Saturday, August 6, 2022


The biggest laugh I ever had watching a football match.

I am so glad that even David Baddiel wants “Three Lions” to be “put to bed”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme the day after the Lionesses won Euro 2022 at Wembley Stadium, saying that “the women have reset the clock” gives me hope that England can finally lose the nostalgia that has wound a part of the national identity around the 1966 men’s World Cup final. 

I never liked the line “thirty years of hurt never stopped me dreaming” – that sort of pain can really only be felt by the players, not the crowd – but knowing that 1996 eventually became the half-way mark of hurt is really quite funny for someone who never had reason to like football. For a country that goes on about being the inventor of football as much as England does, for this to be an England team’s first major trophy in an international competition in my lifetime should be embarrassing, but the victory overcame the problems that blighted English men’s football finals: there was no obnoxious band playing in the crowd, no “two world wars, one world cup” goading of the opposing side, and they didn’t even need to play penalties.

This all made the team’s gatecrashing their coach, Sarina Wiegman’s press conference all the sweeter, singing “it’s coming home, it’s coming home” both as the team that actually did it, and as the team that was formed due to forward thinking that took place after 1966. The Women’s Football Association (WFA) would be formed in 1969 to establish a national team and league, and UEFA forced the [men’s] Football Association (FA) to end its fifty-year ban on women’s teams playing at FA team grounds in 1971 – the Lionesses played the first team against Scotland the following year.

I still don’t know if the Lionesses’ victory will make me want to watch more football, although that is the hope of the FA, which took over from the WFA in 1993: with only an average of two thousand spectators per Women’s Super League match, and a lack of investment at grass roots level, achieving parity with men’s football will require the support of the record audiences that watched the final on television and at Wembley, something that simply continued as before following 1966.

It is important to use history to understand the point we have reached, and where events could lead. With the history of football being dominated by the men – and men’s football will have to be distinguished as “men’s football” from now on – my hope is for the money and attention that will now be sent towards the Super League does not turn it into the bloated and repellent monster that the men’s Premier League has always felt like to me. 

With business and sport bound together so much that player salaries and transfer costs are statistics almost as important as match results, the opulence and distance felt in men’s football makes it feel like the prog rock Emerson, Lake and Palmer versus the Sex Pistols punk of women’s football. I can only hope this “punk” period can last longer than the 1970s punk did before it was co-opted and sanded down into “new wave”. I will always know more about music than football.

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