Girls on top

Women are looking good on the pitch.

Watching the English and German women footballers in their Euro final, all those skilful, talented and committed young women, my mind went back to 5 December 1921. Just come in from the pit, or was it the blacking factory, and I picked up the Sporting Chron to read that those Football Association b-stards, for we never swore in them days, had banned women from playing football. By heck.

Their reasons were twofold. The game was "quite unsuitable" for females, and complaints had been made about "the appropriation of . . . receipts". The latter was laughable, suggesting financial fiddles, as if the men's game weren't totally corrupt, with gate money disappearing, amateurs finding a sovereign in their sock, inducements for innocent young players from abroad (ie, Scotland) to join the top English clubs. Much like today, in fact.

The health worries were more serious. Some medics believed football harmed women's bodies, making them incapable of giving birth, though other docs said bollocks, or words to that effect. "Football is no more likely to cause injuries than a heavy day's washing," said Dr Mary Lowry in the Lancashire Evening Post.

One million young women had done heavy work for four years in munitions factories and survived - and it was thanks to that, and the works teams that were formed, that women's football suddenly became hugely popular. In 1920, 53,000 turned up at Goodison Park, home of Everton, to watch Dick Kerr's Ladies from Preston beat St Helens Ladies 4-0.

Most female players said the real reason that the FA was against them was envy (they were getting bigger crowds than some of the men).

In recent years, the prejudice against women playing has been down to Big Ron sexism - a woman's place is in the bedroom or the kitchen, not on the pitch - and the assumption that, on football grounds, women are rubbish.

Watching women play about ten years ago, I could see they were enjoying it, but thought it's never going to make a spectator sport. Too slow, too clumsy, too amateurish. Now, wow, what a difference. I watched all the women's games from the quarter-final on, and it was dead exciting, highly skilful, technical, tactical, fast, furious and physical. The fouls, shirt-tugging and crunching tackles were just like in the men's game, though not quite as nasty and deliberate. They can strike a dead ball, dribble through defences, deliver deadly headers. Only the goalies look a bit weak and defensive - but that means lots of goals, as in the final, with England beaten 6-2 by Germany. But not disgraced.

One of England's stars, Katie Chapman, a mother-of-two, says she was playing while six months pregnant. I wonder what 1920s doctors would have thought about that. Apart from the excellent football, what also struck me - and I'll phrase this carefully - was that they were all so stunning. I mean, stunning examples of youth and vitality. Male football kit, which is what they wear, is not exactly flattering to the female form, but I'm not talking about their sexual attractiveness. It was that they all glowed.

Most of them were indeed very attractive, far more so than their male counterparts, many of whom are downright ugly, deprived, runts of the litter. When you look at Gerrard's bags and frowns, John Terry's mean eyes, Wayne's pasty face, you think poor sods, so old, so stressed, getting so little pleasure, even if it does pay £150,000 a week. The women get next to bugger all, and look great on it. So, hurrah for the women. They definitely look fit - in both the modern and the ancient senses.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Citizen Ken