18/07/2013

Was The Roar More Important Than The Hunt?

The Lionesses ended their European Women's Championship campaign this evening following a 3-0 defeat to France. The girls had to win tonight to secure qualification to the quarter finals, but failed, miserably, without a single win in the entire group stage.

While part of me constantly wants to defend women's football in an attempt to convert chauvinistic, Neanderthal type opinions into open-mindedness towards the game, the football analyst in me stops short of the kind words, and thinks, actually, what the bloody hell was that.
Hope Powell? Invincible?
One point out of a possible nine, and the most amount of goals conceded in the tournament? While I feel protective over the national women's side, I can not commend a performance like that. From a purely evaluative point of view, that sort of performance is quite shocking. I feel that now is certainly not the time to patronise the team with silly comments, but to grill them. To find out exactly what went so awfully wrong there.

With BBC3 coverage intensely following the competition, Hope Powell's squad have suffered their most intense media grilling. The increase in exposure, while it may have added to the nerves, was an opportunity for Powell and her girls to show the backwards thinking people of our society what women's football can offer.

The plan has completely backfired. With France scoring within the first nine minutes, England lost all hope of gaining a lead.They looked panicky, tired and lacked creativity. For women's football fans, we know that this is out of character for the majority of the squad. Having seen some of the girls play in league matches, and seen Rachel Yankey, Alex Scott and Eniola Aluko play in a charity match with male dominated teams, I can vouch that not all women's football is disappointing.

However, it is perhaps time now, to forget about how much exposure the game is getting, and instead focus on making the standard of play higher. For this to happen requires sponsorship investment, to enable more coverage without having to fight for it every time. Second, more grassroots development needs to occur in female football. While grassroots is vastly important to the progression of male players, it appears to be forgotten about when applied to women.

The game needs to attract more young girls to ensure a higher pool of players to choose from.

Perhaps this year, we have focused far too much on improving the fan base of women's football, which of course does warrant attention, as opposed to actually initiating a high standard of quality football.

Hope Powell's post match comments were particularly clich├ęd; "a gallant effort, we dug deep. I don't think there are any easy games." No, there may well not be any easy games but to lose 3-0 in your last chance of qualification suggests that you are an easy game for the opposition. Powell also incited controversy following an admittedly ridiculous question from a media group, asking her whether her girls could beat the men's team. Equally ridiculously, she responded yes. The best answer to a question of that sort would be to laugh and explain that they are two very different games. Focused around the same principles and rules, yes, but completely different styles of play and values.

Perhaps the Lionesses really did have a blip this year, but it is a blip that cannot be overlooked simply for the sake of being women's football. That in itself is sexist; "yeah they didn't do very well, but at least they got media coverage". The media coverage will soon decrease should the current form of the side stay the same, in which case, getting media coverage is no excuse.

In defence of the national side, given the constant criticism the men's team constantly receives, expectations were abhorrently high for the women to succeed in the competition. This wasn't very fair as many of the new viewers had no previous knowledge of the players, management, tactics or style of play used in the team, this meant that expectations were unrepresentative.

Maybe the girls have suffered too much criticism, but one thing is for sure, the criticism is not because it is women's football, they have been criticised because the standard of football displayed, has been poor. If Roy Hodgson's team went to a tournament and came back with one point in nine, there would be a high probability, given the sack happy nature of English football at the moment, that he would be sacked. It is very unlikely that Powell will be sacked, because women's football is still a taboo. While there is much sexism towards the players and squad, some of it is almost positive discrimination, people making allowances for god awful performances because it's the women's side.

While 15 years is a creditable service to football, it does not merit a cloak of invincibility protecting managers from due criticism following exceptionally poor performances. If women's football is to progress, then it needs to be treated properly - therefore Powell's future should probably be questioned.

You play bad, you have bad consequences. Play well, and reap the rewards. A team should expect criticism if play warrants it.

In so many words, we focused on hearing the Lionesses roar so much, that we forgot to evaluate the actual hunt.

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