Girls didn’t play football at my school. It wasn’t that we weren’t sporty – we still beat the shit out of each other with rounders bats in the summer and hockey sticks in the winter – but, like many girls, football just wasn’t available to us. In many cases, it still isn’t.
It’s little wonder, then, that it has taken so long for women’s football to enter the mainstream. But when the World Cup starts in France on 7 June, it looks like millions of us will finally be taking our rightful places on the sofa and giving the game the attention it deserves. And despite the heartbreak at the last tournament, when England lost to Japan in the semi-finals due to a last-minute own goal, there is every chance that we could lift the trophy this year, bringing an end to the 50 years of hurt since England has won an international football tournament.
Women’s football’s journey from novelty outsider to national event has been a long one. Fifty years ago, women's football didn’t even have a World Cup, which isn’t surprising considering that the game has lacked official backing – let alone brand support – for so long.
My own love of the game at every level and every league meant that I taught myself to play. I wasn’t bad, but unfortunately I wasn’t that good either, and after moving down to London I chanced my arm and tried out for Leyton ladies; I was shit, but I didn’t care. I’m not in it for the glory and I don’t need to watch the A-listers; I can do Wembley Stadium or Hackney Marshes, men or women, rain or shine.
The Lionesses probably have similar motivations to me, but their capabilities are vastly superior. And with a genuine prospect of World Cup glory this summer, I am properly excited. Women's football is no longer a curiosity on the fringes; it feels like the country is getting behind the team at last.
Should it matter that it’s the women’s team? Well, yes and no. While the men’s team were glorious in defeat, they still had their own semi-final failure last year and, before that, England footy fans got used to watching the men throwing tournaments away with their lacklustre play and overprivileged, pampered players. The women’s game has not been built this way; instead, its players have put their heads down and played like the Lionesses that they are. They put footy before everything else – the Cheshire mansions and the Overfinch Range Rovers – and guess what? It’s paying off.
Hopefully now, after years of playing for a nation that didn’t even know their names, and through their own hard work and some grassroots sponsorship support by brands savvy enough to recognise a market asset that is about to explode, their on-pitch stories will become more famous than the off-pitch ones that plague the male game. Imagine that.
That’s not the only area needing some equality in the beautiful game. Fifa may have doubled the amount it pays out to women at this year’s tournament, but the footy gender pay gap is still there. And while some brands have committed to spending as much on the women’s game as the men’s, it’s not enough. Let’s support the players by ensuring they get paid appropriately and creating a legacy that grows the game in ways that my generation of girls weren’t able to do.
We had no "Rose of the Rovers" to read growing up and that unequal attention has been at the root of unequal pay. But we can help change that by turning on the TV this summer – or even travelling to France – to support our women.
So give your kids new heroes to wear on their shirts and posters to stick on their bedroom walls. Let’s make sure this summer they can deliver their own '66 for us all and, in the process, smash through the grass ceiling. It’s fucking coming home and I cannot wait.
Vicki Maguire is chief creative officer at Grey London