It isn’t all over

Natasha Chahal

To paraphrase Ed Miliband in 2015, this is not the piece I wanted to write; this team has come back before and will come back again. Maybe it’s glib to compare football to politics but try telling that to the politicians. Keir Starmer has been lending his support to the women’s national team on social media. His style of play, he says, is ‘midfield, controlling operations, strong left foot’, though he admits his teammates might not describe him that way. Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, managed to mangle the cliché about a team leaving ‘everything on the pitch’ or ‘nothing in the dressing room’ and told the England women that they ‘left absolutely nothing out there’, though he went on to say: ‘We are all incredibly proud of you.’ I can only assume he didn’t really mean it but which part is unclear.

The World Cup Final yesterday was a lacklustre performance from England and a good one from the Spanish side, who deserved their 1-0 win. We had moments – Lauren Hemp hit the bar, Mary Earps continued to be outstanding in goal – but England looked tired. There was a lot of excitement about Lauren James coming on at half time, following her two-match ban for trampling on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie, but the ‘redemption match’ failed to deliver.

Spain were awarded a penalty in the 68th minute after a lengthy VAR discussion. Earps, who was awarded the Golden Glove after the game, diligently saved Jennifer Hermoso’s strike but it didn’t matter: the Spanish captain, Olga Carmona, had already scored the winning goal in the first half. Celebrating it, she lifted her shirt to show the name ‘Merchi’ written on her compression top. The goal was dedicated to a friend’s mother who had recently died. After the match, Carmona tragically learned of the death of her own father.

With all the confidence of a man, the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, said before the final:

You have the power to convince us, men, what we have to do and what we don’t have to do. You do it, just do it. With me, with FIFA, you will find open doors. Just push the doors, they are open. And, do it also at national level in every country, at continental level, in every confederation. Just keep pushing, keep the momentum, keep dreaming, and let’s really go for full equality.

Some doors may be open but some of them have more closed doors on the other side. After the Euros last year, fifteen players wrote to the Royal Spanish Football Federation to say they would no longer play for the country under Jorge Vilda’s management. He stayed, so the players left. Three – Ona Batlle, Aitana Bonmatí and Mariona Caldentey – returned for the World Cup. Both Vilda and the federation’s president, Luis Rubiales, no doubt feel vindicated after yesterday’s victory, but the success of the team appears to be in spite of rather than thanks to Vilda.

When the time came for FIFA to award medals post match, the BBC commentator Robyn Cowen observed that Infantino ‘managed to find his way down to the stage through a lot of open doors’. The England defender Lucy Bronze didn’t acknowledge him as she received her silver medal, keeping her head down until she had passed him. Luis Rubiales, meanwhile, rather than shaking the Spanish forward Jenni Hermoso by the hand, kissed her on the lips. Hermoso said on social media that she hadn’t liked it but a statement later released on her behalf tried to downplay it. Rubiales at first tried to defend his actions but as the criticism persisted he said: ‘I have to apologise, learn from this, and understand that when you are president you have to be more careful.’ It seems he still doesn’t get it. The injured England captain, Leah Williamson, said: ‘These girls are not the princesses that used to grace your bedtime stories.’ In other words, they shouldn’t have to kiss toads.

The disappointment of England’s loss dissipated fairly quickly. Spain’s success is still a victory for women. I’m looking forward to the 2027 World Cup with a hope I haven’t felt before. Not only for England but also for teams like Jamaica and Morocco who have fought much harder for a lot less. It isn’t so much that the perception of women’s football is changing; more that as each milestone is passed, it’s easier to block out the noise. Felicidades!


  • 23 August 2023 at 3:14pm
    Delaide says:
    In Australia it seemed the series united the country like nothing since the 2000 Olympics. Record attendances and viewerships. It wasn’t so much womens sport as just sport and the fact that so many players were gay just didn’t matter, it was mentioned only in passing. Our national netball team, with a much longer history of success, just won their World Cup but didn’t fire the collective imagination to anywhere the same extent. It was quite remarkable. I suspect the sociologists are still scratching their heads.

  • 23 August 2023 at 8:23pm
    Camus says:
    I much prefer watching the women's game. It 's not only the fact that there are far fewer fouls and hence fewer yellow and red cards, it's the complete absence of macho mannerisms and the calm and sympathetic way that the players showed their respect for their opponents .

  • 23 August 2023 at 10:01pm
    Gary Leiser says:
    Speaking as an American, the American team was an over-hyped bore. The rest was fun.