The England Womens Team
Watching the England Lionesses crash out of the World Cup semi-finals on Wednesday night in the most unfortunate of circumstances left me feeling truly gutted. It’s heart-wrenching to see any side that one has a modicum of personal interest in lose on the world stage, but an injury-time own goal… crushing.
What saddened me the most was the fact that this England side showed something which hadn’t been seen since the mighty triumvirate of Shearer, Sheringham and Gascoigne fell at the same hurdle in Euro 1996 – passion. Every single player present in that squad was desperate to be there and prove to the world that they have what it takes to mix it with the best of them.
With a less than modest pass completion rate of 63% over the course of the tournament and no truly world class players in their midst, the Lionesses have formed a bond which has so often been the difference between a meaningless draw and a crucial late win. You can teach a player or a team to be better at football, but what you cannot do is impart a natural sense of determination and duty onto a player. This is a trick often missed which has seen too many bad apples slip into tournament squads throughout recent times. Even at club level, QPR transfer strategy of big names over big hearts will now see them playing in the Championship this season.
As a newcomer to the women’s game courtesy of this tournament, it’s been a hugely refreshing experience to be able to sit back and enjoy the sport without the constant arguing with officials, rolling around on the floor, and playing the big ‘I am’. Not one single yellow card has been issued for diving or dissent during the entire tournament and the respect amongst players and officials seems more akin to rugby than football.
In terms of actual footballing quality, I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed too much of it, although to hold this tournament up against professional men’s leagues or tournaments would be grossly unfair. Finance, infrastructure, and the sheer numbers of women playing the sport are incomparably smaller – around 1.9 million people in the UK play football at least once per week but only around 7% of those are women.
As a sport which is still very much in its infancy amongst women in a professional sense, England’s campaign, which must surely be seen as a positive one, will only serve to further fuel its growing popularity. There have been no suggestions of players ducking international duty or somehow finding themselves bored during the biggest tournament of their lives, just a stoic commitment to leaving everything on the pitch whilst playing with humility and pride.
One thing’s for sure – this tournament has reminded a life long fan of the men’s game what it is to actually watch a game of football once again without the diving, vociferous abuse and arrogance that seems as much an accepted part of the modern game as vanishing spray.