Want to get into the Women's World Cup—but no idea where to start? Football journalist Kelly Welles offers an easy, four-step guideby Kelly Welles / June 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
The arrival of the Premier League in 1992 has been blamed for many things, but creating among a significant portion of the nation’s population a pathological dependence on rich men running around a flash stadium is rarely one of them. Men’s football has turned into something of a pantomime with its seasonal unveiling of heroes, villains, batshit plotlines and tropes. What’s more, it’s one we all seem to know.
Hence why, this year, we’re all side-eying the Women’s World Cup. It’s a bit awkward, trying to catch its eye without looking too keen, horribly uncertain as to how to make our move and yet desperate to get involved.
As a woman and a football writer, I should be all over women’s football like Martin Keown on Ruud van Nistelrooy—but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I struggle to connect. I only know a few players. I’ve only seen a few games.
But while I don’t intend to patronise those who have been working in women’s football by suggesting my interest in the men’s game makes me an expert, I do want to support and promote something that will inspire young girls in a way I never experienced. We have all the tools to get into Women’s football. We just need to apply them. Here’s how.
Buy the sticker book. If anything signifies a levelling up of this competition, it’s that Panini got involved. A must for any self-respecting football nerd, the sticker album is a treasure trove of opportunity. This is your first opportunity to size up the opposition, panic that England look daft in their photos and analyse who’s got the best hair in the world.
This sticker book comes with a World Cup wall chart enabling one to calculate complex paths to the final and panic that we’re going to meet Germany in the semis.
Much is different about women’s football—but Germany’s threat level is not.
Work out your optimum immersion period. Ask anyone who loves football what the best thing about major tournaments is, and they’ll go dreamy eyed and dribbly while they say “three games a day.” A football fan’s schedule during opening fortnight is watching matches intently, filling in an Excel spreadsheet as the results come in and trying to stuff the rest of their life into the hour or so between games.
With 24 teams (and not the dead rubber-strewn 48 FIFA were trying to introduce until very recently) this summer’s World Cup offering the temptation of three games a day full immersion without your partner threatening to leave you if you insist on watching Cameroon vs. New Zealand.
Familiarise yourself with your home nation. This is probably the best part if you’re English. While things have perked up recently, most of you reading this will still bear the scars of our performance in men’s tournaments over the last thirty years. Boredom, injury and media pestilence has variously disrupted preparation and execution of the England team and it’s been hard, if not impossible, to retain faith when all you’ve ever known is an inability to make a midfield work effectively. Lest we forget, the last English player to stride confidently onto the turf at the Camp Nou in home colours was Gary Lineker in 1986.
England forward Toni Duggan signed for Barcelona in 2017 and currently has 20 goals in 51 appearances. Her England colleague Lucy Bronze just picked up the Champions League trophy with Lyon, a club that boasts the current Ballon d’Or Feminina award, Ada Hegerberg. More on her in a sec—but you can see they’ve got the tools.
VIVE LA DIFFERENCE! There’s a lot of things to hate about men’s football. Even if you love it. The relentless intolerance of difference. The lazy punditry, the old boys’ network mentality—and the amount of money sloshing around that same network.
Women’s football, meanwhile, survived without financial support for decades. The only thing driving the game forward until recently was the fact that women kept playing it—without access to proper facilities, while holding down jobs and raising families. You don’t have to ask if they can do it on a wet Tuesday night in Stoke because they have been since they started playing. These are not people who’ve been hothoused in an academy since they were nine and given £30k a week before their eighteenth birthday.
Still not convinced they mean it? The aforementioned Ada Hegerberg, who scored three goals in that Champions League final I referred to earlier, won’t be representing Norway in this year’s tournament. Hegerberg, 23, has refused to play for her national team since 2017, citing “a lack of respect for female players in Norway.” That’s the current Ballon d’Or holder refusing to participate in a World Cup because she doesn’t feel her colleagues, who aren’t as well-known as she is, receive fair treatment.
It’s a cliche, but if Lionel Messi had done that, everyone would be going crazy.