“England are out of the World Cup”; the unfortunate and familiar phrase that was uttered once again last Wednesday signalling the exit of the Lionesses from the Women’s World Cup taking place in Canada.
Ordinarily one might be inconsolable for a few days after an England knockout, exhibiting the 5 stages of the Kübler-Ross model: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance; the acceptance that the defence was sub-par or that the midfield didn’t work as a team or that a key moment in a game was the catalyst for the nation’s demise.
So why then are people not inconsolable? What is the reason that the Lionesses’ achievement of progressing to the semi-finals, an achievement only realised by the men’s England team once in my lifetime, is not a devastatingly crushing blow to an entire nation?
The answer may lie in the fact that the games and therefore the tournament does not hold to the same standard as the men’s game in either quality or entertainment, and as a by-product of this there may be a distinct lack of emotional attachment or passion for the progress of the team by many traditional viewers of the sport.
Statistically, the Women’s World Cup in Canada (when compared to the 2015 World Cup held in Brazil) has fewer goals scored (M:168 to W:140), fewer set pieces (M:30 to W:21), fewer goals from free kicks (M:18 to W:3) and nearly twice the number of penalties awarded than in the men’s tournament (M:13 to F:22) but far fewer converted (M:92% to F:86%).
Traditional viewers that have that connection with the game from an early age – having played the sport at school in PE because they had to and at break time just for fun, having sat at a December game sipping a hot drink when your team is losing, swearing that you’ll “never watch them play again after that performance” only to tune in or be on the terrace the week after – won’t be thrilled by statistics of that nature and may be reluctant to embrace the female game as much as that of the males, like the media wish we do.
“Life isn’t, and has never been, a 2-0 home victory after a fish and chip lunch” – Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch.
Nick Hornby’s novel Fever Pitch exemplifies this lifetime association with a team brilliantly. Whilst the novel follows the protagonist who is an Arsenal fan and therefore fellow Arsenal followers will enjoy and relate to it more than say a Liverpool fan, it paints a picture of a young boy becoming a young man following the journey of his team.
That team has players that will play for the National side as do the various other teams in the Premier League and so the notion of watching International teams and tournaments, with players you know is logical. It is as simple to say that few of the traditional football fans watch female league matches and so one cannot be too surprised when their is little interest in tournaments such as the Women’s world cup.
“Some people are on the pitch! They think it’s all over!” (Geoff Hurst scores) “it is now, it’s four!” – Kenneth Wolstenholme, July 30th, 1966.
Few can remember the England teams 1966 victory in the final against the Germans and it has now become the stuff of legend.
The phrase spoken by commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme as Geoff Hurst sent the ball sailing past German keeper Hans Tilkowski to secure the win is one of the defining sporting soundbites of the entire 20th Century. Even if the Lionesses had progressed to the final and won, would we hold their victory in the same regard and to as high an esteem? The answer is no.
Of course it’s always positive news when your nation wins a tournament but if the England U21’s team achieved the title of World Cup Winners respectfully for their category, there would be similar jubilation to that of a win for the Women’s England squad.
If the Men’s England football team were to win World Cup in my lifetime, and frankly this is something I suspect that sadly I will never get to see, then the sense of national pride, achievement and jubilation would simply be unparalleled.
If you are a football fan and you question the various elements in this article, ask yourself three questions. How many games did I watch in the 2015 tournament in Brazil. How many games did you watch in the 2016 tournament in Canada? Why is that?