“In a world that has censored women and their bodies, Kelly’s unbridled, unselfconscious, top-off celebrations proved we are firmly in a new era.”
Chloe Kelly’s euphoric celebration of scoring England’s winning Euro goal by brandishing her sports bra was not only iconic but sent a universal message of freedom and empowerment to girls around the globe, demonstrating the liberation women can relish in when given the opportunity to play sports and occupy spaces historically dominated by their male counterparts. Already buzzing from the Lioness’ success, the internet adopted this victory image as one that defined a history making moment in sport. Speaking after the match, Kelly said her celebration was instinctive.
“I just went mental,” she said. “Honestly, I didn’t know what to do! But I think it was an amazing celebration because — what a tournament! I didn’t think about it. I didn’t plan it. It was alright wasn’t it?”
In our primary school days, my friends and I would spend our time doing gymnastics on the grass and playing duck duck goose, being told we must wear shorts under our dresses so as to not offend when our skirts flew up, while the boys ran wild on the football pitch, jumpers strewn on the floor and ties loose at the neck -kicking the ball about to their hearts content, no constraints. The only time the girls were ever invited to the pitch was to be the cheerleaders on the side-lines, creating chants as we cheered them on. Girls never made it onto the pitch, always just on the side. This pattern of behaviour extended into the school curriculum; it was the boys who were taught football, and the girls, netball.
Ten years later, watching the success of the Lioness’ at the 2022 Euros, there is a feeling of immense pride seeing a pitch full of women. I find the deepest sense of satisfaction in seeing that somehow, some women finally stepped off the side-line and took their rightful place, centre stage on the pitch, making it not only their lunch time hobby but eventually their lives and work. The stories of these women are all different but many of them had to play for boys’ teams, while others travelled over the states to gain meaningful training. The inspirational women who play for the Lionesses all found their passion in football and fought to be involved.
But how many other potential players just stopped or conformed; continuing to play the games they were expected to? Even now, only 63 per cent of schools in the UK offer girls’ football in PE lessons and only 40 per cent of them offer it as an extra-curricular activity for girls. Twenty-eight per cent of girls aged 12 to 14 also do no other exercise except PE at school. This has to change. Ian Wright reported that football wasn’t something he searched for, it was just something that was always there for him. It is shameful that football was not always there for us, as women, but the lioness’ victory has paved the way for many aspiring young girls who dream of pursuing football just as their brothers do.