THE LIONESSES - EURO WINNERS AND CULTURE SHIFTERS
I don't cry a lot but I cry a lot at sport.
I don't weep in defeat but in victory I can literally cry my lamps out. It is not necessarily a team I support. Actually it is more often an individual, very often times athletics.
It is a strange quirk, not my only one by any means (!!!), but I often wonder when I am crying for some Jamaican athlete who has just won a 100m Olympic final why my eyes flood. My parents were athletes and I grew up around sport - they also played rugby, soccer, hockey, table tennis and latterly golf. Something in my nurture causes joy to erupt from my inner being when I watch someone achieve that moment.
So, yesterday I was weeping freely when the Lionesses won the Euros. Every new interview. Chloe Kelly running off with the mic to sing Sweet Caroline mid interview!! Tears.
Now, there is the first thing about these Lionesses. I stopped trying to count the number of Irish friends who confessed to cheering them on.
Anybody But England is our usual posture not because we don't like the players but we are so fed up with the arrogance of the commentators. These women shifted the cultural boundaries of support and for 120 minutes wound the Union tighter than our politicians care to do.
Secondly, there. was the cheer joy. This entire tournament has been played in a spirit of utter joy. The Lionesses exuded it. This was something different from a men's tournament.
Women are different than men and they bring a different sensibility that together we need to share with equality. Football saw how it needed it. I would argue that the Church very much needs it and the world.
That joy was contagious. There were so many stories so forgive me if I use two Manchester City ones. Former City midfielder Jill Scott. 35 and currently unattached, was in the team that lost the 2009 final to Germany 6-2. Thirteen years later and she has redemption. Tears.
BUT... the most tears are for City striker Chloe Kelly. Injured in April she fought back to make the squad. This is the girl who used to get the bus from home to Wembley just to buy a programme and get the bus home again. Here she was... and she reacts quicker to poke in the goal that will be shown to and for generations to come.
As if scoring the iconic goal was not enough, this morning's papers are littered with Chloe's celebration. Watch after she scores. She goes to lift her top. She waits. She is unsure if the goal will stand. Then, knowing she has possibly made history she takes her shirt off.
Many pointed to the USA's Brandi Chastain who took her shirt off after a winning penalty in the 1999 World Cup Final. I would suggest that the photo above hints at that Aguerooo moment from City's 94th winning goal to seal the Premiership in 2012. As a City player Chloe would have been overdosed on this image all year. That windmill effect. She was looking for iconic and she got it!
The shirt off and running around Wembley in her sports bra has already had Gary Lineker in bother. It needs to be seen for how it was. As someone else has written, it is an image of a woman's body freed from sexual exploitation highlighting that a woman's body should be respected at the peak of sporting achievement.
Make no mistake, these Lionesses are culture shifters. I have been enjoying the WSL for a few years. The skill and technique, check the utter quality of Ella Toone's opening goal, can be more enjoyable without the bullying in the men's game. How many young girls will take up the sport now?
I am thinking of my Primary School friend Caroline McClure, first picked every lunch time. The Carolines of 2022 might have a professional future in the sport. I am thinking of my wee friend Hannah, 21 with all the ability, balance and strength. Get down for a trial at Reading young woman. These Lionesses might have opened a door in your world too.
So Lionesses, thank you. Continue to enjoy. Drink it in. And just to warn... after a couple of World Cup wins we might go back to default. It was a big ask cheering for England!