As striker Jodie Taylor wept for joy on the Vancouver pitch after England had beaten Canada to secure a World Cup semi-final place, it would have taken a hard heart not to want to weep along with her.
[MATCH REPORT: England see off Canada to reach semi-finals]
Taylor has long wanted to be part of the England team, but had to weigh up her chances of getting a squad place against the opportunities offered overseas for being a full-time professional. Under Hope Powell, she didn't get a look-in while she was playing abroad; now, under a new coach, and after she underwent knee surgery in April, she's scored at a World Cup.
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Midfielder Jade Moore said after the group stages that she had always wanted to play in a World Cup, had spent years working towards it, progressing through the England age-group squads, and was thrilled to be living out her dream. “My story is an England story,” she said then.
And of course it is – but not just this new England, populated by professional athletes with a full support staff. It's also the story of those women who went before her – women such as Powell, who led the England team with such distinction and took them to a European Championship final in 2009; and women such as Marieanne Spacey, now England assistant coach, who was part of the first squad to go to a World Cup in 1995, shortly after the FA took control of the women's game.
It's salutary to remember that for all the recent investment and the publicity afforded to the FA Women's Super League, women's football in England is still effectively brand new. The independent Women's Football Association organised the game for decades before the 1990s, when the FA didn't want anything to do with it but still saw fit to bar women from playing on their licensed pitches from after the First World War until 1971.
Oddly, the England players then faced the same kind of dilemma that Jodie Taylor did 40 years later. Midfielder Sue Lopez spent a year playing semi-professional football with Roma in Italy – but because the WFA were adamant that their England representative teams should be amateur, and she wanted to represent her country, she headed home to Southampton.
Lopez and others of her generation were inspired by seeing Sir Alf Ramsey's England men win the World Cup in 1966. Girls and boys now will be inspired by seeing Mark Sampson's Lionesses on their World Cup campaign trail – but it is worth noting that simply and solely celebrating achievement on an international scale every four years is going to do little to improve women's football in England.
“We always said we had one aim – to inspire a nation,” said captain Steph Houghton after the quarter-final win.
Those who are long-term fans of women's football, those who have had their eyes opened by the improving standards at the elite level, even the newspaper columnists reflecting on how “refreshing” it is to see women play the game in a largely good-natured and honest but passionate style – everyone has a role to play in growing the game and raising the standards even further.
England's Lionesses deserve support all the time – not just when they're impressing the world, but when they're playing in their domestic league.
Currently they're mostly playing on non-league pitches (with the occasional honourable exception); some are still combining their football with another job; and all are playing in front of crowds that could and should be bigger.
Notwithstanding some legitimate questions around scheduling, marketing and strategy, which the FA do need to consider, the WSL is where you can see these stars every week – and where the next generation will begin their own England story.
Carrie Dunn
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