The Cheeky Back Kick

It’s been an exciting summer so far, Wimbledon, a mini heatwave, the Lionesses through to the Euros final, the Commonwealth Games kicking off in Birmingham, Prima Facie hitting the cinemas… who doesn’t love Jodie Comer?

People often compare the funding of sports and the arts –  which gets most, which is perceived to be more important, shouldn’t the money go elsewhere to more important areas of society? And yes, there are many essential areas that absolutely and desperately need more support and investment. But it isn’t an either/or, and the irony is that in difficult times we need arts and sport more than ever.

Take the effect on the nation after the England win on Tuesday against Sweden, the mood lifted, our minds were taken off our immediate woes, we NEEDED than win. And for me, it was made even sweeter by Alessia Russo’s cheeky little back kick. Genius! Until recently I wasn’t bothered about watching football. I didn’t not enjoy it but wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it. Except when I had seen something extremely scary on another TV channel and then football was my go to calm-down, to dispel the fear that there was an axe murderer behind every door. Make of that what you will.

The achievement of the Lionesses at the semis is a prime example of how investment in a profession has paid off. And listening to the commentators after the match I was struck by how much they were making of that. But the truth is, we wouldn’t have needed such a big investment if women had been treated equally with men from the beginning. But, in 1921 the FA banned women’s football. WHAT??? I hear you shout… Yes, and that ban from playing in FA-affiliated football grounds was to last for 51 years.

Let that soak in.

Women’s football was so popular by the 1920s that, despite the FA trying to curb it previously, it was more popular than the men’s game. And here’s the rub. This is not about football at all. It’s all about controlling women, about their power when they organise and are perceived to be a threat to the establishment, i.e.  the patriarchy and all its blah blah nonsense … bringing to mind one of the uglier events this year, 2022, over a hundred years later, the cynical overturning of Roe V Wade, which again is still women controlling their own bodies vs the patriarchy.

The lingering effects of that ban… when I was a primary school girl there was a constant refrain that girls couldn’t play football. This wasn’t ‘couldn’t’ as in not allowed to, but ‘couldn’t’ as in we weren’t good enough, or for some weird alien reason girls’ bodies weren’t able to cope with the strains of kicking a ball. However, I was football mad. A better player than the boys, which the boys knew. So when our school got a fixture to play another school and I heard about it, naturally I asked if I could be on the team, after all they’d already selected boys who barely knew what a football was. I was told a flat no. I asked the teacher why, and he made up some excuse about changing facilities, but I said I didn’t mind where I changed, but was told no. I was gutted. I stood back and watched the boys be given their advantage once again while having to suck up that the game I loved was closed to me.

So seeing the England’s women’s team come so far is a joy, and worth remembering they stand on the giant shoulders of unacknowledged women throughout the generations who believed in the game and their right as human beings to play it.

In BOLDtext Playwrights’ next event in September, GEM OF A PLACE, women’s stories are coming to the fore again but this time connected to the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham, where the history of the area and contemporary developments collide. There’s also a sporting connection in one of the plays! Sayan Kent

Tickets and further information at: www.gemofaplace2022.eventbrite.co.uk

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