Women’s World Cup Win Would Electrify Women’s Football in England
July 2, 2019
Four years ago, England finished third at the Women’s World Cup. It was the Lionesses best ever finish in the tournament and was billed as something of a breakthrough moment for the women’s game in the country. Now, however, those achievements pale in comparison to what Phil Neville and his team could pull off over the next week.
While England’s third-place finish at the 2015 Women’s World Cup came as something of a surprise, expectations in 2019 are much higher. Along with France and the USA, the Lionesses were considered among the frontrunners to win the whole thing. With France already eliminated, many see Tuesday’s semi final against the near indomitable USA as the showpiece event of the whole tournament.
Glory in Lyon, first for the semi final and then the final, would rank alongside 1966 as English football’s greatest ever achievement. But such an achievement would be about much more than just a group of players getting their hands on a trophy. It would be a moment of true cultural and societal significance.
This Women’s World Cup has already gone some way to smashing through the glass ceiling. TV viewership records have been broken, shops have been ransacked of merchandise, and in general the tournament has struck a mainstream chord like never before. And yet England’s semi final against the USA presents women’s football in the country with even bigger opportunity
It will be the biggest match in the history of the women’s game in England, largely due to the opposition. Many have tried to find a men’s equivalent for the US women’s national team. Of course, some will argue, with good reason, that women’s football shouldn’t always be compared to the men’s game, but for the sake of indulging the instinct to draw parallels there have been a few suggestions, with many labelling the USA the Brazil of the Women’s World Cup.
But that comparison doesn’t quite do justice to the sheer dominance of the USA over women’s international football. Brazil haven’t won a World Cup since 2002, only making it as far as the semi finals in the four tournaments since. By comparison, the USA have won three of the seven Women’s World Cups played, making the final four times.
More accurately, the USWNT are to women’s international football what Celtic are to Scottish football and what Paris Saint-Germain are to Ligue 1. Anything short of their continued supremacy is considered a shock.
On top of this, the USA boast an unparalleled array of superstars – the kind of players whose faces frequently appear on Times Square billboards. Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath, just to name a few, are icons. They are somewhere between the Galacticos and the Avengers of women’s football.
Overcoming such opposition would electrify the women’s game in England. It would make national and global stars of the Lionesses. Consider how the success stories of the 2012 Olympics were retold over and over again, jumped upon by brands for adverts and special lines of supermarket sports apparel.
England’s Women’s World Cup winners could expect to be on the Graham Norton sofa before too long. And alongside Matt Baker and Alex Jones on The One Show. And talking to Paul Hollywood on Celebrity Bake-Off. This might sound like a trivialisation of what would be an astonishing sporting success, but such things would be significant.
It would represent a genuine crossover into the mainstream, putting more focus on women’s football. With this interest in the Women’s Super League would surely grow, bringing more investment into the sport. And more investment would, in time, improve the national standard and see the cycle self-perpetuate.
For generations, women’s football in England was stuck in a Catch 22 predicament – it failed to receive mainstream coverage because it lacked the audience, but it couldn’t attract the audience without the mainstream coverage. Now, this cycle has been fragmented. An England win over the USA on Tuesday would smash the cycle to pieces.
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Author: Graham Ruthven
Graham Ruthven is a football writer and broadcaster based in Glasgow, Scotland. He was written for the New York Times, the Guardian, Eurosport, Bleacher Report, Four Four Two, The Scotsman and others. He is also a football shirt aficionado and still maintains to this day that Dennis Bergkamp didn’t mean it