Well I enjoyed it…
Seriously, I am delighted that the Euro 2005 football championships have gone so well. Ok, so we didn't win, but it was heartening to see it on TV, see it get coverage and spectators, read about it in the papers. Women's football finally getting the press it actually deserves.
I wasn't entirely sure what was going to happen when I heard Euro 2005 was coming to the north west of England. Now coming from there I know the place is full of genuine football fans, many of whom I was sure would give the thing a chance, even if only for the first England game in the, nice and posh, City Of Manchester stadium. However I was also worried that that would be it. One game, a small TV audience, and resounding indifference for the rest.
Granted the tournament has hardly been a huge talking point. But it has definitely gone beyond the pessimistic predictions of some who felt it was not going to penetrate a nation with more pressing matters like Big Brother and the leadership of the Conservative Party (boring). Record women's football TV figures of 2.9 million for the Finland match. Record attendences at the games. And I felt it was entertaining.
Ok ok, so the women are not as skilfull as their male counterparts. But they are, in England in particular, part timers. It's possible to get very good if you are earning millions a year for just practising and playing football, but the England ladies all have to have proper jobs on the side as well. Most male footballers drop out of school when they hit the big time. Eniola Aluko was sitting her A Levels (including History, sensible striker) during the tournament. That's the sort of dedication and non-H*rry K*w*ll style behavious that I like to see. These girls care for the game, not the big money lifestyle.
And how was it that different from the men's game anyway? Germany won. England lost when they really should have done better. A team who were not expected to do well, Finland, did well.
And there was some proper drama and excitement. How about a 17-year-old wonderkid appearing to score a last minute winner? Karen Carney must be the breakthrough of the tournament (though Aluko was promising as well) and to see her reaction to scoring that vital goal was brilliant.
And then there was England's big name, Kelly Smith. Despite having suffered injuries too numerous to mention, she came to the tournament determined to play on. Even a nasty clattering at the hands (feet?) of Denmark was not enough to stop her. What was best about her though was that she is passionate. Whether it's the slightly-more-crunching than the average female player tackles, or the wonderfully funny incident when she cheekily pulled the ponytail of an opponent who had been annoying her, Kelly was one of the most up for it players I saw in the tournament. And anyone who saw the infinite replays of the amazing goal she scored against the Czech Republic (some of whose players I am fairly sure I played against when we went on tour at Easter and played Sparta Prague).
Of course, being a proper football fan (one who spent the entirety of the 2002 men's World Cup sat on the sofa watching it during her As Level study leave (it was raining outside)) I was a bit miffed that the BBC wasn't too arsed about showing the non-England games, especially the semi-finals which I would quite like to have seen more of than some scattered highlights. But I guess a step at a time is the best plan, though I feel that many of the doubters might have had second thoughts about criticising the women's lack of skill after seeing the Germans who defied their male equivilants' general boringness to be quite exciting. Birgit Prinz may have been the archetypal huge name (best player in the world, apparently) who didn't quite spark as bright as she should have, but she was still bloody brilliant. Another player who shone was Finland's keeper Kunnas who was great against pretty much everyone expect England and Germany in the first 15 minutes of that game. As for the other picture below... well I didn't enjoy watching Denmark pull two goals back as England demonstrated that wasting 1-0 leads is a national trait that transcends gender, but I do like this celebration pic and look forward to landing on my own team mates
if when we score next year.
In general though I was impressed by the way the media handled it. The BBC and Guardian in particular were very indepth, although the BBC's message boards were host to more than a few derogatory threads by men who were obviously terrified of the thought of women playing their sport. Boys boys boys, we play football and have for years. Deal with it. Naturally it doesn't help when you have Sepp Blatter and Lennart Johansen blathering crap on the sport, though Johansen seems to have been pillioried for being naive in his phrasing rather than a berk like Blatter. Mr Blatter, if I was to play football in mid January in the Midlands wearing the sort of bikini crap you suggested I would in all likelihood be a bit dead by the end. I've already nearly frozen to death whilst wearing trousers, three tops and gloves so I speak from experience. God only knows how the Scottish and Scandanavians would cope.
The BBC did do a good job, but then they usually do. In this house we became particular fans of the pundit Sue Smith for
- Being a damn sight more insightful and interesting than 90% of male pundits (yes, I am looking at you, Mr Alan 'zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz' Shearer).
- Getting progressively Scouse-er throughout the tournament till I was sure she was going to refer to Gavin 'look at my facial hair' Peacock as "Gaz-man" before nicking his hubcaps and running through Manchester screaming "how many European Cups did you win this year?" Sound.
- Being nice about Rachel Yankey and Karen Carney even though they kept her out of the England squad (she's a winger for Leeds Utd).
- Having the best hair.
So there it was. I was gutted that my arse of an exam timtable meant I couldn't go to a single England game. But I really think it's been great, and England's team, being ridiculously young should be up for the world cup in two years, though as it's in China getting to the games might be a bit of a problem. At least I know how to get to Warrington on the cheap.
One last photo. The fact this is of the women's game is irrelevant. It's just a picture which I really liked and which completely resonates with anyone who has ever dared to be a keeper and suffered that horrible moment of a goal that should not have been crossing the line, doing so. Ouch.