebrates scoring the winning goal at Wembley Stadium in the Euro 2022 final. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA

I was struck by how I’d never seen women celebrating their success like this. As Lucy Ward tweeted: “The image of Chloe Kelly shirtless in sports bra is hugely significant. This is a woman’s body - not for sex or show - just for the sheer joy of what she can do and the power and skill she has.” I prefer this analysis to Gary Lineker’s feeble and predictable bra joke (since deleted).

This felt so far removed from Love Island - a show that prompted the women’s charity Refuge to tweet about misogynistic abuse and coercive control. The confidence of the Lionesses struck me. How they stood and how strong they looked. They are women who succeeded in spite of the system. That’s what I want for my daughter - that's the legacy for all our children. I want her to be a girl who doesn’t disappear when a boy shames her and can still remember the moment 40 years later. The Lionesses showed her how to be that type of woman. They showed our sons and daughters that girls aren’t there to be ridiculed.

“To every girl who got bullied in school, who got called a beast or man or a boy. Who got told you weren’t good enough to join in at break. Who had to go above and beyond to be accepted. This moment is for you.” - Renee Hector, Watford FC Women.

Find Cambridge City Ladies and Girls FC on Twitter @cambscitygirls or cambridgescityfc.com.

Read more Parenting Truths from Emilie Silverwood-Cope every month in the Cambridge Independent.



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