I endured the worst sexism when I started out in football, I’m so proud of our Lionesses and how far we’ve come

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WIN or lose in today’s World Cup final, we should all  say thank you to our heroic Lionesses for giving us reason to be so hopeful, happy and proud this summer.

What a massive achievement to go all the way and put England’s women’s football on the global map in the process.

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Whatever happens in the World Cup final, Sarina Wiegman and the England Lionesses are heroesCredit: Getty

A peak audience of 7.3million tuned in to see England beat Australia on Wednesday, the BBC revealed, even though the time difference meant an 11am kick-off.

And their thrilling performance was worth the watch.

The Lionesses are an exceptionally talented bunch and they play brilliantly to each other’s strengths.

But it’s not just about skills and teamwork. Female footballers who have come as far as these girls must be particularly determined and tenacious.

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And in the excellent Sarina Wiegman they have a coach worthy of their talents.

Despite playing for the Dutch national champions and representing her country, for most of her own football career she had to work as a PE teacher to supplement her income.

No seamless lucrative hop from multimillion-pound player’s contract to multimillion- pound manager’s deal for Sarina.

She had to graft to make her way as a manager. But along the way, she became a gifted and in- spirational leader.

Within three years of gaining her full coaching licence, she led the Dutch women’s team to victory at the 2017 Euros and the final of the 2019 World Cup. Sound familiar?

Last year, she took the Lionesses to victory at the European Women’s Championship and now our women’s team is in its first World Cup final.

No wonder the FA are considering her as a potential successor to Gareth Southgate for the men’s national team.
But for all her success, she is in a minority.

Spain, who England will play today, have a male manager, as do many other women’s teams.

Just 12 out of the 32 squads in this year’s World Cup are headed by female coaches, despite clear evidence that women leading women in sport adds up to success.

And you have to ask — why are there so many blokes in charge, given that no women manage men’s teams?

I was the first woman to hold a top-flight role in English football at Birmingham City, after joining the club as managing director aged 23.

When I started out, I was subjected to the most overt sexist chauvinism.

A chairman of a fellow football club claimed that I would do a “Sharon Stone” in a football tribunal to get out of a Football Association fine.

I was banned from boardrooms — which had a “no women allowed” policy — and was once chanted at by 30,000 football fans with words too rude to print in a family newspaper.

It was a slog and, at times, depressing. I always say that the boardroom door was the first door I kicked down, and I have held that door open as long and as wide as possible to get as many other women as possible through it over the past 30 years.

So, whatever happens today, I’m proud of how far we have come.

Women's football in England has come a long way and a World Cup win would take it to the next level

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Women’s football in England has come a long way and a World Cup win would take it to the next levelCredit: PA

A nation is gripped. And proud. And excited. We are in the finals and bossing it!

As a result, people are taking women’s football more seriously than they ever have. For which I give a giant hurrah.

These women deserve to be celebrated, and I back The Sun on Sunday’s calls to give out gongs to the Lionesses.

But there is still some major catching up to do when it comes to parity with men’s football.

First, there’s the economics of it. Forget making a profit, or even breaking even.

Every Women’s Super League club loses money.

The interest in the game is there on a national level, which is obviously wonderful.

FIERCE AND FABULOUS

But it does not yet filter down to domestic leagues.

So, the truth is that the men’s teams are funding the women’s game.

Domestic leagues can’t even think about equal pay at this stage as the broadcast, sponsorship and gate revenue of the WSL doesn’t add up to a hill of beans. But this is expected to change.

The latest figures from 2022 show that the 12 WSL clubs boosted their revenue by 60 per cent in one year — and that’s before the inevitable World Cup effect.

Nike have not made Mary Earps' England goalkeeper replica jersey available to fans

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Nike have not made Mary Earps’ England goalkeeper replica jersey available to fansCredit: AP

So it’s a shame that sponsors Nike have yet to notice this team is breaking the mould, and they need to address that.

How ridiculous that fans can’t buy a replica of Mary Earps’ goalkeeper’s shirt because the sportswear giant doesn’t think it’s worth manufacturing one.

Then there’s the massive disparity in prize money.

This summer is the ninth Women’s World Cup and each member of the winning team will get £213,000 from a total tournament purse of £88.5million.

Meanwhile, the men’s purse has grown to £345million.

In my view, it’s time for FIFA to take the lead. The women’s World Cup earns almost £1billion.

They rake in SO much money from all these ever-expanding tournaments and yet, from their accounts, which I have studied, it’s hard to work out what they do with it all.

It would be great if they made it their business to redress the balance by paying female footballers more money from their gate and broadcasting revenue.

This is something domestic leagues can’t do because their revenue just can’t support it.

After all, if FIFA can afford to pay their President Gianni Infantino more than £3million a year, surely they can afford to equal the women and men’s prize money?

Unfortunately, as fierce and fabulous as the Lionesses are, when it comes to women’s football there is still too much uncomfortable mirroring with the world of regular work, where men run the show, get paid more and are taken more seriously than women.

But the success of Sarina and her team is a great reminder that if you want something done right, get a woman to do it.

After all, football could be coming home today.

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If it does, it’s the women’s team who will be carrying it.

Come on England!

Attitudes towards women in football used to be archaic, says Karren

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Attitudes towards women in football used to be archaic, says KarrenCredit: Caters News Agency





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