I covered the 1966 World Cup final – the lionesses’ triumph is more important

Queen Victoria, an innovative woman constitutionally restrained by her dominant but adored elder consort, would have welcomed Sunday’s sporting revelation – although it took more than a century for it to arrive. It can be argued that this victory marks the most fundamental social and emotional transformation for women of all ages – apart from the pill – since the suffragettes. “Beside men we are one”.

As with the 1966 euphoria, it was overtime again: a crucial victory that didn’t require the questionable opinion of an Azerbaijani linesman, as Geoff Hurst’s second goal did. And then? The women and their partners all partied into the wee hours, unlike Bobby Moore and colleagues, who had no wife due to a stingy bonus at the formal dinner. How gratifying that the internationally triumphant sports stars should wipe two defamation-fighting football women from attention on Sunday.

Will matchwinners Ella Toone and Chloe Kelly expand and expand the Hurst hat-trick’s historical mantle and maybe earn statues on Wembley Way?

I come from a time nine decades ago that divided society demographically – and Europe? – in two: housewives… and men. This was true in sport, where the class hierarchy largely ruled men. At the FA, Secretary Denis Follows had the big office; Alf Ramsey, as England’s first professional manager, a dingy backyard lobby. Follows lamented that, but if not for the win, he, not Ramsey, would have been knighted.

As an aspiring journalist – having given up chemistry at university – I soon cynically discovered how much society was ruled by prejudiced envy – not least in sports and especially against women, particularly in athletics and even by female administrators.

We cannot overestimate the social guilt of the post-war 1950s and even the male-dichotomous 1960s: women who built the tanks and bombers, flattered by Churchill’s press baron Lieutenant Beaverbrook, but made women of post-war football, rugby and village cricket still tea and cake… and the applause.

Jealous of the thriving, burgeoning men’s professional arenas, women’s football thrived in the early 20th century… until it was banned by the FA as ‘unsuitable’ in 1921 – despite a crowd of 53,000 at Goodison Park on Boxing Day 1920.

Similarly ambitious was women’s football in France, led by Alice Milliat, founder of a breakaway ‘Women’s Olympiad’. The FA belligerently monitored expulsion until 1971: I used to wince at the repeated sexist vulgarity of after-dinner speakers at men’s sports clubs.

Male autocracy was equally influential in the Olympics, with founder Pierre de Coubertin seeing women as a dutiful audience. Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands was pilloried for her quadruple gold win in London ’48: “Should be back home looking after her kids”.

Women were not allowed to run more than 100 meters until 1948, the 800 meters until 1964 (after sweating profusely in 1928), the marathon until 1984, and even ski jumping until 2014.

The energy, conviction and above all the joy of our European soccer champions are tonics for a nation that is under financial and temperamental constraints. And with a renewed national appetite for women’s football, development of the game will soon follow.

July 31, 2022 will be remembered as a day of women’s potential, when girls as young as eight cheerfully awaken to new horizons.


David Miller, the Sunday Telegraph’s first football correspondent in 1961, has covered 14 World Cups.

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