2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup
For the Women’s FIFA World Cup 2015, Kick It Out had a series of exclusive blogs from people in attendance at the biggest spectacle in women’s football, taking place in Canada between 6 June – 5 July.
Megan Cleary, a freelance writer and native of Salem, Oregon, wrote about the growth in popularity of women’s football, the inspiring performance of England to progress to the semi-finals, and her hope that young women and children will start to view a playing career as a viable profession.
In 2008, Megan began honing her travel to specifically include international football competitions starting with the European Championships in Austria and Switzerland. She now lives in Portland, Oregon.
Asif Burhan, an England supporter who travels the world watching the men’s and women’s teams, and Carrie Dunn, Programme Leader for Sports Journalism at the University of East London, have also blogged for the Kick It Out website during the tournament so far.
Asif Burhan - 7 July 2015
“I really have seen everything now”
BBC commentator, David Coleman after Pelé shot from the halfway line and missed.
Let the Women’s World Cup Final be a lesson to you. Never embarrass the United States of America on the world stage. In the 2011 final in Frankfurt, Japan survived an early onslaught from the favourites to win the title on penalties. The United States Women’s team have been on a four-year mission to right the wrongs of that night.
No one has epitomised that more than Carli Lloyd. Her two goals in the Olympic final at Wembley exacted revenge on the Japanese. Two more on Sunday were the product of pure hunger and desire. The breathtaking third, the result of inspiration from a woman playing at the height of her powers.
The Women’s World Cup Final was the last major football match I had not seen in person. The highest scoring World Cup final in history, a hat trick in the final and a goal from the halfway line – I really have seen everything now.
Many of the thousands of Americans who travelled to Vancouver to watch the game were part of US Soccer’s largest nationwide fan collective, the American Outlaws (AO). The AO first came to my notice when they outnumbered the travelling England fans in Rustenburg at the 2010 World Cup finals.
For them there is no difference whatsoever in supporting their men’s or women’s teams. As Dan McCooey, a prominent member of the Seattle branch of AO told me, “if they are wearing the shirt and representing my country on the world stage, I don’t care what they are”.
Erik, a Colombus Crew fan had been on a road-trip with his friend from Ohio with the ultimate goal of being in Vancouver to see his country win the World Cup. I first met him in Seattle, I bumped into him again at the AO pre-game supporter party in Downtown Vancouver, a wonderful event for people of all ages which ran until 1am and was attended by the families of Abby Wambach and Ali Kreiger and the sisters of Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux.
Added to those that attended on Saturday night were thousands who arrived in buses on Sunday, a mass movement reminiscent of the Argentines crossing the border for the men’s World Cup Final this time last year.
It was the AO’s overwhelming presence which made the final such a special occasion, they who organised the supporter march through Downtown which stopped traffic. Around three quarters of these fans were women and girls of every age, I met people from as far away as New Jersey and Texas, every one of them uniquely dressed in some sort of red, white and blue outfit which marked them out.
When so many people care so much, it creates a burden of responsibility in the players who represent them on the field which was borne out in the performance of Lloyd.
Many of the official England supporters’ group, EnglandFans regularly attend various youth tournaments, such as the recent Under-21 finals in the Czech Republic, sometimes with the help of The FA in securing tickets. When someone asked in the fans forum about a possible allocation for the Women’s Euros in Sweden two years ago, they were merely pointed in the direction of the official UEFA website.
Why not award caps to England members for attending women’s internationals? It would certainly boost attendance and give those in other parts of the country a motivation to watch the women around the country rather than being forced to traipse down to Wembley to watch the men in friendlies. More importantly it would forge a bond between the fans and the team, a bond so evident watching the United States.
It was noticeable that the US supporters at the game recognised every member of their squad. They are superstars to them, even more so than the men’s team, because the women are winners.
This can have its downside as well. Members of the AO were extremely disappointed that their team did not go on a lap of honour with the trophy. None of them signed. They would argue that it was a matter of public and player safety, such was the hysteria and clamour to get to them. One American woman dryly remarked, “right now, we need about five Hope Solos”.
It would be nice to think that one day the Lionesses would receive such adulation. Maybe, they prefer the way things are. Adulation brings a pressure to perform. Had the United States finished third, they would not have been praised for it.
