Sports FOOTBALL Wigman's unmistakably good England has yet to revive my...

Wigman’s unmistakably good England has yet to revive my familiar pain


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IIn 2014, Cambridge United played Gateshead in the National League play-off final. Four minutes left and we were 2-1 up when Jan Miller, our centre-back, broke his ankle. We used all our submarines. The referee played 10 minutes of stoppage time. TEN MINUTES. Feels like about a year. Gateshead headbutted just as the clock advanced 99 minutes. My voice is gone. I could hardly breathe. The relief at the final whistle is almost impossible to articulate.

Every fan will recognize this agonizing knot of nerves extending beyond the epigastric region. It is overwhelming and all-consuming. Nothing else can give you this escapism – you completely dissolve into the moment – but it’s very difficult to know if it gives you any pleasure.

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In men’s international football tournaments, my dull pain usually starts in the morning before the first England game and doesn’t go away until we choose a destructive exit method. All those walks to penalties. Pierce, Betty, Southgate, Saka. Gazza’s stretched boot. Waddle hits the post. This Argentine prevents a certain Lineker from equalizing.

The Euro 2020 final seemed to me a fateful moment – my nerves almost paralyzed me beforehand. I’ve always wondered how I would feel if England reached the main final and how I would react, win or lose. It was surprisingly undramatic. I woke up the next day and was already over it. Perhaps previous scenes at Wembley have tarnished it. Maybe I’m just not as fanatical as I thought. Maybe my job in football took some of the magic away from me. Maybe I’m just getting older.

This Sunday, many England fans will have another chance to have their first experience of winning a major trophy. In the days leading up to the game, we can watch Alessia Russo’s heel and Georgia Stanway’s lightning bolt, but an hour before the game against Germany, I wonder if the same nerves will kick in.

They are not something you control and have not appeared in this tournament so far. England captivated me. I love to watch them, but 10 minutes before the end of the match with Spain, when we completely outplayed, I did not feel the pain that I felt when Croatia had to be tired against men in 2018. Before the semi-finals in Sweden, I was completely relaxed.

I agonized over why this feels different to me. Is it because some deep rooted sexism has taken root in my subconscious? A legacy of growing up in the 80s and 90s, when the idea of ​​women playing soccer was a joke? The boys were shooting a size five around the green triangle on Tenison Road, and the girls were sitting outside, talking about all sorts of nonsense and listening to the Levellers or the Cure. If one of them beat the ball back to us, it was an event.

I hope there are more nuances. I don’t spend much time on women’s play. Most of the players are relatively new to me. There is no story where this team hurt me – I don’t have a playlist of heartbreaking BBC montages that I can quote verbatim from the last four decades (Euro ’96 before Cast’s Walkaway is still so hard). And Sarina Wigman’s team is unmistakably good, so it doesn’t look like they’re going to let me down.

David Seaman consoles Gareth Southgate after a decisive miss by a defender in the Euro 96 semi-final shootout against Germany. Photo: Pennsylvania

The upside is that my four-month-old son lying on the floor in front of me won’t grow up with a negative stereotype of women’s football. For him, this will be the norm. He probably won’t constantly compare women’s game with men’s.

And maybe these comparisons are meaningless. I sympathize with those who cover women’s football week after week, forced to read articles like this one, perhaps oversimplifying women’s football or trying to make a big statement about what each result means.

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But watching football is a constant comparison. Every match we watch is connected to what came before, so it’s only natural for those of us who are passionate about the male game to do the same. If someone hits him from the crossbar, I say “Tony Yeboah” before he bounces back and hits the top of the net.

And there are parts of these Euros that seem refreshing – the referees get less insults, fewer really dangerous challenges, the absence of this “tiny minority” of fans booing the knee, insulting opponents or singing dark chants about human tragedy. It would be strange to watch this tournament and not notice the differences.

As a casual spectator, I can do the women’s game a disservice. Perhaps Wembley Way on Sunday will be another modern beefy Caravaggio: flares, butts, stormed barricades, much more. And this is not to denigrate every part of the male game – it’s not an either/or game. Neither is perfect, they can learn from each other, and they are both interesting, which ultimately makes sense. Like Messi and Ronaldo, why can’t we just enjoy both?

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Above all, as Ian Wright so convincingly said at the end of the game against Sweden, this should lead to more girls being able to play. According to the latest FA data, only 63% of schools offer football for girls in PE classes, and only 40% of schools offer regular after-school football for girls.

I have friends and colleagues for whom this finale feels like the end of many years of self-sacrifice, struggle and love for the women’s game. For them, I hope more than anything that England can do it. I am happy to jump on this bandwagon and, most importantly, stay in it. And if the Germans beat us, then at least we will get another heartbreaking montage.

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