‘The commentators are going easy on England. Imagine if this was the men.’ If this was the men, then they probably wouldn’t have been doing recovery sessions in a lake and buying their own boots for the tournament.
In the wake of England’s exit from Euro 2013 on Thursday, journalists took to twitter to exhume the debate being had earlier in the week around how ‘nice’ we are to women’s football in comparison to the men’s team.
The so-say acquiescent level of analysis surrounding an abysmal tournament for Hope Powell’s side has even been referred to as patronising. The view of some being; let’s sharpen the knives and get really stuck in because ‘that’s what they would want’; they want to be treated like the men, so let’s critique them with the same verve.
However, the idea that the two teams are in anyway comparable shows a lack of understanding of the path women’s football is on and complete disregard to the fact that, whilst they share the common ground of being England football teams, the two sides are polls a part in almost every way.
Women’s football celebrates 20 years under the control of The FA this year and during that time the game has seen significant progress, particularly in the last 3 years.
The advent of The FA Women’s Super League has wrapped a professional package around a once amateurish product but at the centre still remains a developing, semi-professional game.
There are very few boot deals for these players, most buy their own. There isn’t a big signing on fee and weekly wage to soften the blow of underperformance; there are part-time jobs, expenses and for a lucky few, modest yearly salaries.
When the men’s team travelled to Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012 they arrived to a purposely-renovated training ground in Krakow for which The FA footed a share of the bill. Away from training, the team recovered in the luxury Stary hotel famed for having ‘the most beautiful hotel interior design in Europe’ and complete with an onsite ‘wellness & spa’ centre.
For our women? Recovery came courtesy of a lake, a short drive from their far more modest 4 star accommodation in Linkoping.
I’m not going to overplay this point because the team get looked after well. The staff are great and almost everything they need is on hand but let’s not kid ourselves, these are two very different worlds.
Aside from the material things like; pay, facilities, support and assistance, any possible similarity to be drawn between Roy Hodgson’s and Hope Powell’s squads falls firmly at their professional status.
The majority of our top players still only train twice a week with their clubs, in the evenings on shared facilities. They are getting the same time with the ball at their feet as men playing in the 8th tier of the national game.
What rate of development can we truly expect to see when players are spending just a few hours mastering and refining their art?
There was once a time when our fitness and endeavour would be enough to compete and beat almost any team in Europe but as the standard of the game rises across the continent, the need to develop the technical side of our game only becomes more pressing.
In short, until women’s football is full-time, then any comparisons with the elite men’s game, seem to me at least, short-sighted.
Women’s football is really still in its infancy and like any youngster trying to find their feet, they will fall over. The question is, is it ‘patronising’ to pick them up, encourage them and help them develop or are we better to criticise and lament them at every opportunity?
There is a maturity to women’s football that is rooted in the very humble surroundings the players ply their trade week in week out. A maturity which should allow us as fans and the media to avoid the path of ‘build ‘em up to knock ‘em down’ that has plagued the men’s game and has seen 8 national managers come and go in the 13 years Powell has overseen the women’s team.
The performance of England at Euro 2013 was woeful and at times embarrassing. The quality of football was poor and when we needed a performance we came up a long way short.
Questions need to be answered, a full and frank discussion needs to be had about the direction England women’s football is heading, players and staff will have to review just how this went so horribly wrong but they know that.
There won’t be any hiding away from it. The players will be the first to say it wasn’t good enough. No one is looking for ‘a pat on the head and a medal’; nobody thinks that one point for three games is good enough.
They get it and it’s patronising to think they don’t. No number of opinions from journalists showing a token interest from the comfort of home will change that.
The responsibility now falls on the shoulders of those in the boardroom at Wembley to take stock of women’s football in England. Whilst we’ve been concerned with improving the professional approach to the game off the pitch have we lost a focus around the quality on it?
So are we being ‘too nice’ to women’s football? I’d like to think that instead, all those connected with the game recognise the importance of positivity and support no matter the results. If we’re going to move the game forward we need to be able to handle failure with an open mind and a quick resolution.
Very few great things happen with people standing around pointing fingers at the first sign of a set-back, great things happen when you’re positive, roll your sleeves up and make it happen.
If that’s being too nice, then I for one make no apology for that.