If England is to make the final step and actually win a World Cup then we need to draw on the broadest talent pool available to us, players from every part of our society.
The late night exploits of our women in Canada shouldn’t be forgotten about when the men retake centre stage. To emulate them, the young girls here need to have women role models in the game, just like the thousands of American girls who will never forget being in Vancouver on Sunday.”
Asif Burhan - 4 July 2015
“I slept a few hours, I woke up and I’m still thinking about how football can be that cruel with #ENG and Laura Bassett. That was so sad.”
Ten minutes into the FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-final between Japan and England, the Texan man sitting next to me with his teenage daughter, herself a college player, turned to me and said “England likes the long ball, don’t they?” His daughter couldn’t name her favourite England player, she didn’t know their names.
At the end of the game, she still may not have learnt their names but she and the watching world had a learned a new found respect for English women’s football. I bumped into a Canadian shortly after who remembered me as “the man from Essex where they all drive Cortinas”. He summed it up when he said “Before this match, England didn’t have validation in this tournament, until today, on this performance, they deserved to play in the final”.
The sudden manner of the defeat meant there was little time to wallow. Unlike the quarter-final, neither side spent long on the pitch, both squads disappearing without meeting the fans. After the game, I met with my lifelong friend of five days, Denise McCooey, a pitch-side photographer, and we went for something to eat. While we waited, they showed the highlights of the game on a TV, the slow-motion replays of Laura Bassett watching her sliced clearance float over her own goalkeeper, the horror on the face of Mark Sampson, Toni Duggan flat out and face down on the turf. It was then it hit me, a lump in my throat. As I finally got a reliable wifi connection, I started to read all the tweets sent during the game. It was heartbreaking.
After the natural splendour of Vancouver, Edmonton is something of a come-down. Low-level and nondescript it doesn’t captivate in the same way. My incredible host Ivana, who had lived and travelled all over the world, told me that as a city covered in snow for many months of the year, the people were the city’s greatest asset. When Ivana departed after the match to fly to The Bahamas, I was left alone in the apartment with her three cats. While my friends in England slept, their company far away from home helped me through a difficult evening.
For Bassett, the support now will be overwhelming and rightly so. She will be back in WSL action almost immediately and has an FA Cup Final at Wembley to look forward to. Football now is so all-encompassing there is no time to dwell on victory and defeat, the next challenge is always close at hand. While we as fans can console ourselves that the Lionesses exploits have inspired so many others which in future may lead to an even better team capable of honours, we miss the individual stories of players who will not have another chance, for whom this was it.
I later bumped into five of the England squad drowning their sorrows. They seemed less downbeat than me. Perhaps the release of tension after weeks away had relaxed them. I inquired as to how Bassett was – “in bits”. I emphasised to them how proud everyone back home was of them and how they’d be coming back as heroines. Let’s hope so.
Megan Cleary - 2 July 2015
Once again I found myself idling in the car waiting to cross back into the United States. Vehicles started to pile at the border and I quickly went through the impending scenario in my head.
Border Guard: Where are you from?
Me: Portland, Oregon
Border Guard: Why were you in Canada?
Me: Women’s World Cup
Border Guard: How long were you up here?
This question always took me a minute. I had already crossed over the border five or six times by this point and I was starting to lose track. Before I had added up the days in my mind I found myself being waved forward by a younger guard with a slightly annoyed look on his face.
Border Guard: Where are you from?
Me: Portland, Oregon
Border Guard: Why were you in Canada?
Me: Women’s World Cup
He paused and took a moment to look at me and my passenger, along with our corresponding ID’s.
Border Guard: Who are you rooting for?
Well that was different. Up until this point the majority of the guards, from either Canada or the US, ignored the Women’s World Cup piece and continued with the normal scenario. In fact, when I crossed over the first time the Canadian guard didn’t realise any of the games were taking place in Vancouver.
Me: The U.S.
He paused again and smiled. I hadn’t interacted with anyone at the border this long and I began to wonder if this was a lead-in to getting my vehicle searched.
Border Guard: Then why were you up there? Didn’t the US already play here?
