“The legacy of this tournament is the change in society” – England’s Captain Leah Williamson after winning WEuro2022 at Wembley

A nice way to end what has otherwise been an extraordinarily difficult month for many of us – not least with the heatwave. Above – England’s Captain Leah Williamson being interviewed by BBC Sport.

If you missed any of it, see the BBC’s coverage and clips here.

England’s women went one better than the men in the football, winning a major international championship for the first time since 1966 – a time when women were banned by the Football Association from playing on FA-registered football venues.

Now there’s a historical research project for someone – identify the decision makers and the lobbyists behind the ban, and the campaigners who spent half a century trying to overturn it. (Search the digitised newspaper articles from the time at the British Newspaper Archive)

Watching her interview on the livestream, it was her legacy comment that struck me – irrespective of whether it was rehearsed or not. This was a squad that came to the tournament not just to win, not just to make history, but to change society for the better.

Credit to Germany for pushing England all the way in a high tempo, competitive and tense final

The game could easily have gone the other way it was that close. But then that’s what contributes towards a memorable final. I think so anyway. Germany were hit with very bad luck, losing captain and star striker Alexandra Popp through an injury during the warm up. Not that Germany were lacking in depth. The number of substitutions allowed in the tournament meant that the stronger and more organised squads with greater depth were always going to have an upper hand – in particular at the latter stages of games.

Back in 2006 I hoped that Anglo-German relations were going to improve and no longer be defined by the first half of the 20th Century on the UK’s side. Which was when Nena and Kim Wilde released this cracking version of Irgendwie, Irgendwo, Irgendwann / Anyplace Anywhere Anytime

As Billy Bragg said at the Cambridge Folk Festival 2022 after interrupting his set to announce the result:

“Let’s not piss the feeling away this time!” (I think in reference to London 2012).

Credit to those off the pitch as well as on it.

Above – also from the BBC Live Stream – the trainers and backroom support.

I recall a documentary made about the Euro ’88 Netherlands’ mens team that played England off the park in the second half in a tournament marred by football hooliganism only three years after Heysel. The Dutch players recalled how the first eleven were trained hard by the reserves – even though many of the latter knew they would not get a game. Hence the importance of having a strong sense of the whole squad being responsible for, and sharing in the glory of winning. It was also when one of the players (a shame I can’t find the video – I think it was ESPN-produced) said they put a huge amount of preparation into stopping England’s star player that season, John Barnes. The defender also said that England fans underestimated / did not know how much effort opposing sides put into stopping Barnes from getting the ball, and doubling up on him, which in part explains why he never stood a chance of meeting the very high expectations England had of him following his goal against Brazil in Brazil in 1984, and as an impact substitute in the last few minutes of the ‘hand-of-god’ quarter-final against Argentina in Mexico two years later. (Racism in football being another major factor at the time – and sadly one that hasn’t gone away either).

Has football’s establishment changed? I fear not. And I’m not the only one.

I’m reminded of the stinker of a film United Passions (AKA FIFA The Movie – released just before the sporting authorities finally decided to take at least *some* action against the corruption in the game)

“I hear Blatter is very good at finding money”

United Passions trailer 2014

It remains to be seen whether the acquittal verdict in Sepp Blatter’s recent trial is the end of legal proceedings against him, or whether the US Authorities may wish to continue with their own investigations.

As former footballers Alex Scott (England Women) and Ian Wright (England Men) spoke out after the final whistle, there are a lot of men in the footballing corporate Establishment who need to look at themselves and the decisions they made. Journalist and author Susie Boniface wrote for The Mirror in greater detail – with a useful historical background too.

“And just to show that the football Establishment hasn’t changed at all, throughout the Lionesses’ barnstorming tournament in which they won every game, scored 22 goals and conceded only 2, many Premier League clubs refused to host matches. It meant the team played in Manchester City’s 10,000-seat academy stadium, not the 53,000-capacity Etihad.”

Susie Boniface / Fleet Street Fox, The Mirror 01 Aug 2022

To achieve the change in society means engaging with politicians – local as well as national. And in the City of Cambridge, we have a major piece of unfinished business on that front.

Cambridge United Women’s Football Club doesn’t even have a home ground inside the county, let alone the city. A disgrace to our city that needs rectifying.”

I wrote this five years ago back in 2017 when I think they were playing in Mildenhall, Suffolk. In previous seasons they have played home games in Ely (East Cambs District) and Mildenhall (West Suffolk District), and currently play them in St Neots (Huntingdonshire District).

Given the recent census data, Cambridge is long overdue a significant increase and improvement in our civic, leisure, and sporting infrastructure – and that specifically includes facilities for our women’s sporting clubs and disabled people too when it comes to inclusivity by design. And that’s not just the facilities themselves, but the transport routes to get to and from residential areas. This is where the campaigning group Make Space For Girls has done some very good research on making parks and open spaces can be designed to be inclusive for, and meet the needs of teenage girls. Their case studies featuring innovative and imaginative designs from across the world are worth looking at too – something local councillors should forward to their parks and recreation teams.

“Is a new stadium for Cambridge United Women’s Football Club a possibility in the emerging local plan for Greater Cambridge?”

It should be – because I wrote about it in September 2020, and have highlighted it repeatedly in local council and planning circles.

Above – raising the stadium issue again in November 2021.

The changes within society we need are multiple – and the England women have done more than their share to make a difference. Local democracy has a huge role to play in matching what they have achieved in cementing the change in society that England’s Captain Leah Williamson speaks about. Whether that’s challenging the macho culture in politics, demanding better, safer transport routes and high quality public transport systems, to affordable and accessible leisure facilities, and welcoming public parks and open spaces, there is a lot for local councils and for Whitehall to be getting on with. And if you think your local council needs a little more persuasion, drop your local councillors an email -> https://www.writetothem.com/ – and ask them what actions your local council will be taking as a result of the Women’s Euro 2022.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

%d bloggers like this: