Young Gemma enjoying a tour around the Emirates stadiumGemma Jacobson with permission for Varsity

The Lionesses’ victory in the UEFA Women’s Euro Final has not only changed women’s football. It has changed the way that all women and girls feel seen - and see themselves - in everyday life.

In English culture, football is all-pervasive. It is a regular topic of conversation: what team do you support? Which players are your favourites? Match Attax? Fantasy football? FIFA Ultimate Team? It is an easy topic of small talk and an instant way to connect to most strangers. But until now, it has never felt like a space I could comfortably inhabit.

“Friends would jokingly ask me which player I had a crush on - because why else would I like football”

As an 11 year old girl, I was a major football fan. My room was covered in posters of the men’s teams. I swapped Match Attax. I watched all the games I could. I couldn’t stop talking about football, playing football, loving football.

But even then, there were little things I picked up on. Friends would jokingly ask me which player I had a crush on - because why else would I like football - as if I couldn’t just be in awe of the game. At summer camps, the boys would play football and the girls would sit on the side watching and talking. I always wanted so badly to join in, but I didn’t want to be the only girl playing. Although all of the boys were immediately welcomed no matter what, I felt like I would have extra pressure to stand out and play really well if I did join in. I felt like I had to prove my worth to even walk onto the pitch.

Gemma posing with her U11 trophies having won the league & cup doubleGemma Jacobson with permission for Varsity

As I got older my love of football wavered. I was told it was too “boyish” and too tough of a sport, and maybe I should try something else. I stopped being interested in watching the games, knowing the stats. I stopped playing as well; the long drives to get to other women’s football teams in my ‘local’ league just didn’t feel worth it.

“The last time that England won a major tournament, women weren’t even allowed to participate”

I have never felt like football culture - so central to English culture - has properly welcomed me in. When men sing at the top of their lungs in pubs all over the country, dancing and chatting about football, and proudly coming together with strangers to talk about and watch the game, I’ve always felt like an imposter joining in. Like I could be quizzed on football knowledge at any second and one wrong answer would expose me as a fraud. But why should we have to prove ourselves just to belong?

When I watched the Euro finals, I was so filled with pride. These women are role models for the next generation. We are so lucky to have them. It was amazing to see this group of women win the trophy and receive the national praise and attention that they deserve, especially in the wake of the men’s team’s defeat by Italy in the Euro Final last year. The last time that England won a major tournament, women weren’t even allowed to participate. After all this time, it was the women who finally brought football home.


Mountain View

Where do we go with women’s football from here?

Positive representation is so important: it is empowering and encouraging to see people who look like you succeeding. It gives you examples to emulate and motivation to continue. Seeing a female team’s win cheered by thousands of fans in the country’s biggest stadium, and also all over the country, should be a turning point in how we view women’s sports. The victory can be incentivising for all sportswomen, all aspiring sportswomen, and all women working to excel in any field.

Women’s team sports are never taken as seriously as men’s. I want this to change, especially for football. I want a world where the girls are involved. Where they don’t have to think twice before joining a game of football. Where they can join all conversations and social settings and feel like their opinion is valued and respected. I want girls who love the game to be encouraged to continue to love the game.

Thank you, Lionesses, for relighting the spark inside of me and reminding me of why I love football.