Another surprise. He actually knew the women’s team had played. I come from Portland, a city with a mighty affection for soccer. The low average attendance for our women’s professional team is in the 13,000 while our men’s team is almost always at capacity in the stands. I would expect another Portland native to know about the World Cup schedule, but in my experience hardcore soccer fans only appeared in pockets across the country.
Me: I like soccer. It’s a big tournament. Don’t you like sports?
Border Guard: Yah, I love sports!(another calculated pause) But it’s soccer. I watch real sports.
Me (and my passenger): Ouch!
He smiled and handed back our passports. My friend and I shook our heads and moved along towards home. Believe it or not, that was a step up from the comments I have heard while attending past World Cups (men’s and women’s). At least he hadn’t said, “I don’t watch women’s sports” or “The real skill is on the men’s team”. His was a new kind of comment. He disliked soccer, not women’s soccer. Whether or not soccer is your game, there’s no doubt that anyone who can sprint across a field for 45 minutes without a single break must have some athletic prowess. Talent goes beyond gender lines.
In the last few years the world has witnessed a spike in popularity for the women’s game. Although leagues continue to battle low attendance, the athletes themselves have had a chance to collaborate with talent from across the world at their club levels. The level of talent has always been there, but now confederations that typically ignored their women’s teams have begun to show them their support. As a result, the showing in Canada has been the best ever for the Women’s World Cup. Debut nations like Switzerland and Cameroon, 19th and 53rd respectively in FIFA rankings, challenged countries with embedded soccer programs. The English Lionesses made it to the semi-finals for the first time in their country’s history.
Their progression served as another piece of proof that countries are beginning to recognize their women’s teams. Canada set an attendance record for the largest show of support of one of their national teams. When the home team fell to the English over 54,000 people came to their feet chanting “Canada”. Now that’s love. England, whose local club attendance for their women’s teams is usually in the hundreds, showed their support when citizens tuned in by the millions for their latest match. There was talk of Prince William heading to Edmonton for the semi-final while back home fellow fans headed to bed in the afternoon so they could get up at midnight to catch the kick-off. During any of the matches played at this World Cup supporters could be seen in their country’s colours, whether or not their team was playing, to let the world know they’re here for their women’s teams.
I’ve made my way back into downtown Vancouver. I sit at a café surrounded by people who are here for various reasons, most of which I am unaware of, except for the five young girls sitting next to me. They wear matching soccer warm ups and have spent the last ten minutes talking about either Jesus or soccer. They start focusing solely on soccer and highlight the different players and the moves they’ve learned from watching them. “Thank you Vero!” One says with a giggle. What I’ve learned over traveling the past 17 years is that you don’t have to fit in a box to play the game or to support it. You can be Christian, Muslim, single, married, young or old. None of these factors impede your ability to enjoy a show of athleticism and skill. You are not indulging women by supporting women’s soccer. You’re recognising abilities matter and are supporting world class athletes.
I saw a Major League Soccer player at a professional women’s soccer game once. He was holding his daughter and pointing to the women warming up on the field. Though I don’t know what he actually said, I like to imagine it was something like, “You can play professionally just like me.” Whatever he said, what matters is that in this day and age we are starting to realise that anyone with talent deserves recognition. The daughters along with the sons. It’s time to tune in. The Women’s World Cup final is this Sunday, and whoever you support, it will be worth watching.
Asif Burhan - 29 June 2015
“Sitting here watching GASCOIGNE with @FranKirbyy It all seems so relevant now, Goosebumps hearing him speak about WC semi final #Surreal”
Toni Duggan, Kick It Out ‘Next 20’ ambassador
When Canada’s 20-year-old midfielder Ashley Lawrence scored in her team’s final group game against the Netherlands, she performed a celebration that resembled the “Let’s All Have A Disco” jig made famous by Terry Butcher and Chris Waddle, during the 1990 World Cup.
I tweeted that similarity, tongue firmly in my cheek, not believing for a second that they were related. Lawrence and four of her team mates retweeted me. “You are spot on!”, she replied. As a dejected Lawrence traipsed round BC Place, commendably signing everything thrust in front of her, I introduced myself and she explained “yeah, we were watching a Gazza video the night before” Proof that successful footballers do inspire the next generation.
