In the disturbing grand mix of modern, elite football – in which greed and selfish expediency increasingly seems to be everything – occasionally something comes along which warms the heart and re-ushers belief.
The 2011 Women’s World Cup – all of it, not just its epic final – was one such thing.
From its beginning to its gripping end, Germany 2011 was all that is good in football, and something which men’s football these days mostly is not. It was the football story of the year, even more than the glory with which Barcelona carried football’s technical ideals, and its hope, at Wembley in May.
Watched by teeming crowds in the stadiums, and many millions on television, the event took women’s football not just to new heights in popular appreciation but into the hearts of all who value the game’s essence. Women’s football is now an essential part of the game’s pulse and its life.
As it should be and always should have been. Shame on the dogmatists who banned it from Football League grounds in England in 1921, and to then have it disappear from public consciousness for 50 years until the ban was repealed in 1971.
Credit to the women and all who backed their cause, who took up the fight in the 1970s in the interests of gender equality within what the world supposes, is the most egalitarian of sports. It is not to the game’s and anyone’s credit that it should have taken another 40 years before the stirring heights of Germany 2011 were reached.
We were thrilled, thrilled to the bone, by what went on in Germany in the past three weeks, from the time the youthful Matildas took it to the Brazilians in their opening game to the sweet climax of a Japan winning the title.
Given that organised men’s football has existed for nearly 150 years, with considerable and growing prosperity, some might believe that the women’s game is some kind of sideshow and therefore not especially relevant to football’s wellbeing and survival.
Nothing could be further from the reality.
What women’s football does, in particular the Women’s World Cup, is provide a direct point of relevance to the game for the female gender, half the world’s population. Through it, women have found a meaningful relevance to the game, other than through being spectators or screaming young teenyboppers chasing autographs at the gates of men’s training grounds.
Therefore women’s football becomes a powerful instrument by which women are meaningfully engaged and are swayed to embrace the game.
As opposed to many men, or certainly some of the spoilt male star players with their snobby arrogance and fleets of Ferraris, the women who took part in the World Cup are mostly wonderful role models.
In this the Matildas are as much so as any of the others. The humility, innocence and sense of sporting decency with which the Australian players conduct themselves (and I include in this Sarah Walsh and the retired Cheryl Salisbury who assisted us on the SBS coverage) can be held up as utter model behaviour.
Of course one can argue that the women’s game is still in its age of innocence and that, before you know it, the women will start to get more cunning, less sporting and behave like the men. The antics of Erika in the Brazil v USA game, with her blatant and despicable play-acting, certainly suggest this.
But that, even if true, is beside the point. It is precisely the innocence of these women that should be held up as an example to all of us of where the men’s game, with all of its grubby commercialism, have taken us.
As a legacy of the 2011 Women’s World Cup we can expect a surge in female participation in women’s football and football itself, not just in Australia but well beyond. For football, FIFA and at home, Football Federation Australia, these weeks presented a grand opportunity for football to make gains as a sport of ecumenism, equality and inclusion, something not many sports can claim to be.
These women, as we grapple with the suffocating fear that the top end of the men’s game just chases its tail in pursuit of money and commercial gain, have given us a breath of fresh air.
Ladies, we thank you.