The unmistakably good England of Sarina Wegman is still rekindling my familiar pain The England Women’s Football Team

IIn 2014, Cambridge United played Gateshead in the National League Playoff Final. Four minutes left and we were 2-1 up when centre-back Ian Miller went down with a broken ankle. We had used all our subs. The referee played 10 minutes of injury time. Ten minutes. I felt about a year old. Gateshead set a wide vertical just as the clock moved to the 99 minute mark. My voice is gone. I could hardly breathe. It is almost impossible to express relief at the final whistle.

Every fan is aware of the painful nerve knot that goes beyond the pit of the stomach. It is overwhelming and all-consuming. Nothing else can give you this escape – you’re completely lost at the moment – but it’s very hard to tell if it’s any fun in any way.

For the men’s international soccer tournaments, my mild pain usually starts on the morning of the first England game, and doesn’t even leave any destructive way out we’ve chosen. All of these go to the penalty area. Pierce, Patty, Southgate, Saka. Jaza elongated shoe. wobble hits another. This Argentine hinders Lineker’s equalizer.

I felt that the Euro 2020 final was a defining moment – I was almost paralyzed beforehand. I always wondered how I would feel if England reached a major final, how I would win or lose. It was noticeably undramatic. I woke up the next day and I was already done. Scenes at Wembley may have already marred her. Maybe I’m not as fanatic as I thought. Maybe working in football has removed the magic a bit. Maybe because I’m just getting old.

This Sunday is another chance for many England fans to get their first experience winning a major trophy. In the days before we could watch Alicia Russo heel and Georgia Stanway thunderbolt, but an hour before the game against Germany, I wonder if those same nerves would fire.

It’s not something that you control and has yet to appear in this tournament. England invaded me. I love watching them – but with 10 minutes left against Spain, when we were completely outgunned, I didn’t feel the pain I felt when Croatia were supposed to be tiring against the men in 2018. Before the semi-final in Sweden, I was completely relaxed.

I’m sick of why I feel different. Is this because there is a deep-rooted sexism in my subconscious mind? A legacy of growing up in the ’80s and ’90s where the idea of ​​women playing soccer was a joke? The boys kicked a size-five shot around the green triangle on Tennyson Road and the girls sat outside talking about things and listening to livelier or therapy. If someone returns the ball to us, that’s it.

Hopefully it’s more accurate than that. I don’t spend a lot of time covering the women’s game. Most players are relatively new to me. No history of this team causing me pain – I don’t have a playlist of soul-breaking BBC montages, I can read word for word from the past four decades (€96, to Cast’s Walkaway, still very hard). And the Sarina Wiegman team is unmistakably good, so it doesn’t look like they’re going to let me down.

David Seaman consoles Gareth Southgate after a crucial defender error in the penalty shootout in the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany. Photo: PA

The positive is that my four-month-old son lying on the floor in front of me will not grow up with a negative female soccer stereotype. This will be the norm for him. He probably won’t constantly compare the women’s matches with the men’s match.

Perhaps these comparisons are useless. I sympathize with those who cover women’s games week after week or week of going out to read articles – like this – perhaps oversimplifying women’s football, or trying to make some big statement about what each score means.

But watching football is a constant comparison. Every match we watch relates to what happened before, so naturally we do the same for us in the men’s game. If someone knocks it off the bar, I say “Tony Yeboah” before it bounces back and hits the top of the net.

And there are parts of the Euro that feel fresh – referees get less abuse, really less serious challenges, and a lack of that “small minority” of fans booing the knee, abusing an opponent, or singing grim chants about a human tragedy. It would be strange to watch this tournament and not notice the differences.

As a casual viewer, I may be doing the women’s game serious harm. Perhaps Sunday’s Wembley Road will be another modern-day Caravaggio: torches, donkeys, wrecked hurricanes — a lot. And that’s not to denigrate every part of the men’s game – this isn’t an either/or game. They’re both imperfect, they can learn from each other, they’re both entertaining, and that’s the point in the end. Like Messi and Ronaldo, why not enjoy both?

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Above all, as Ian Wright said forcefully at the end of the Sweden match, this should translate into more girls getting the chance to play. According to the latest figures from the FA, only 63% of schools offer girls football in physical education classes and only 40% of schools offer girls football outside the curriculum.

I have friends and colleagues for whom this final match feels like the end of years of sacrifice, struggle and love for the women’s game. I wish them more than anything England could do. I’m glad to jump in that bandwagon and stay decisively on it. And if we hit the Germans, we’ll at least get another heartbreaking montage.

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