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24 August 2022

After England’s joyous Lionesses, it’s back to the miserable men of the Prem

The England women seemed carefree, happy, in love with the game. Unlike the men, who are all moaning minnies, and can’t wait for the game to be over.

By Hunter Davies

It’s not really been an uplifting, fun exciting Prem season so far. Men playing football, who needs it? It won’t catch on, so boring and sterile. All this passing sideways or back to the goalie, or belting it up to nobody; and players pretending to be injured or wasting time when they think they are going to win or get a draw: any tricks they can think of, really.

And all so nasty. Players being dragged to the ground by their hair. Top managers, such as Antonio Conte and Thomas Tuchel, fighting on the touchline. The players generally appear bad tempered, arguing with the ref over nothing, clearly getting so little pleasure out of the simple act of playing football. Ugh. Bring on the girls. I did love the Ingerland Lionesses in the Euros. I watched all the games and was cheering them on with the rest of nation. Since 1966, the Ingerland men have given us so much grief and disappointment. A pot at long last, hurrah.

Fifteen years ago, when I first watched women’s football, the standard was much lower, but now it is much more professional. The men have taken 159 years to get to their current level; the women have done it in 15. And, judging by the Euros, they are doing better than many of the men’s teams – more fluent, more positive, enjoying themselves, giving us enjoyment in turn.

I know the inspiring history of women’s football: how wonderful Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club’s women were – attracting 53,000 spectators at Goodison Park in 1920 – and about the bastards at the FA who banned women’s football from member grounds in 1921. I also know there was no such person as Dick Kerr. The Preston munitions factory for which the women played was named after two men, so you should insert a comma, making it Dick, Kerr’s Ladies.

Then there is the ongoing mystery of Nettie Honeyball, the founder of the British Ladies Football club in 1895. There is a well-known photo of her looking professional with her football boots and pads. She is wearing what looks like a blouson and knickerbockers. We know that Nettie Honeyball was not her real name. Good joke as well. Nettie makes you think of nets – which had only been recently invented, in 1891. A modern-day marketing whizz could hardly have thought of a more memorable name.

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Would you watch the Man United men or England’s women? United – England’s biggest, most famous club – are currently pathetic, despite beating a lethargic Liverpool. They all seem to hate each other and never smile, which Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford used to do. Now, they are clearly fed up and depressed. Even Son Heung-min of Spurs, who last year was always so sunny, looks down in the dumps, while Everton are clearly getting little pleasure out of being Everton.

The England women, in contrast, did appear to be enjoying themselves and were always looking to go forward. In the Prem at present there is this mania for playing from the back, which so many modern managers demand. It’s OK in theory, but at Man Utd they can’t do it, they stumble and fall over. At Leeds recently, Chelsea’s goalie tried it and gave away a goal.

The England women seemed carefree, happy, in love with the game. Unlike the men, who are all moaning minnies, and can’t wait for the game to be over. Why is this? It could be being so grotesquely overpaid that causes them such stress and worry. So much is demanded from them. The training is intense, some players vomit and collapse. Any loss of form and they are out of the team, while many are longing to get away from their manager and colleagues.

Many women, in contrast, such as the veteran midfielder Jill Scott, will still remember the amateur days, where the facilities they were given were pathetic.

Perhaps in a few years the women, when they too become millionaires, will be as cynical, unhappy, negative, selfish and entitled as the men.

We should enjoy watching them while we can…

Hunter Davies’ new book “Love in Old Age, My Year in the Wight House” (Apollo) is published on 1 September

[See also: The football transfer market has become a soap opera, with players the willing stars]

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This article appears in the 24 Aug 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Inflation Wars