BY JOHN GUBBA
When England Lionesses beat the Germans in extra time at Wembley to win Euro 2022 it was the perfect way for our Women to celebrate what will go down in history as the day football finally came home.
Not because it is 56 years since England’s Men won the World Cup against the Germans below the original twin towers. Women were still banned from playing at English Stadiums by the Football Association in 1966.
No. This victory was all about the Women and how our Lionesses have made the Beautiful Game their own despite an historical lack of support that goes back decades.
Women’s football was thriving at the turn of the 1920s after men’s football had been suspended during the First World War.
On Boxing Day 1920 a sell-out crowd of 53,000 packed Goodison Park for a club match that set a record attendance for a women’s match that would stand for 92 years, until Team GB beat Brazil at London 2012 in front of 70,594.
The following year the English FA banned all stadiums affiliated to their governing body from staging women’s matches, stating: “football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged.”
England was not alone. Other countries followed suit claiming that soccer damaged female bodies, making them masculine and unable to have children,
Much to the disgrace of the Football Association and the whole world of association football, it was a ban that remained in place for half a century.
When the English FA lifted its ban in 1971 following the first unofficial Women’s World Cup in Italy in 1970, there were still many restrictions and in germany, for example, women were only allowed to play if their games met absurd conditions . . . no studs, a lighter ball, games restricted to 70 minutes and only when the weather was warm.
It was not until 1991 that FIFA sanctioned the first official Women’s World Cup – won by the USA in China when they beat Norway 2-1 in the Final. The Americans have won four of the eight Women’s World Cups staged and will be the defending champions at next year’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand.
Women’s soccer was finally allowed at the Olympics in 1996. But it is worth remembering that the world was still not universally in favour of females playing football when the film Bend It Like Beckham became the highest grossing football film in 2002.
Fast forward twenty years to England’s historic European Championship triumph over the Germans. And it is impossible to over estimate what a seismic breakthrough this is for the women’s game at the traditional home of football.
When Chloe Kelly whipped off her top and raced away to celebrate her extra time winner it was an iconic moment in the history of women’s sport.
Kelly’s 111th minute strike was her first ever international goal and it came in front of a record breaking crowd of 87,192.
This was the ultimate victory for the Lionesses against an all-conquering German team never before beaten in the Final of the European Championships and eight time winners.
Watched by a captivated global TV audience this was a wonderful advert for women’s football between the two best teams in the tournament.
When Manchester United’s attacking midfielder Ella Toone opened the scoring with an exquisite goal of outstanding beauty – racing clear to lob the ball over the advancing German keeper – it was a magical moment that will have inspired millions of girls around the world who can now dream of future glories.
In typical fashion the Germans forced the match into extra time when Lina Magull equalised after earlier hitting the crossbar.
But once again England manager Sarina Wiegman’s substitutions proved decisive. And just like fellow sub Toone had found the scoresheet, Kelly became the extra time hero when she forced home the winner in the second period of extra time.
The celebrations that followed at full time will long live in the memory of every man, woman and child who rejoiced at the victory party inside a delirious Wembley Stadium.
And to crown a majestic triumph Her Majesty The Queen added her seal of approval by proclaiming: “Your success goes far beyond the trophy you have so deservedly earned.”