“Diversity and inclusivity are at the forefront of women’s football”

BY MEGAN EVANS @MEG_SEVANS, IMAGES MEG EVENS, NAZ AHMED AND HOLLY DOWNING

A record-breaking crowd of 77,768 people witnessed the England women’s football team (#TheLionesses) take on Germany at Wembley Stadium recently. Unfortunately, England suffered a 2-1 defeat as Germany just managed to sneak one over the line in the 90th minute…

Still, the real winner here is women’s football. Prior to the match, tickets had completely sold out and the stadium was filled with football fans of all ages. If you compare this to 2013 – when England player Lucy Bronze made her debut in front of a crowd of 5,300 people (helped by the distribution of 4,500 free tickets to local schoolchildren) – it’s clear to see that the popularity of women’s football has rapidly increased.

As a player myself, I’ve always supported women’s football and couldn’t be happier to see the general public taking more of an interest, especially getting behind the Lionesses in this year’s World Cup. So why is it so important for people to continue cheering on women’s football now that the World Cup has wrapped up until next time?

Well, my ticket for Saturday’s game at Wembley was a mere £10. Multiply that price by five and you’ll have yourself a cheap ticket for a men’s Premiership football game… Australian Mykayla Carr attended her very first women’s football match this Saturday commenting, “It’s been fantastic to have this opportunity available and the fact that it’s been a record-breaking attendance is mad.

“I think the World Cup has had a massive part to play in this. Women’s football is so accessible at the moment and I think it’s on the verge of something special.”

Role models

Diversity and Inclusion are at the forefront within women’s football teams and at this year’s World Cup there were 41 LGBTQI players or coaches, (five within the Lionesses). USA footballer Megan Rapinoe is now an advocate for several LGBTQI organisations and joked in an interview during the World Cup, that, “You can’t win a championship without gays on your team, it’s pretty much never been done before.” [Well said, Rapinoe.]

This openness and diversity also extends beyond the pitch and into the stands and, again at Wembley, I was surrounded by a huge variety of people of all genders, sexualities, ages and cultural backgrounds.

As well as many of those professional players being great LGBTQI advocates and allies, these women are also great role models. Some would say the big bosses of the BBC could learn a lot from the progressive steps women are making within the football movement. Australia’s female national team (aka, The Matildas) recently struck a historic deal to earn the same as their male counterparts, and the US women’s team are looking to resolve their equal pay fight against the US Soccer Federation in May 2020.

Alongside building long-term footballing careers, the Lionesses have also been achieving personal greatness: Nikita Parris studied a sports development degree at Liverpool John Moores University whilst playing in the Everton Youth Team and Leah Williamson, Arsenal and England midfielder, is training to be an accountant. Female footballers deserve to have their stories told – and their careers taken seriously.

The 9 November 2019, will remain the day that women’s football in England showed itself to be something that is accepted, loved and valued. And with England set to host the UEFA Women’s EURO 2021 tournament, we can only hope that record breaking continues.

The view from the pitch

And what does all this football greatness mean to me and several of my team mates at Ladies East End Academy?

Megan Evans, Left Winger

“It’s fantastic that young female footballers now have these amazing role models that many of us were lacking in our childhood. It’s not that great players didn’t exist, but they weren’t getting the exposure and publicity they have now. During my school years, we didn’t have a girls team. I played with the boys and often lacked a lot of confidence. I love that female football teams are a regularity now” – Megan Evans, Left Winger

Karin van Wesep, Central Defensive Midfielder

“Football has given me lifelong friendships that I never would have had otherwise. I love football’s ability to bring people from different backgrounds together and create incredibly supportive communities. I couldn’t be prouder women’s football is finally getting the recognition it deserves” – Karin van Wesep, Central Defensive Midfielder

Sabrina Dodds, Striker

“I’ve played football for over 20 years and I was the only girl on the pitch, when I started as a seven-year-old. I never dreamed of becoming a footballer because I didn’t think it was possible – women’s football was never on the TV! It’s really empowering to be involved in football now and I can’t wait to see how it progresses” – Sabrina Dodds, Striker

Jodie Pitts, Striker

“I struggled to find a girls team to join when I was a teenager. The fact that it’s becoming so popular means young girls will have more opportunity to play a sport they love. Football is also a great opportunity to meet new people. It particularly helped me after I moved to a brand-new area and didn’t know many people” – Jodie Pitts, Striker

Claire O’Neill, Defender

“I was so excited to be one of the many fans who made history at the England V. Germany match at Wembley. I hope this also encourages girls of all ages to go out and kick a ball like it has done with me. There’s no reason women shouldn’t enjoy football, while being able to break down some negative gender stereotypes!” – Claire O’Neill, Defender

By Megan Evans, @Meg_SEvans. LGBT journalist & PR and Comms Officer for Bi Pride UK. Any women interested in joining a female football team in East London? Feel free to come along to our training sessions in Bethnal Green. Visit ladieseea.co.uk for more ⚽️⚽️⚽️

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