If there’s one thing that defines football in this country, it’s the breakthrough moments.
A few months ago, Manchester City staged an improbable comeback to not only overhaul a daunting points total in the season, but a losing deficit in extra time, to finally announce their arrival as a major power in the Premier League. The images of Sergio Aguero snatching the winner and Vincent Kompany hoisting the trophy aloft will probably be replayed and reprinted until we’re all taking space buses to Jupiter’s moons for away matches.
From David Beckham spotting Neil Sullivan off his line, to Michael Owen stripping the entire population of Argentina for pace, every once in a while football throws up its hands, points in one direction, and tells us in no uncertain terms that something has arrived.
Tuesday past, it might very well have been pointing at Steph Houghton, her team GB colleagues, and the women’s game as a whole.
After out-playing, out-fighting, and out-thinking the tournament favourites Brazil in front of a record crowd, press and public alike were climbing over themselves for the necessary superlatives. “Remarkable” cried some, “groundbreaking” screeched others, “let’s make sure we start giving this team the attention we’d give the men” surmised whichever mouth piece was covering the game on the red button.
Well, actually, no. Let’s not.
Let’s not put these girls on the same pedestals we reserve for your Rooneys, your Gerrards and that centre-half we don’t talk about anymore. Let’s not stick their faces on every lunchbox, sticker album, and sports drink advert going. Let’s not give Celeb Big Brother auditions to people they slept with 5 years ago.
Let’s not have bored journalists go rummaging through their bins for discarded phone bills. Let’s not have them getting photographed coming out of China Whites at 4am with some airheaded, fake-tanned young lad on their arm. Let’s not have them give “their side of the story exclusively in the Mail on Sunday”.
Let’s not care about what their wearing on holiday, or who their having lunch with during the transfer window. Let’s not tell them they play in the best league in the world for 11 months, and then bemoan their lack of ability every two years. Let’s not give the build-up to their Quarter-Final against Canada 24 hour rolling coverage of the girls getting on and off buses in tracksuits.
Why not, just this once, just let them get on with it. If there’s one thing that British football as a whole should be noticing about the assured and expressive displays of Hope Powell’s side, it’s what can happen when a talented team is allowed to ply their trade away from intense media scrutiny and concentrate on the game itself.
No hysteria, no WAGS (or HABS as you’d probably call them), no looming court cases, just a football team playing football in front of a lot of football fans. It’s been so refreshing I could honestly drown in it.
There’s every chance of some success to go along with it as well, which would be no less than the players and the staff have merited, but the fact that this event was largely ignored until the Brazil win means that there’s no stifling weight of expectation to accompany it.
If you’re still not fully on board with this point, I refer you back to my opening about Beckham and Owen. How ever dramatic their “arrival” was, one is now largely considered to have wasted his career, and the other was once a public hate figure for a getting sent off in a second round World Cup game. If Team GB’s ladies end up empty handed, no matter what the circumstances there’ll be no pitchfork wielding mob fighting amongst themselves to be the first to upload a shirt burning video to YouTube. Ask yourself which circumstances you’d rather play under.
In a summer of off-field scandal, on-field disappointments, and catastrophic financial meltdown, the joyful and fearless way the likes of Jill Scott, Karen Carney, Eniola Aluko, and Kim Little have approached these games has been British football’s sole saving grace. Let’s not ruin it by demanding more.
Regardless of what happens on Friday though, if this is really is a watershed moment for the women’s game, then go support your local side a few times next season. Given that we’re still semi-professional in this country, I suspect an Olympic medal will mean very little to this team if it doesn’t give next season’s average attendance a bit of a boost.