The 2018 men’s World Cup captured everyone’s hearts and minds. We need to show the same support to women’s football, says former England player, Arsenal captain and pundit Alex Scott – starting with tonight’s England v Wales World Cup qualifier.
It’s been a wonderful summer, hasn’t it? For a few magical weeks, watching the men’s England team storm through the World Cup all the way to the semi-finals seemed to bring the country together. Football didn’t come home in the end, but it still felt like we were being reunited with a sport and a country that we love.
If you were one of the many people who caught World Cup fever in June and July, there’s no need for it to end. At 7.45pm on Friday 31 August, the England and Wales women’s teams will go head-to-head in a World Cup qualifying match, airing on BBC Two. Whatever the result, it’s set to be a continuation of the thrill we felt at seeing a UK team do so brilliantly in Russia.
The women’s World Cup will take place next year in France, and England v Wales is a vital match. This is the most exciting time in the history of the Welsh women’s football squad: they’ve never made it into a major tournament before, but they’re currently sitting at the top of the qualifying table. Tonight’s match is their final game in the qualifiers, and if they win, they’ll literally be making history.
The England team, the Lionesses, are also at the top of their game at the moment. They’re ranked fourth internationally – higher than the men’s England team were ahead of the World Cup this summer.
And they have some of the best women football players in the world. Look at Lucy Bronze, who recently won the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year award. She’s one of the best right backs in the women’s game on the planet. Or Jodie Taylor, a fantastic striker who was the top scorer at last year’s UEFA Women’s Euro tournament. England is currently producing some of the world’s top female football talent, and that will be on show tonight.
But regardless of who you support, right now feels like an incredibly exciting time for women’s football in the UK. Before I retired from professional football in 2017, I played for the Lionesses in three World Cups – and I’d never experienced an atmosphere like the one around the tournament in Canada in 2015. Men and women in the UK were staying up late to watch us in pubs, even though the matches were taking place in a different time zone, and when we got knocked out in the semi-finals there were crowds of fans waiting to greet us at Heathrow. Young women would come up to me in the supermarket to say that they’d been watching us.
The momentum behind the team was extraordinary, and I have every faith that next summer’s World Cup will be even bigger, better and more exciting.
Since 2015, the women’s game has gone from strength to strength thanks to the FA Women’s Super League. It helps that the BBC show live women’s matches every week: the Women’s Football Show will be hosted by Eilidh Barbour on Sunday nights from September 9, and they aired the women’s FA Cup final at Wembley earlier this year on BBC One. This visibility for women’s football is really important.
Because watching the England v Wales match isn’t just about enjoying a fantastic game of football. It’s also about championing the talent and success of women in sport. Times and attitudes are definitely changing: when I hear people say that people aren’t interested in women’s sport, I just laugh, because that outlook is so old-fashioned and so patently untrue. But we still need people to tune in, be part of the team, and support the sisterhood.
So whether you’re at home or heading out on Friday night, make sure you watch the game. Personally, I love watching football with other people, whether that’s out in a bar or in my living room with my friends. Get your gang together, order a nice takeaway, have a few glasses of wine – and enjoy the match.
The BBC is providing coverage of the Women’s FIFA World Cup qualifier between Wales and England on Friday, August 31 across TV, radio and online.
Throughout 2018, Stylist is raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present – and empowering future generations to follow their lead – with our Visible Women campaign. See more from Visible Women here.
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