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sport Women Behaving Badly
20 October 2003
by Gee

Psssst, heard the one about two England international footballers banned from the latest England squad following two separate unsavoury incidents between the pair? Well, no, you probably haven’t. That’s because they are sometime representatives of the England women’s team.

That these clashes happened during the fortnight leading up to an exhilarating Women’s World Cup Final between Germany and Sweden gave an insight into why a chasm remains between England and the leading nations in the female game.

The England players in question - Doncaster Rovers Belles midfielder Carly Hunt and Charlton Athletic striker Carmaine Walker – began their spat (not like the one Alpay claimed he received from Becks) during a Nationwide Women’s Premier League match.

Both players were given their marching orders when Hunt allegedly head-butted Walker shortly after the Charlton forward had scored the decisive goal of the game. Walker’s own red card was given after the referee decided she had exaggerated the extent of her injury.

A subsequent confrontation between the two during an England get-together (this time with extra help from a club-mate apiece) has resulted in the duo being removed from the squad travelling to Moscow for the friendly international with Russia.

It would be a tad harsh to lay the blame for the continuing plight of the England women’s national side on the shoulders of this miscreant pair. What their misbehaviour does portray, however, is a microcosm of the indiscipline still prevalent in an all too high number of the country’s young footballers.

A rainforest the size of 20 football pitches (blah, blah, blah) could have probably been saved had the entire world and his neighbour not committed their thoughts to paper over the ills of the men’s game in this country over the last month.

Yet Hunt and Walker have gone about their own mission (in tabloid speak) to ‘drag the name of football through the gutter’ in relative obscurity.

Similarly, the recent Women’s World Cup finals in the US will also have failed to make an impression on the vast majority of football fans back here. A lack of an English presence will have contributed hugely to this state of affairs, so why did we miss out on the biggest stage in the women’s game?

More pertinently, why, after watching an array of technically gifted yet predominantly disciplined (that word again!) sides strut their stuff during the tournament, are England so obviously still light years behind the best in the world?

To use some anecdotal evidence, I interviewed a Norwegian women’s footballer a few years back who was over in England studying at Leicester University. Having been an accomplished footballer back in her homeland it was little surprise that she was a member of her new centre of learning’s football team.

The most interesting aspect of our discussion surrounded her surprise over the, shall we say, lascivious antics of some of the indigenous members of the team when the players went out after a game.

Such a comment paralleled the musings of Sweden men’s international Pontus Kamark a couple of years earlier upon his arrival at Leicester City. The culture of playing hard on and off the pitch seems to be something that both male and female footballers share in this country.

As has been seen in recent weeks, however, there is only so much that supporters will tolerate. Sven-Goran Eriksson’s beleaguered men’s team managed to regain some lost ground on the back of their automatic qualification for Euro 2004.

While the women’s team exist in relative darkness, perhaps for the time being that is no bad thing, with the next European Championships to be held in this country there is little doubt that a creditable Euro 2005 display will help to raise their profile.

Looking at other European rivals (most notably Germany, France and the Scandinavian countries) there seems to be a regimen instilled in their side that an all too high number of English players still don’t seem to be able to adopt for themselves.

The advancement of the French in the women’s game brings into sharp focus the relative lack of progress made by England over the last few years. France’s national football academy at Clairefontaine has already helped to develop a string of luminaries in the men’s game (to name but a few in Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry would suffice to illustrate its success).

The grounding also given to the girls at the centre has seen the female version of Les Bleus reach the recent World Cup finals (out-footballing England over a two-legged play-off to get there) where they put up creditable performances before bowing out at the first stage.

Surprisingly, then, it was the (English) FA’s Head of Football Development, Kelly Simmons MBE, rather than a French representative, who was asked to address the delegation on junior football at the World Cup recently.

Simmons trotted out a series of statistics to show how the game in England at youth level continues to grow apace, with participation in girls football having grown from 960 to 4,800 affiliated clubs in four years, being a prime example. On top of this, England’s Under-19 sides have reached the latter stages of both the most recent European Championships and FIFA World Championships.

In which case, the future for women’s football in England must be bright, yes? Perhaps, but for how long can you recite, parrot fashion, statistics for involvement when the most important figures – how many goals your team scores in relation to the opposition – remains skewed against England by some margin at senior level.

Catching up with elite nations such as the US, Germany, Sweden and Norway was never going to be a quick process, but emerging nations such as Brazil, Canada and France have all developed at a much faster rate than England over the last five years.

For the record, there were no yellow cards shown during Germany’s fiercely contested ‘golden goal’ World Cup Final victory over Sweden. Now that’s a statistic really worth crowing about.

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