Six o’clock. Hazy sunshine. A nippy evening chill creeping in, but these hardy soccer players don’t care. Shin guards on, socks pulled high, shorts and proud club jerseys. Running to the pitch, racing for the first kick of the ball. Eight, nine, ten years old, one thing in common – a love of the beautiful game. Oh, and they’re all girls.
Every week when I drop her at soccer training, my heart sings. When I see her pick up her pace as we get nearer, dashing to get on the pitch. When I see her team mates do the same, eager to get started. A team that just a few short years ago had precious few members. A club that made an active decision to build up its female membership. A recruiting drive to get local girls trying out – which they did, in their droves, and they stayed. Now I drop her at training and see thirty or forty girls out on the pitch and sometimes I get a lump in my throat.
Back when my middle child first showed an interest in soccer, she took part in a mini-world-cup with a local club. Thrilled with the experience and eager to continue playing, she asked to join the club the following September. But they couldn’t take her, they said. There wasn’t enough interest from girls, and as a result, they were no longer able to offer training for a girls’ team at all. Game over.
My daughter was disappointed, I was cross. It wasn’t anybody’s fault – it wasn’t the club’s fault that they couldn’t get the numbers, but still it irked. My daughter liked football, but because she was a girl, she might not get to play.
Then a flyer at the school gate told us about another club, a club looking for new girl players. She tried it, she loved, and now it’s her favourite thing in the world. She runs out on cold January nights, she races out on early weekend mornings. She’s even got her dad roped in as coach, and she’s started watching games with him on TV.
Why isn’t there more women’s football on television? she asks, and I tell her it’s changing, and that her generation will change it further.
Why do all the trophies show boys? asks one of her wise nine-year-old teammates, in a letter to the club. Good question, fair point, they reply, and immediately change the trophies. Now the trophies show girls.
Are we watching evolution of the beautiful game? Revolution? I don’t know. But I do know I’m watching pure joy, as my daughter runs onto the pitch. And for now, that’s more than enough. Game on.