Alison McGovern: The Lionesses finally brought football home – this must be a huge turning point in the fight for equality
Did you cry? I did. I was crying before kick-off, never mind at the end.
To be fair, it’s not the first time I have cried watching women play football. It is overwhelming to see something become real that you have wanted for so long. There it is, happening before your eyes, and there you are, overcome with joyful emotion.
Our brilliant Lionesses wanted to win. They showed themselves brave and skilful, and above all else, determined to win. That confidence and ability shone out at Wembley. A hard game against a very talented and well-organised Germany never looked easy, but England willed themselves on.
My 68-year-old Dad said to me, “I’ve been waiting since I was 12 to see England win a trophy again.” I thought, yes. And women have been fighting that whole time for the right to be the ones to do it.
Leah Williamson didn’t just lift that trophy for the very best footballers in our country, she lifted it in defiance of the idea that women will be told what they cannot do
Speak to any woman who cares about football, and she will have her stories. From being the only woman on the coaching course, being the teenager with no girls team to play for, to the mum who takes her son to footy and had always been desperate to have a go. I know women who have begun playing for the first time in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and even older. Often wracked with nerves but then elated at finally having a ball at your feet. For all of us across the generations, the Lionesses’ win represents not just an elite victory, but as our captain Leah Williamson put it, a change in society.
It is not just what happened at the top level, it’s a change that is coming right across our country. It’s not just the barriers faced by previous generations of Lionesses to play. You don’t need to have had struggles like Lioness Rachel Yankey who pretended to be a boy to play, or like Lioness Fara Williams who played at the top level whilst being homeless, to want that change in society. You don’t have to have been one of the early pioneers – the brave gang who went to Mexico in 1971 – to understand the huge shift we are living through.
Almost every woman I know who went to school in the 1980s or 1990s experienced the playground domination of boys playing football. Speak to those who went to a girls’ school, like I did, and the idea that we would play football was a joke.
We are a joke no more. Leah Williamson didn’t just lift that trophy for the very best footballers in our country, she lifted it in defiance of the idea that women will be told what they cannot do.
Of course, the fight does not end here. As our fabulous team were being applauded in Trafalgar Square, the FA are already on to their next campaign: #Letgirlsplay. They are demanding equal access to football in schools by 2024. All power to them, I say. Let’s use this moment to fight on for total equality.
But most of all, we should dwell on this moment and enjoy it. I thank the Lionesses past and present for showing us the joy inherent in sport. As Chloe Kelly poked that ball into the back of the net and wheeled away, everyone shared in her joy in that incredible moment of achievement. We may not televise the woman in her 70s scoring at walking football for the first time, or the girl in the school football team lacing up her boots and running on to the pitch, but I can tell you, the joy is there too. I can’t wait to see what all women who love football do next.
Alison McGovern is the Labour MP for Wirral South and co-chair of Women's Football APPG.
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