There is a certain delight and satisfaction in the fact that it was the women’s team that won the first major England trophy for half a century. That it was England’s women who finally broke the spell on the seemingly never to be fulfilled – “Football is coming home”.
And Alessia Russo‘s back-heel goal against Sweden in the semi-final will deservedly go down in football legend as one of the cheekiest and most inspired moments of the game.
Maybe it is all best encapsulated in the first verse of Sweet Caroline – the song that the Lionesses have made their own:
Where it began, I can’t begin to knowing
But then I know it’s growing strong
Was in the spring
And spring became the summer
Who’d have believed you’d come along
For the past weeks I have to confess to having been glued to the TV watching the Euro 2022 competition. I also must confess to being surprised by the quality of the players and the superbly entertaining nature of the games. I did not watch one game that was not a joy to behold.
One thing that struck me was the power of well worked out training systems to churn out talent of a particular type. You only had to look at how the Germans ran to know that they had come out of the German training system. The Spaniards’ endless short passes in tight quarters and seemingly tireless ability to run off the ball also reflected the same approach as that of the highly successful La Roja men’s team of a few years ago.
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Apart from the obvious skills on the field, what struck me most was that the players were clearly motivated by the joy of the game itself. The women’s game has not (yet?) been corrupted by big money and the stifling takeover by commercial forces. The women were out there, giving their all and showing off their talent, flair and virtuosity because they clearly loved doing it. For them, this was not “a job” in the quotidian, routine sense. It was something much more special.
And the emotions.
The joyfulness of the Lionesses’ celebrations following their historic win is something unmatched in the men’s game. Who could imagine the men’s team gate crashing the post-match press conference, singing and then dancing on the table with unbridled exuberance.
The downside is also harsher. The German players let their deep disappointment spill out for all to see. There were genuine, inconsolable tears all around.
It was all wonderfully human – players who were highly professional on the field but who refused to equate “professionalism” with emotion-suppressing dullness.
And they justifiably take pride in being women. None of this nonsense that they didn’t want to be called Lionesses, like actresses these days insist on being called actors. And all the other similar hogwash that seems designed to obliterate the charm of femininity.
I am sure that the wonderful spectacle of Euro 2022 will push women’s football to ever greater heights. I hope that it will find its own way forward to maintain its unique and winsome nature rather than following the men’s game into becoming a commercial product or an oligarch’s plaything, stripped of that marvellous combination of skill, humanity and sheer joy that has made this women’s tournament so utterly irresistible.