Blaise Tapp writes: It can only be hoped that the history books will tell the story of how the stunning victory at Wembley was a genuine turning point for women’s football in this country. After Sunday, anything seems possible.
As a family, we were lucky enough to watch the nation’s new sporting icons at close quarters, having bagged tickets for three of their six games between us at Euro 2022, a tournament that taught generations of English footy fans what it feels like to back a winner. Our 12-year-old was there for all three of them - that extraordinary 8-0 thumping of the Norwegians, that epic fight back against Spain in the quarter finals and then the showpiece final at Wembley.
To say she is a convert to the women’s game is an understatement and she has no hesitation in stating she much prefers it to watching the men’s game, something we have been doing together since she was still in nursery school.
Like all football-mad dads, I wasted no time in taking both of the kids to watch my team. All football fans will understand what it means for your offspring to share your allegiances because, as childish as it may sound to some, it is the passing of a baton to the next generation and, in my case, somebody to share the disappointment of underachievement with.
The eldest and I have travelled to grounds across the country watching our team. We’ve endured abject defeats, disgusting toilets and terrible, over-priced grub over the years but none of that matters when you occasionally witness unexpected triumphs. The one true hope of football supporting parents is that these moments of jubilance will remain ingrained in the memory for a lifetime and will be spoken about in hushed tones to future generations.
The football I’ve watched for nearly four decades is all about tribalism; being part of a movement which sees large numbers of people wear the same unflattering man-made shirts and chant in unison. In many other walks of life, this would be described as a cult but in football this is fandom at its most basic level.
The trouble with taking your young children to men’s matches is that there is a very real risk that they might hear words that you’d rather they didn’t - if somebody used such language in the fruit and veg aisle at Marks and Spencer, you’d call it out. But in football, such behaviour is accepted as a ‘fact of life’, with the explanation that ‘emotions run high at the match’. Fortunately, little ones tend to be oblivious to the profanities, although I once heard about one nipper who joined in with a rude chant, although he sang ‘the referee’s a panda’.
We’ve heard none of that at the women’s games we’ve been to and although the cheers are slightly more high pitched due to the demographics of the crowds, there’s no less passion on display. My eldest prefers these matches because ‘there’s no drunken idiots dropping cigarettes on you’, which makes for a much more family friendly atmosphere.
The women’s game has a golden opportunity to transform and tempt some of the millions who became glued to the Lionesses’ exploits during the past month to watch their local club sides in action. Domestic attendances, compared to the Premier League and the Football League, have been disappointing but this new found exposure, coupled with a team of new sporting icons is likely to change this. You would hope.
If genuine change doesn’t come as a result of England’s stunning victory at the weekend then it will be a genuine opportunity to rewrite history lost.