Sport wasn't part of a girl's story when I was young. I was a highly competitive, sporty child and I spent most of my days running around with the other children, playing football, tiggy scarecrow and whatever game was up for grabs, without thinking anything of it. But when I turned 11 and moved to secondary school there was a massive shift. I was gutted to find that the boys continued to run around and play football each break, while the girls no longer felt like this was for them, so we would sit around eating crisps and talking about the boys. My football season had come to an abrupt end.
Now don’t get me wrong, we still played sport at school but it was ‘girls’ sports only, such as netball and tennis, and it was part of the curriculum, it wasn’t something we did in our free time. There are many reasons for this I’m sure, but I do believe one of them was that the girls didn’t think this was what girls do. We didn’t see much women’s sport on TV, and certainly not women playing football. We didn’t have access to women’s sport and women’s sporting role models in our day-to-day lives, like the boys had. The closest thing we had in the ’90s was a ‘Sporty Spice’ Barbie.
Which is why I found it so emotional to watch the Lionesses play and win the Euros final. I’m not someone that cries at happy things, like friends getting engaged, getting married and having children. I’m the one sat there dry eyed. But when it comes to sporting stories and victories, I’ll happily bawl like a baby. For me, there is nothing that compares to sport – being part of a team, working your hardest for the collective and for yourself, and winning when the chips are down. The Lionesses' victory seems like a pivotal moment in British sporting history, enabling future generations of women to write their own sporting stories.
The Williams sisters are two women who have carved out incredible sporting stories for themselves, so reading about Serena Williams’s retirement from tennis in Vogue today, and knowing she’s had to choose between expanding her family and playing professional tennis, is gutting. You can see how hard the decision has been for her. People say ‘women can have it all’, which I don’t agree with. In my opinion, we can’t have it all, but what’s dangerous is to tell us we can, because it makes us think we’re failing if we don’t, believing that others have it all and we can’t quite seem to grasp it. Knowing there’s a shorter time frame for women in professional sport if they want to have children makes it all the more important that it’s given the platform and credit it deserves.
I’m eternally grateful to all the sporting women who have pushed back, put up with abuse and battled through, which has led to women’s football and other sports being seen and appreciated on a global stage. I know that if I have girls, they will see women’s sport in the press and on the TV and know that it’s as much an option for them as it is for the boys.
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