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Football for All

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I’ve been enjoying the football at the Women’s World Cup.

There don’t’ seem to be as many selfish players as in men’s game and most of the goals I’ve seen have come from well-organised team play.

I like that. I also got quite a kick out of watching the Nigeria ladies fight back to earn a 3 – 3 draw against Sweden.

The African champions played well enough to win but all the same it was good to see the continent’s honour restored so quickly after Germany fired 10 unanswered goals past the Ivory Coast the night before.

It was also good to see the players, coaching staff and supporters celebrate the draw as an accomplishment instead of treating it as two points dropped.

Even if they had lost that wouldn’t have changed the fact that Nigeria played well-organised, attractive football against one of Europe’s strongest teams.

At the time, I also felt I was being progressive by taking the women’s game seriously, but I have since discovered I may actually be going backwards with that kind of thinking.

Writing about an ongoing tournament in this column is risky business.

I put these things together more than a week in advance and Nigeria could be out of the competition before you read this.

If they play as they did against Sweden and tighten up defending set pieces when they face Australia and the USA, however, it is also possible they will progress deep into the knockout stages.

I chose this topic because I want to encourage girls to get involved in sports – if that’s what they want to do – and I thought I would be able to promote that idea as being quite modern.

My research, however, indicates that is not entirely the case. It could also be considered old fashioned.

Believe it or not, women’s football used to be just as popular as the men’s game in the country where the sport started and in the 1920s there were about 150 women’s teams in England – many featuring professional players.

They didn’t get paid much, but then again neither did male players in those days.

Women’s football exploded during the First World War and on Boxing Day 1920 a women’s game between a munitions factory team and St Helen’s pulled in a crowd of 53,000 at Everton’s Goodison Park.

Everton highest attendance last season, by the way, was 39,000… although Goodison is now a completely seated stadium.

One thing that seems to be constant, though, is that things change and on the 5th of December 1921, the Football Association – England’s mini version of FIFA – banned women from playing on FA-affiliated pitches.

That meant the ladies could no longer play at grounds with spectator facilities.

The FA declarations said, “The game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”.

What is it with these football governing bodies?

That’s how it stayed for 50 years but in 1971 the ban was finally lifted following the formation of the Women’s Football Association and in 2011 the Women’s Super league was formed.

There are now an estimated 2.6 million women and girls playing football in England.

Hopefully that trend will continue and women’s sports will carry on growing in Africa and around the world.