Goals are goals

Natasha Chahal

In January, after Chelsea beat West Ham 4-2, the Sun ran the headline: ‘Cuthbert Harder! Chelsea scorers sound like posh people having sex.’ Erin Cuthbert tweeted that she wished ‘people reported on the actual match reports and women’s football with the same level of enthusiasm’. The article was eventually removed from the Sun’s website even though Piers Morgan defended it: ‘Calm down ladies, it’s called HUMOUR. This kind of stuff happens to male players all the time. Get over yourselves.’ My eyes cannot roll back far enough.

Despite the disparity in reporting on men’s and women’s football there is a growing appetite for a game that has been fully professional in England only since 2018. The BBC introduced its coverage of Euro 2022 with a recorded message from the actress Natalie Portman, who recently set up a football team in LA. (Angel City FC’s other investors include Serena Williams, Jessica Chastain, Eva Longoria and Mia Hamm.) ‘Please let’s not focus on this being women’s football,’ Portman said. ‘Skill is skill. Goals are goals. Football is football.’

England won their opening game against Austria 1-0. As the tournament progressed the manager, Sarina Wiegman, missed a few matches because of Covid. But the team paid attention to whatever remote advice she was giving them, and played tight, comprehensive football, scoring twenty goals in five games and conceding only one.

Wiegman’s tenure began last September. Her predecessor, Phil Neville, wasn’t an obvious fit with a women’s football team. His wife once revealed he had never used an iron or a mop, and it was while Neville was manager that the Lionesses advertised washing powder. He quit in January 2021 rather than see out the last six months of his contract, and Hege Riise filled in till Wiegman could start. I’d rather see a woman in the job, in part because a female manager is more likely to be in it for the long haul rather than using women’s football as a stepping stone into the men’s arena.

There are other reasons to want a woman to coach a women’s team. In 2020 the Chelsea manager, Emma Hayes, announced that players would have their training programmes tailored to their menstrual cycles to reduce the risk of soft tissue injuries. Since then Chelsea have won both the Women’s Super League and the FA Cup.

The England women’s squad is less racially diverse than the men’s. A lot of the commentary on this tournament has included variations on Marian White Edelman’s observation that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’ It’s a double-edged sword: we can now see professional women footballers but an opportunity will surely be missed if England don’t look to develop multicultural talent. As Tziarra King, who now plays for OL Reign in Seattle, tweeted in 2020:

I’ve always felt some type of way about straight ponytails being the symbol for ‘women’, especially in sports. I’ve got x amount of soccer trophies in my basement with ponytails and every time I saw that as a kid I thought ‘this was not made for me.’

France are an incredibly skilful side as well as a racially diverse one. Their left back, Sakina Karchaoui, is second only to the England captain, Leah Williamson, for most balls won in the competition. They were unlucky not to get to the final, losing 2-1 to Germany in the semis. Going into the Euros, Sweden were ranked second in the world (behind the US). But they didn’t have an easy run, another sign of how competitive play has been in this tournament, and England knocked them out 4-0 in the semifinals. Ian Wright said that Alessia Russo’s back-heel, which nutmegged the Swedish keeper, was his goal of the year.

The most repeated criticism of the women’s game is that the goalkeeping is bad but time and time again Mary Earps has proved that assessment wrong. Whether or not England beat Germany on Sunday, they should ‘put a smile on people’s faces’, as Fran Kirby has said. ‘They may be going through a hard time in terms of the rising fuel costs and the cost of living right now. Hopefully we can give people an escape for ninety-plus minutes when they turn their TVs on.’ And maybe they will win, and England’s women will bring football home.


  • 29 July 2022 at 5:25am
    su fernandez says:
    I'm confused by the argument that a given sport must be ethnically diverse. I've not heard this complaint about the NBA, which is almost 75% black. In the recent World Athletics Championships, unless I'm mistaken, all the sprints were won by blacks. In sport, isn't the criterion ability?

    • 29 July 2022 at 9:47am
      Harry Stopes says: @ su fernandez
      We can leave aside for a minute all the ways in which ability (or potential) might be denied a chance to shine because of barriers internal or external to the sport. What’s striking about the England women’s team is that it’s significantly less diverse than the men’s team. For men (and boys) football is unquestionably the national game , across race, class, etc. I don’t know enough about women’s football to say if the same is true, but from the vantage point of men’s football it seems strange that the women’s national team should be so white - and this, I think, is the point the author is making with the comparison.

    • 29 July 2022 at 2:22pm
      Jake Bharier says: @ Harry Stopes
      Worth a look at this thoughtful piece by Anita Asanti: . The pundits, mostly ex-players, seem a pretty diverse bunch. Asanti suggests that something has changed since 2010.

    • 29 July 2022 at 3:58pm
      su fernandez says: @ Harry Stopes
      Hello, barriers to entry is exactly the point. Excelling in sport or in academia, the professions, and so on requires investment, investment of time and money that poor families do not have. Role models are not produced out of thin air. I note that 10 of the squad attended university and four of the squad attended college in the US, with two playing at football powerhouse U. North Carolina.

    • 31 July 2022 at 6:58am
      Sean Ryan says: @ Jake Bharier
      That’s a very interesting piece. I don’t quite buy the role model argument because children don’t have such a narrow view that they only look to people in an English shirt. My young nephew’s role model is Mo Salah. When I was young, everyone tried to learn the Cruyff turn. We didn’t care that he wasn’t English. I can’t see why the more diverse French players shouldn’t be an inspiration.
      But the Anita Asanti article makes the really interesting point that it may now be more difficult for girls from poorer backgrounds to access opportunities. In the wake of a successful tournament, the FA should be looking at that problem.

    • 1 August 2022 at 12:33pm
      Nicholas Carter says: @ Sean Ryan
      Class, then.

  • 1 August 2022 at 2:38pm
    MattG says:
    Football is about petty tribalism and nationalism, about inequality of income, ownership by the 1%, top down management.

    I really don't get why ethnically diverse professional football is a good thing. It's still a metaphor for capitalism

    • 3 August 2022 at 5:21pm
      immaculate says: @ MattG
      I used to play for an amateur socialist football team, but we never won any games.

      The team was set up idiosyncratically - we had four playing as left wingers, and the other seven were on the extreme left, which meant they were always way over the touch line and out of play. The goalie was one them, so we were terribly open at the back.

      Our manager was an inspiration - after each drubbing he always told us that although we had lost the match, we had won the argument. Eventually he left football and went into politics, or so I heard. I often wonder what became of him.

    • 3 August 2022 at 7:38pm
      MattG says: @ immaculate
      Love your poem

    • 4 August 2022 at 2:54pm
      Delaide says: @ immaculate
      I had a good laugh at that. Thank you.

  • 3 August 2022 at 7:30pm
    HankUS says:
    In some American intercollegiate sports, class is critical. To get to, say, intercollegiate Division I women's hockey, one needs to have a sponsor or a family wealthy enough to pay the expensive fees necessary to be a member of an elite traveling club team, to pay for an individual fitness coach, to for trips to international tournaments and even national tournaments. Of course, some manage to make it without that kind of support from parents or a sponsor, but it is a rare case. Needless to say, many talented players, black, hispanic, and yes, white never make it for want of money.

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