Mary Earps yelled ‘f*** off’ and women’s football does the same to toxic men

John Nicholson
England goalkeeper Mary Earps has attitude
England goalkeeper Mary Earps has attitude

That was an enjoyable World Cup. Obviously, not the result many of us wanted on Sunday, but that’s football and the best team on the day won. There’s always another game, another tournament. Spain won with a coach the players hate, who many won’t even play for; England lost with a coach they all love and play for with passion. Such is the mercurial nature of football.

What I’ve taken from this World Cup is simple: joy. The sheer unadulterated joy of playing the game. A tournament full of skill and commitment, a tournament of record attendances and viewing figures. There was never any sulky posing as the ball hit the net, just joy. And given we live in an all-too-frequently joyless age, beset with worries and fears, that is a rare and much needed commodity. It lifts the heart and soul, even in defeat.

There will be much discussion about where the game in the UK goes from here, how it grows, how it will be financed, how it monetises the joy. The future may be bright, or we may be on the road to another version of the black hole of greed that is the Premier League with all its divisive attendant issues. I hope not.

I hope a new model can be created that embraces and capitalises on the open-heartedness of this World Cup and of women’s football more widely. One that creates a fair outcome for all concerned. It shouldn’t be too much to ask, but as we know, institutionalised biases and bigotries can be hard to change, as playing Norwich v Millwall during the World Cup final proves and as Gianni Infantino proves every time he opens his rancid meat hole.

But right now, the World Cup has delivered so many fantastic, exciting and dramatic memories, it’s worth clinging on to them as a reminder of what this amazing sport can deliver to its players and its public. It will be a long time before I stop smiling at Mary Earps yelling’ f*ck off’ at the top of her lungs.

READ: England outplayed and outthought by Spain as World Cup final proves a problem too far for Wiegman

This was a more pure version of football where people on the pitch and in the stands behave like sentient creatures, try their hardest and just see what happens. The joy on the faces of the crowds at these games was there for all to see. Fantastic to see so many happy wee kids and no twisted faces of anger and hate, winding themselves up into a lather of violent indignation.

This is what football is like when a certain sort of male is removed. It feels like the game has itself in perspective. Research shows that fans think the women’s game is inspiring, progressive and family-friendly: a good example and it has never been more needed as some in men’s football rubs their nose in its own shit and pretends its caviar.

While we are all disappointed when our team loses, no-one is handing out blame for Sunday’s defeat. There’s no bitterness towards players or manager. Life is about tomorrow so much more than today and England overcame so many adversities to even reach the final. This doesn’t feel like the end of anything, rather, it feels like a new level has been achieved and England did it without some of their best players.

So all there is to take from this fabulous tournament is bucket loads of positivity. It has been uplifting to see really competitive football played without recriminations, much aggression and much anger. With Olympic gold to aim for next year, there is always another mountain to climb and another journey to enjoy along the way. Every Wembley game will be sold out with 90,000 wanting to see these fantastic women play football. Honestly, that fact alone is mind-blowing.

This World Cup has shown football as a positive thing to introduce your kids to, either as a fan or as a player, something to embrace and enjoy, rather than something to be feared as a bad influence. And that has to be a good thing for the sport and for society as a whole. Normally we have to pick the diamonds out of the dirt. Yes there are many issues to address, but these women have established the Lionesses as a positive, in-demand brand and that’s no mean feat for such a clunky word.

Women’s football is no longer a niche outpost in the sporting world, but slap bang in the mainstream and moving forward at pace, with a smile on its face. Bless every one of them.