England in Euro Final 2009

The women’s England football team are playing Germany in the Euro 2009 final today, and you can watch the match live at 16.45 on BBC2.

The Guardian has an interesting piece on the history of women’s football in England, from its heyday in the early 1900s, when tens of thousands turned out to watch matches, to the subsequent FA ban on women playing in 1921, its repeal in 1971 and the ‘uphill battle to recover its momentum ever since’:

If the Football Association is culpable for invoking that highly damaging ban in 1921, it has, since assuming responsibility for the women’s game in 1993, made significant inroads and investment into promoting it. The introduction of central contracts for senior England players has helped some of the women to make ends meet, but at just £16,000 a year – which equates to a day’s wages for some of England’s top male players – the sums are still tiny.

The government must also accept responsibility for the women’s game’s lack of development: a Sport England report in 2002 found that only 13% of girls had access to football coaching in schools, and an FA report in 2007 concluded that 52% of girls in England have had no experience of playing football, while 331,000 girls who have only ever played in a “kickabout” wanted to have the opportunity to join a team.

It is easy to blame predominantly male institutions for this, but as one Guardian blogger commented, “Women don’t support women’s sport – why should men?” Sweeping generalisations aside, there’s something in that.

I’d say the something in that is a mixture of internalised sexism, gender socialisation and a lack of awareness of women’s sports, but the blogger does have a point, and despite not generally being hugely interested in football, I’m going to watch the match because I want to support women’s right to play football professionally and be respected and remunerated for doing so. The more people watch, the more coverage the team will get, and the more girls – and PE teachers and parents – will see that football isn’t just for men, which has got to be a good thing. But right now, The Times thinks Rio Ferdinand’s caravan holiday in Wales in more interesting than the prospect of the women’s team becoming European champions (just keep scrolling down…).

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