There was a time when men’s, not women’s, football was unfashionable and disparaged. It was called the 1980s. The landmarks of Hillsborough and Italia ’90 marked a watershed in English football but to those who lived it, there was one undeniable “JFK moment”. Tuesday 26th June 1990 in Bologna when David Platt swivelled onto Paul Gascoinge’s 119th minute chipped free kick and convinced a hitherto doubting nation that it could actually win the World Cup.
25 years and one day later, England’s Women defeated Canada. Let us all hope, the professional footballers of 2040 may look back on the small hours of a balmy Saturday night as the moment women’s football in England went mainstream.
I have bored people for two years about this. I had hoped it was going to happen during the Women’s Euro in Sweden in 2013. England went in as one of the favourites and collapsed. Now further away, playing on synthetic surfaces in debilitating heat, with everything against them, they well and truly proved their English-ness in the World Cup quarter-final. Take a lead and hang on to it for dear life.
This was the moment of their lives and they knew it. The players from both sides stayed out on the pitch for an age. As the unused substitutes like Duggan went through a rigorous warm-down, they were cajoled and teased in equal amounts by Fara Williams and Karen Carney before both sets of players signed and took selfies with their fans. It was clear that footballers who had spent a career playing in front of maybe a few hundred people wanted to soak up every second of this very special occasion.
Back home, even gone 2am, people were still watching and living it. People who didn’t watch before and, because England won, people who will watch again. Important people with influence who will draw in more and more people. A virtuous cycle.
Premier League fans who claim they don’t care about England, only the club game, would do well to remember they are merely the golden egg. As his emotive new film testifies, Paul Gascoigne and the England teams he inspired in 1990 and 1996 are the golden goose. Teams that inspired what became what became known as our “Golden Generation” of players. More importantly, Italia ’90 created an unprecedented demand for the game which Sky was only happy to satiate with a blank chequebook. Higher wages, better quality, bigger crowds.
Can all this happen in the women’s game? The WSL is starting from a lower base but that merely gives it more room to grow. Calls for more investment and sponsorship are easy to make but why don’t the clubs do more? These international footballers now burdened by our expectations are, one way or another, employees of multi-million pound football clubs. Arsenal. Chelsea and Liverpool could play more women’s games in their club stadiums not in some faraway non-league ground. This already happens regularly in France and Germany and would encourage more fans to venture down well-trodden pathways.
Yet, these are questions for another day. If “Gascoigne” the movie teaches the England women anything it should be the frustration of not quite achieving your destiny. Gazza was 23 when he cried in Turin. Bobby Robson consoled him by telling him he’d play in many more World Cups. He was wrong.
As an England fan I’ve waited my entire adult life to watch my country to play in a World Cup semi-final. Years and thousands of pounds have slipped through my fingers in that pursuit. For the players, none of us can even imagine the physical demands and personal sacrifices that lead to a professional career. Like Gascoigne, no one can know if there will be a next time. Let’s save our tears for another day.
Asif Burhan - 26 June 2015
“These players are used to playing in front of not many spectators. They’ve worked all their life to play in these big matches and they’ll be ready for it”
The heat is well and truly on at the seventh FIFA Women’s World Cup and for once, an England team has proved it can cope with the demands. When their quarter-final kicks off at a sold-out BC Place on Saturday afternoon in the hottest part of a hot day, England will be one of only five teams who can win the FIFA World Cup.
Yesterday, downtown Vancouver basked in sweltering temperatures in excess of the UK. Volleyball, not football, was the sport of choice for the locals in David Lam Park overlooking False Creek. The England players themselves have been enjoying the sights of a city regularly listed amongst the best places in the world to live.
I am fortunate enough to have briefly met the majority of the England men’s and women’s team. It will not surprise anyone to know that most of Roy Hodgson’s squad were business-like, a photograph here, a firm handshake there. The women have been far more informal, genuinely interested in your opinions and more willing to open up.
It is unlikely a male player would tell me a leading international was “not as good as she was” or that England “would have to play a lot better” as various female players have. This is not because I have some privileged position, I have never held media accreditation in my life, but because I have simply been there to watch them.
Any of us could be. Once the spotlight of this World Cup has waned, these international footballers, not just the English ones, will be almost immediately ploughing their trade at a WSL ground near you, while the men continue to hog the headlines with their pre-season tours, unsubstantiated transfer gossip and empty promises for the season ahead.
