If you’d have told me in 2017, when the Lionesses were last in a semi-final, that I’d be heading off down the pub with mates-in-tow to watch Women’s football I’d have laughed. Not a chance.
Connotations of ‘Women don’t play football’ or ‘I’m not watching that shit’ most probably rang around my head, albeit all nonsense.
We’d arrived to find that the pub in question point blank refused to turn on the TV which left us fuming – what a change in emotions since the last European Championships.
We all huddled around mobile screens with varying delays, as Alessia Russio lit up the European stage with an outrageous nutmeg in-between the legs of Hedvig Lindahl in the Sweden goal, as Millie Bright did her best Sonny Bradley impression and as Mary Earps pulled off yet another impressive string of saves.
Only 3 weeks earlier I was in Manchester along with roughly sixty-eight thousand others to watch a rather dry affair as Beth Mead chipped the ‘keeper to hand England an opening 1-0 win over Austria – now I get this isn’t a piece on me and my new found love of the game.
However, that night at Old Trafford felt different to anything previous.
We were surrounded by similar figures I’d become accustomed to at a Men’s game. The bald-headed, England-Tattoo cladded men, the young lads awash with Stone Island clobber, the older couple that had huddled together with matching scarves but also thousands of young kids vying for their opportunity to watch those they look up to. Bucket hats and retro shirts galore. St. George’s Flags aplenty.
Despite all the usual suspects, the women’s game can quite often be a much more relaxed affair, but the atmosphere that night was rousing. Equal to that of a European night for the Red Devils. It gained a real sense that this game and tournament was about to live-long in the minds of today’s youth and inspire a generation.
So where am I going with this?
Ian Wright’s recent outburst on the BBC was seen by millions both live and on social media; his message was clear. Let. Them. Play.
The women’s game has stalled in progress mainly due to the FA’s ban in 1921 that lasted 100 years – partly due to their belief their game was outgrowing the men’s post-war – and until girls are able to play at all levels the game will continue to be below where it should.
Recent reports from the FA concluded that only 63% of schools offer girls football in PE lessons and whilst only 40% of schools offer girls extra-curricular football. You could argue it’s encouraging compared to when I was at school, but it’s still depressing. It’s at this level that attitudes really begin to change; my nephews running home from school to catch games on TV and talking about it amongst friends is fascinating to me the most.
The transformation is already in full flow; 68,000 at Old Trafford, 90,000 due at a sell-out Wembley final, 11.3 million tuning in to the semi-final against Sweden and the government insisting it will invest further into the women’s game – all positives on the surface. But the real legacy won’t necessarily be if our Lionesses reach another final; it will be if grassroots clubs sprout women’s sides, if girls are offered more football on the school curriculum and if deep-routed stigmas that belong in the past stay there.
With Argyle’s Women’s side now fully under the wing of the Community Sports Trust they’re starting to get the much needed support of the club and partnerships like the 2019 deal with the University of Marjon aids both parties to provide greater opportunities
As for said opportunities, Argyle invited the Women’s side to open the newly refurbished grandstand in front of around 800 hardy souls who had braved the awful weather, in a test event against Watford. The club themselves tried to drum up endless support for the game for which TV cameras were deployed and Simon and Jane Hallett flew over.
Argyle, on an 11 game unbeaten run were pipped on the day to a 5-4 defeat. Goals aplenty, talent all over the pitch.
We’ve since had a game that saw 846 in attendance, again at Home Park, as we drew 2-2 with Portsmouth. But barring these two anomalies, attendances are often very low, with Manadon not being the best suited to the visiting match-day experience but here’s hoping the recent successes of the Lionesses not only boost the attendances and following of Argyle Women, but encourage the next Beth Ireland, Kayleigh Lane or Sophie Perrin through the academy ranks.
Mari Ward, Mia Endacott, Taya Pomfret, Rosie Train and Ruby Murphy among others have been called up to represent England in a variety of roles and age groups, further testament to the work being done at the club; alongside being named as an FA Emerging Talent Centre for the next 3 years.
We’ve seen Poppy Soper and Panagiota Papaioannou feature on the international stage for Wales and Greece respectively in recent seasons. Poppy earned herself a move to Women’s Super League champions Chelsea. Last season also saw Gemma Rose return after stints away at Birmingham City and Arsenal.
The talent is there, it’s just waiting to be seen.
It’s not until we’ve let the dust settle post-Wembley that we’ll know the real outcome on the impact of these games, however we can already see the tide is turning and long may it continue. The final is not the end of the journey, but the start of one.
The recent outpouring of support for the Project 35 campaign shows Plymouth, and our fanbase, is far less single-minded than most cities and the club appear keen to harness that community spirit, so here’s hoping we can carry that support through to the Women’s team post any Euro triumph.
Long story short; get yourself to a game, you might surprise yourself.
Argyle themselves are showing the Lionesses in the final against a Germany side that have EIGHT championship to their name; doors to the Argyle Lounge open at 4:15 ahead of a 5pm kick off. Entry is Free.
If you haven’t been caught up in all things Lionesses yet, let’s hope a win this evening with get even the most red-faced of you beaming with Pride.