Our cheeky columnist reflects on the importance of the triumphant Lionesses win
BY THE CHEEKY CHARMER, IMAGE BY ANASTASIA SHURAEVA VIA PEXELS
It’s a crisp December morning. Fog hangs above the ground like little wispy ghosts or steam rising from the kettle. My breath crystalises like smoke signals. If only I could paint tiny messages in the air so the adults could read my distress.
Normally I’d be excited because it’s my cousin’s birthday. He’s my best friend and more like a brother. We always spend birthdays together, huddled around the dining room table playing Dungeons & Dragons, lost in a world of our own making. But today is different. Today is the first day I realise I am different – that the world will treat me differently from hereon in. It’s the first time I realise my outer shell comes with limitations. It’s the first time I realise I’m not being “seen”.
I stand awkwardly by the football pitch, kicking at little tufts of grass. It’s the only thing I’m allowed to kick. This year he’s having a football party. For his friends. I’d usually be included but I’m 14 and female and “girls don’t play football”. Not in the 90’s. Even if they’re the athlete of the family and run rings around everyone on the sports field.
This year I stand with the women. We’ll cheer the boys on and then retire, leaving the men to play their games. I imagine I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon draped over a chaise longue, engaged in needlework or another Jane Austin-esque activity.
My cousin’s friends (all boys) spill from the back of a mini-van, a jumble of pre-pubescent testosterone in football shirts, boots slung over their shoulders, little tufts of dried mud clinging to the spikes for dear life. I know how those “tufts” feel.
As the whistle blows and the boys begin to play, I’m ushered into a car and driven away. Something screams inside. It wants to say “I’m one of the boys too! Why can’t I play?” Instead, I watch my breath form smudge marks on the window, aware that even if I could find the words, no one would hear me. Because no one sees me. Not really. Not who I am inside. Instead, I doodle on the inside of the window, watching as my “brother” gets smaller and smaller until he disappears. In the back of my mind, I wonder if it’s me being viewed from the wrong end of a telescope – me who is disappearing…
It’s why I play “flick football” in secret on my bedroom floor. I daren’t ask for Subbuteo – “that’s a boy’s game”. The message is clear, football’s not for me. Although I’m supposed to fancy the pretty boy players and stare at their legs in football shorts (I don’t).
It’s why I’m banned from playing football at break, aged 6, because my patent leather sandals come home scuffed. It’s why I’m “persuaded” out of playing rugby – because I’ll want “nice legs” when I’m older (I was 10).
It’s why I’m crushed when I fall in love with basketball, learning to slam dunk, only to find there are no girls teams I can play on.
It’s why, when that final whistle blew on the England/Germany final, I cried. Tears streaming down my face for all the lost little girls and queer folk who were banned from doing whatever they loved because it “wasn’t for them”. Men often describe football as “more than just a game” – usually seven pints in, mid whinge because their teams lost.
Yes, this is more than just a game. It’s more than just a game because it’s about representation, equality and diversity. Being “seen”. It’s about knowing all those little girls inspired by the Lionesses won’t have to stand lonely at the side of a pitch, kicking at little tufts of grass, isolated because of gender.
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