At school, the opportunity to play soccer as a girl was never mentioned. It was always the sport that the boys played. The compulsory physical education lessons for the girls at my Buckinghamshire grammar school consisted of netball and hockey, and the occasional game of rounders or basketball, while the boys played football and rugby. Lessons weren’t for me, so I thought sports weren’t for me either.
The only opportunity to play soccer came towards the end of high school when a girl tried to put together a team and failed. I decided I didn’t know how to kick a ball properly; I’d rather sit on the sidelines than attempt a dodgy punt for the first time; and besides, he had never owned a pair of boots.
I had a million excuses why I couldn’t play, although none were enough and now I regret it, but we had been taught that it was not for us. Looking back, I wish I had thought more about why it was just for kids. Especially since watching the Lionesses beat Germany on Sunday, the passion of the team, hearing Alex Scott’s voice break with emotion, the absolute delight of the crowd, I felt pure joy.
So I felt angry. For me and all the other girls who never had the chance, who were picked up by our hobbies at such a young age. On Sunday, in her closing statement for the BBC’s coverage of the 2-1 match, presenter Gabby Logan told 17.4 million viewers: “The Lionesses have brought football home, now it’s up to the rest of us. make sure it stays here. .”
In the following 24 hours, Google searches for girls’ soccer kits increased by 3,233% and searches for girls’ soccer training increased by 614% as a new generation of Lionesses were inspired to play. Some will be young girls, but others are women who are being pushed back into the arms of a sport that they were long told was not for them.
Aimee Quye, 37, says she was put off playing football at her all-girls school, where there were limited sports options and no role models. Out of school, aged 12, she played a couple of seasons for Northampton Town Girls. But she still felt out of place, so she hung up her boots.
“There was never really a full team of players, a lot of people came to train and then they didn’t. It didn’t feel like an established team with much spirit. I just didn’t feel comfortable,” says Quye. Yo. As an adult, she has had a Crystal Palace season ticket for 15 years, but she does not play herself.
Jodie Houghton, 30, from Macclesfield also grew up loving the sport but couldn’t find a team she felt she belonged with. “She was crazy about soccer in elementary school,” she says, “she used to go to the games and play every night on the green with the local kids who were almost all boys.”
Then there were setbacks, like her school dissuading her from playing because it was out of the ordinary. So, inevitably, her enthusiasm “waned” and “the whole football thing left a bad taste in my mouth.” [her] “It was frustrating to hear kids at school being praised for how well they were doing because I knew I could be just as good,” says Houghton.
For others, it’s not just a feeling of missing out on the sport, but the potential community there is to enjoy and appreciate. Sports psychologist Dr. Josie Perry (who played bowling, netball, and hockey at school) says that watching the boys “kick” at lunchtime while the girls sat on the sidelines (trying to make a ball not kicked them in the head) made her desire a similar female community focused on activity: a collective passion.
Some women have found that they have now returned to the sport in old age, inspired by apparently changing attitudes towards women’s football.
Paula Griffin is a member of the goal seekers club in Hackney, London, for women and non-binary gamers. Griffin returned to the game in June 2021 after 15 years on the sidelines, and says she has never been so “behind an English team” as with Sarina Wiegman’s women at the European Championships. “It made me incredibly happy. It’s a really special moment,” she says.
Griffin is a trans woman and played soccer as a child on minor league teams. Now she says that she is the “fittest mentally and physically I’ve ever been.” When she talks about women’s soccer, Griffin says “there’s a whole different vibe.” “There is a negativity sometimes with the men and they tend to put their teammates down. It’s about enjoying the game and playing for the love of the game.”
At the end of the England-Sweden match on July 26, football commentator Ian Wright said: “If girls are not allowed to play football like boys do, in their physical education, after this tournament, what we are doing? We have to make sure they can play…this is the proudest thing I’ve ever felt from any team in England.”
It is clear that the historic Lionesses trophy has the potential to create a legacy of change, to encourage more women and girls to return to the sport. Women like me who wish they had experienced girls’ soccer, a powerful antidote to those who told us it was off limits.
For Quye, who was forced to give up her passion, she says it’s “fantastic” to see such a change. “A lot of young girls aspire to play the game and now it’s accepted.”