Football used to be littered with apocryphal tales of players catching the same bus to the game as the fans and drinking in the same pubs afterwards. It still happens in women’s football. It cannot be denied that once you personally interact with footballers, you are emotionally invested in their progress and success. They feel like friends. They could be yours too if you only went to watch them more.
I wouldn’t call myself an expert in women’s football. Neither am I someone who is disenfranchised or disillusioned by the men’s game, a hipster looking for something different.
It’s not about who’s better or worse, they are all at the top of their game. The standards of the men’s game shouldn’t be a stick to beat the women’s game with and vice versa. I can’t see why it is any less interesting if I’m watching men or women at the very top of their profession.
A parent wouldn’t belittle the achievements of a daughter against that of a son so why should we be any less excited if it’s Jack or Lucy thumping the ball in the top corner for England? Their sacrifice and effort is the same, and the difficulty of the challenge equal. It should be appreciated as such.
The eleven women who take the field at BC Place tomorrow afternoon will be invested with all kinds of hopes and burdens from intellectuals, feminists and sexists alike.
To have made it this far, they are already heroines. Overcoming prejudice and apathy, not just throughout their youth but even at the start of this tournament from a silent majority who will become suddenly vocal should England return to Vancouver for a World Cup Final next weekend.
Mark Sampson’s Lionesses are heroines because they have knocked down doors that weren’t always open to women in our game.
In The Sunday Times, Alex Greenwood admitted to not even realising their was an England women’s team until she was 10. Everton’s technical director, Andy Spence claimed Greenwood was one of a select group of girls invited to trials, now they are turning up in their droves. Her success in this tournament is to hopefully inspire a broader pool of talent to come through in the next generation, to give them more opportunities.
However, opportunity now knocks for this squad, a kind draw means the route to a World Cup Final is suddenly open to them. They will never have a better chance. After all the hardships, they have encountered making it here, facing over 50,000 Canadians at the end of the Earth will be nothing to them. They are playing for themselves and their place in history.
They don’t need to make us proud on Saturday night. We should already be proud.
COME ON ENGLAND!
Carrie Dunn - 18 June 2015
It’s been an absolute delight to be in Canada for the group stages of the Women’s World Cup.
During my first hour in Moncton, I was gleefully grabbed by two separate individuals who asked excitedly, “Are you from England? Are you here for the soccer?” Clearly the accent is a giveaway.
The friendly folk of Moncton – a small, bilingual university town on the east coast of Canada – were absolutely thrilled to have such a high-profile tournament there. They were, admittedly, a little surprised, as were most of the footballing community – it’s hardly a celebrated tourist city like fellow host Vancouver, and the stadium is about a quarter of the size of the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. But nevertheless they embraced it – there were banners flying all the way down Main Street, and all the shops and cafes had official posters and home-made artwork for the event.
And in a town that tiny, everyone’s staying in one of four hotels, all of which are about five minutes apart. There’s the Colombia squad; there are the Mexicans; the France team just wandered off down the high street; oh, and there are the England girls. For those who like women’s football because of the opportunities it offers for fan engagement, this was a prime example.
After two weeks in Moncton, it was a bit of a culture shock to head to the rather more buzzing Montreal – but oh, what a relief to have a decent and regular public transport system again! The English accent was a little less noticeable in this rather more cosmopolitan city, and they’re a little more blasé about having big sporting events here.
Of course, one of the big let-downs of the tournament so far has been the limited attendances for matches not involving the hosts Canada or near-neighbours the USA. Indeed, although the Moncton natives were delighted to have the World Cup in town, very few of them were actually intending to go to a game. And with the sprawl of time-zones across the country, it’s not always easy for fans on one coast to keep up-to-date with what’s happening on the other.
But then it’s easy to get the feeling that bringing people to the ground wasn’t necessarily FIFA’s prime objective. They’ve talked happily about their television viewing figures in “key territories” – and raising the profile of the game around the world is what they’re concentrating on.
So after an exciting set of group games, it’s on to the knock-out rounds. Moncton will soon be jettisoned with the effort targeted on the big cities now – let’s see how many people will head to Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa and Winnipeg to see the best female players in the world go head-to-head.