Picture a footballer running onto the pitch to win their 100th international cap. Picture the pride etched across their face as they take to the turf amid applause from the crowd. Few of you will have pictured England’s latest centurion Rachel Yankey, who marked her ton with a superb goal in a 3-0 victory over Turkey last week.
Yankey’s strike helped fire England Ladies to the top of their World Cup qualifying group, with a spot in the play-offs now secured. Too often the women’s game is dismissed, branded as boring and slammed for a lack of quality. It is amazing how many men are experts in the deficiencies of women’s football without ever actually watching it – in reality the fairer sex are adept exponents of the beautiful game.
The national side certainly has more to be proud of than their male counterparts, with England Ladies playing brilliantly to reach the European Championships 2009 final before losing a 6-2 thriller against Germany. Anybody who has seen Kelly Smith or Karen Carney in full-flight knows there is some special talent in the female ranks. Both now play professionally in America, while women’s football in this country is still largely an amateur sport. England manager Hope Powell, the first woman to gain the Uefa Pro Licence, said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph: “A lot of the players have to work twice as hard to achieve things. Some players are up at 6am, training before work.”
The women’s game is not helped by comments such as this from FIFA president Sepp Blatter. “Female players are pretty. Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts.” If a chief executive had made that statement in any other industry they would have been given the boot.
While this type of sexist attitude has no place in modern society, it is a spectre that permanently haunts the women’s game. But there is a glimmer of hope on the English horizon with the advent of the FA Women’s Super League, due to launch in March next year. This marks a step towards full-time professionalism and could help the game receive the credit it deserves.
Women’s football is also a sport on the rise. According to FA figures the number of female players in England has increased from 10,400 in 1993 to more than 150,000 today. However, it will continue to be an uphill struggle for acceptance. Football is one of the last bastions of patriarchy and has men queuing up to defend it. Great strides have been made in ridding the game of prejudice, but one slogan is still yet to be coined – Let’s Kick Sexism Out Of Football.