The England Women’s teams efforts at the recent World Cup in Canada were nothing short of heroic. Going into the event as real outsiders, the squad of 23 proved to both the world and themselves what they’re capable of, making history numerous times; namely by narrowly missing out on the final and finishing third place (the highest ever position for an English Women’s team, and the only English team to reach that stage since Bobby Moore’s winners of 1966) and beating their infamous foes Germany at the 21st time of asking. As the lionesses settle back into their domestic seasons in the hope that their World Cup triumph will enhance the sport here in the UK, our Editor, Steph Fairbairn, takes a look at a few lessons the men’s team could learn from the women’s World Cup run.
How many times have we seen England managers bow to the pressures of the public or pick a team on the back of reputation and not current playing merit? It happened time and time again in the so called ‘Golden Generation’ of English men’s football. Game after game we saw Sven Goran Eriksson try to squeeze Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard into the same midfield to no avail or ask players to play while carrying injuries. Things have improved over the years and Roy Hodgson seems more willing to experiment and make some big calls, but no one’s done it quite like the Lioness’s manager Mark Sampson. Despite a lot of early criticism and doubt from some of the big hitters in the women’s game, Sampson never once fielded the same team. He changed players, formations and tactics, meaning that not only were each of our teams tailored and fully prepared for each of our opponents, but that these opponents had no idea what to expect from us. It also did a hell of a lot for the squad spirit; each player in the squad got minutes on the field, meaning that the sense of togetherness was at an all time high.
That same togetherness and squad spirit was evident in so many ways throughout the whole tournament. You only had to glance at Instagram to see the fun the girls were having together… taking trips to Niagara falls and exploring on their days off. That spirit translated so well onto the pitch, whether it was Toni Duggan running tirelessly for her team all game and barely getting a touch of the ball, Eni Aluko wearing her heart on her sleeve and crying after England’s first game and first loss, or Jo Potter and Katie Chapman protecting Laura Bassett from the BBC cameras after her heartbreaking own goal in the last minute of the semi final. Every game meant a huge deal to the players; each match started with a team huddle and each win finished with the kind of elation that the men’s team would surely only save for a final. The lionesses really epitomised the passion and pride of playing for England; it would be nice to see the men’s team do that once in a while.
Play for love, not money
News just broke that Liverpool have accepted Man City’s £49 million offer for Raheem Sterling. This comes after months of uproar which culminated in Sterling calling in sick to training and refusing to attend Liverpool’s preseason tour in order to force through his move. In a not too un-similar situation a few years ago, Wayne Rooney threatened to join Manchester City, holding Man Utd. to ransom before they upped his already huge wage packet to an incredible £300,000 a week. These cases seem incredibly pedantic when you compare them to the fact that England Women’s highest earner, their captain Steph Houghton, earns £60,000 a year – (20% of what Rooney earns a week and the same amount that Chelsea Ladies just payed Reading F.C. Women for the services of Fran Kirby in the most expensive English women’s transfer to date). It wasn’t too long ago that English female international players were finally awarded fixed contracts, giving them the security that meant they could potentially choose to play football full time. However even the fixed wage isn’t enough for many of them to live on; striker Eni Aluko is a trained lawyer whilst left back Claire Rafferty also works as a Business Analyst. One player in the WSL2 even moonlights as a fire fighter, meaning she is sometimes on shift before coming in to play a match. If these women do one day get access to the kind of money that the men are earning, it’s hard to imagine them behaving in the same spoilt manner that many of their male counterparts do. Players such as Jill Scott could not hide their excitement at the private jet which they received for the tournament, or the fact that they’ve recently met Prince William on the back of their World Cup success. They’ve had to do it the hard way – without the reward of a huge pay packet or stardom – simply for the love of the game, and it’s so refreshing to see them enjoying every moment and finally getting some of the rewards they deserve.
Commentators and spectators alike were particularly impressed with the level of honesty from all of the teams involved in the 2015 World Cup. Unlike the scenes which we have come to expect from the men’s game nowadays, there was very little diving, dirty play, or campaigning to the referee for bookings or sendings off. The players simply had one thing on their minds; being judged fair and square on the back of their sporting ability and nothing else. It might be worth Ashley Young thinking about that the next time he decides to hit the deck after the faintest of touches.
Not only were the players incredibly honest on the pitch, but off it too. Only last year England centre back and former captain, Casey Stoney, came out as gay when she announced her relationship with former teammate Megan Harris followed by the news that they were expecting twins. Winger Karen Carney has spoken about her experiences with depression and how it, at times, made her want to leave the game behind. England’s most capped player ever, male or female, Fara Williams, has spoken of how she was homeless for a number of years during her career. Youngster Fran Kirby publicly discussed how the loss of her mother at a young age pushed her to drop out of football for a few years. Even Kelly Smith, retired England captain and widely renowned as the best female player England has ever produced, has been open about her battles with depression and alcoholism when playing football in America. Hearing these women speak about their personal battles really has been inspiring for a generation of young footballers. Although male players may find themselves in a more stigmatised environment, it would be nice for us to be able to open up the culture of male football a little bit, giving more players like Robbie Rodgers the confidence to open up and be themselves and perhaps inspire a younger generation of male footballers to do the same.
And one thing the women could learn from the men…
If there’s one thing that most people can agree on from this World Cup, it’s that the standard of refereeing was very much below par. Whether it was the ref calling for a foul that was clearly a fair challenge, the lines woman missing an obvious offside, or the fourth official adding far more stoppage time on than was necessary, the refereeing team really did produce a catalogue of errors. However, as women’s football in England looks to grow off the back of this hugely successful world cup, our female referees will surely be exposed to a much higher quality of football and much more pressurised situations, meaning that their refereeing capabilities should grow as women’s football does.
What were your thoughts on the Lionesses’ efforts at the 2015 world cup? Let Steph know at email@example.com
Photo Credit: The Independent