Is 2015 the year when football and cricket see the women’s sport finally enjoying the long deserved break through?
Every two years the English media tend to go into hyperbole when the England football teams prepares for another tournament. Every time the media and the public are disappointed. In last year’s world cup in Brazil England recorded their worst result since 1950 or 1958! They were just not good enough to beat Italy, Costa Rica or Uruguay and finished bottom of their group. Of course this failure led to soul-searching, leading – inevitably – to the same conclusions: English football just is not good enough. Without going into deeper detail about this, it is stated here that there is some truth in this but these problems are self-inflicted over the last quarter of a century or so. It also explains this current nostalgic look at Italia ’90 by many football writers. The slogan ‘England expects’ has become a millstone for England and a hollow phrase for the public as those expectations are almost always disappointed.
Quite the opposite happened at this year’s Women’s World Cup held in Canada. Despite some controversy about the tournament being played on artificial grass, the general consensus is that the tournament was a success for the sport. The USA are worthy winners, though the final was maybe a bit one-sided against Japan, the holders.The result of England’s women surely helped the sport to gain popularity at home. This is because England not only exceeded everyone’s expectations, they also beat Germany, one of the best teams in football. The men’s games often went into extra time providing a lot of excitement and eventually heart-break for England as penalties were needed to decided the game on two occasions. The third place play-off between England’s Lionesses and Germany was decided by a penalty that Germany conceded and England converted. Ironically, Germany lost their semi-final against the USA due to a missed penalty. It seems the women’s game is the complete opposite of the men’s game in terms of luck and misfortune with penalties.
While the men’s games are pregnant with language borrowing from war and re-calling the past conflict between Britain and Germany, the female counterpart is refreshingly free of any comment of such nature. In November last year both team played a friendly at Wembley in front of a 55000 crowd. Not once the war was mentioned.
The game was a surprise as England seemed to have more poise and appeared to be more willing more daring than Germany. The latter looked stale as though this game was below their normal level. This is a dangerous mindset as it might lead to a decline if only the top is considered good enough. England have exceeded their wildest dreams and expectations; it has been the result of years of hard work and having faith in the quality of the players. Of course luck comes into it, too. The third place was the best result of a British football team since 1966!
The Ashes 2015
Similarly, cricket is loaded with expectations in this year’s Ashes series between England and Australia. After a promising start in Cardiff where England made life difficult for Australia, the visitors hit back and defeated England at The Home of Cricket by 405 runs, the fourth highest defeat ever inflicted upon England during an Ashes series. Whatever happens next England, the weight of expectation might push England down.
It is a fact often overseen but while the men play their Tests the women compete their Ashes Series with lesser media attention and in a different format. Just like the men, Australia have now taken command of the series after winning the third One Day International 241-7 beating England by 89 runs. Australia now have a 4-2 lead over England in the series and will make it as difficult as possible for England to retain the Ashes. The series is played out in an entirely different format which suggests that gender judgements rule the game and not the possibilities of the players as Geoff Lemon hints at in the latest issue of The Nightwatchman and which he has published here in abbreviated form. There are one full Test to come as well as 3 twenty20 matches to be played in August to define the winner in the series. That way the series is far from over and the tension is kept high.
While the men enjoy the limelight – deservedly or not is a different question – the women play their sport with the same attitude and achieve the same result; in case of football even exceeding them by light years. In cricket the result will be known not before the end of August but until then we are in for a treat as the series promises to be thrilling and entertaining.