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Welcome back to 31/7. This issue is all about the legends who are making a big effort to make sure girls and women carry on playing sport. Get in! There's also a bit about Manchester City's season taking a giant nosedive in the space of four days, because it can't all be good news.

I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, please forward me on to any friends or family who might feel the same way. And if you're reading me for the first time, you can get more by clicking here! ⚽️

Flora :)

Cut Short

This week, Ellen White released a very special memoir, Unfinished, which you can listen to in the form of a 47 minute podcast on Spotify. Going by the run time, it seems to detail either a very short career, or one of little significance — surprising, for the best-scoring England player of all time.

In fact, this is no memoir but a stunt. Three quarters of an hour into the heart-warming tale of White’s early years as a football player, in which she was scouted to play for Arsenal before earning youth caps for her country, the story stops dead as a clamour of critical voices and digital noise prompt the actor recounting White’s tale to give up altogether.
“What if hate had cut my story short like it does for thousands of young women?” the real Ellen White asks as she takes over to reveal her faux-memoir’s true purpose — to raise awareness of the impact that online abuse has on young girls’ relationship with sport.

Playing sport helped me to be a confident and happy child. I was aware of negative attitudes toward women in football, and ideas about what female bodies were 'for', but like White, I wasn’t exposed to the toxic environment of the internet until I had developed the critical faculties to interrogate what I was seeing.

Kids today will read Joey Barton’s tweets, it could be laugh reacts from boys in their class when they share photos of their sporting role models on Instagram, or faceless Twitter users operating under a photo of Bruno Fernandes saying some variation of ‘girls can’t play’ or ‘shut up’. Ellen White is pairing up with EE to draw attention to a finding by a YouGov survey which states that every day as many as 121 girls drop sport because of their experiences on the internet.

This is shit. Not just for the future of the England football team — we all deserve an Ellen White in our lives — but for individuals who are losing access to what is, from my experience, one of life’s most dependable sources of joy, kinship and self-esteem.

Listen to Unfinished on Spotify here.

Don't Stop

West Ham United have also done their bit to keep women playing football this week by releasing Ómarsson. It’s a short YouTube documentary about midfielder Dagný Brynjarsdóttir, who tells her story of motherhood and professional football in order to prove that “you don’t have to stop playing when you’re young to start a family”.

Pregnancy transforms your body, and when Brynjarsdóttir unexpectedly fell pregnant, she was scared about what it would mean for her dreams. She explains the personal impact of criticism which claimed she would 'never play the same again', and the reassurance of her then-club Portland Thorns guaranteeing a contract once her maternity period ended.

There is some very sweet footage of her son, now almost four, toddling around Chadwell Heath, where Brynjarsdóttir trains with West Ham, the team that she has supported since she was a little girl. In an interview with a very small child in an adult-sized chair, Brynjarsdóttir's son (called Brynjar) says that Australia no.1 Mackenzie Arnold is his favourite of his mum’s teammates because she tickles him.
When Brynjarsdóttir announced she was pregnant again, West Ham wanted to support her to be the best mother and the best athlete possible, and her partner Omar emphasised how important it is that she feels like she is still a player even when she is pregnant and can’t play on the pitch.

Why shouldn’t female athletes have families too? Why can’t women press pause on their careers and carry on as before after childbirth? West Ham make it all seem possible.

What’s more, equality aside, it’s had a positive sporting effect, too. I’m sure midfielder Katrina Gorry had a few career options after she impressed for Australia at the 2023 World Cup, but speaking to Dagný Brynjarsdóttir gave her confidence that West Ham would be accommodating of her and her two-year-old daughter, Harper.

You can watch Ómarsson on YouTube here.

Cup Blues

It’s been a dreadful week for Manchester City.

Their 1-0 Continental Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea midweek took them out of the running for a trophy, and landed a psychological blow in their battle with Emma Hayes' side for the Women’s Super League title.
Manager Gareth Taylor, keen to repay the faith shown in him by City’s offer of a three-year contract extension, opted to switch things up for their FA Cup quarter-final at Tottenham Hotspur, bringing Mary Fowler and Filippa Angeldahl into the starting line-up.

His decision was immediately vindicated as Fowler put City ahead just six minutes into the tie, stealing the ball from a Spurs goal kick gone wrong and shooting from range via a neat one-two with Khadija Shaw.

At the other end of the tie, Spurs were going hell for leather as they faced elimination from the competition. When City 'keeper Khiara Keating charged out of her goal to deal with a stray, bouncing ball, Laia Alexandrai didn’t get the memo, and also charged toward it. In their efforts not to collide with each other, the ball got forgotten — except by the grateful Spurs striker Bethany England, who equalised into an empty net.

“No blame. We win, lose and draw as a team,” Taylor would later claim. Sweet.
The game was tied after extra time, too, but only one team could go through. With penalties came the opportunity for teenage England prospect Keating to prove that she’s the full package amid a season of Women's Super League performances which have had Mary Earps quaking.

If penalties are a battle of the mind, then young Khiara was on the back foot from the start after seeing her experienced club and international teammate Alex Greenwood strike a really poor penalty that was easily saved by Spurs ‘keeper Becky Spencer.

Next, Bethany England was haunting her again with a confounding dink to give Spurs the advantage, and then she had to stand by as Chloe 'penalty-scorer' Kelly didn’t score a penalty. Interestingly, Spencer hardly reacted to stopping the shot. No peacocking or mind games here, just quietly keeping out penalties by some of Sarina Wiegman’s favourites. But she didn’t need them, because it was almost game over.

Keating dived well to stop Rosella Ayane’s spot-kick, but her teammates’ misses had already sealed their fate, and City were knocked out of their second cup competition in four days.

“We just weren’t ourselves and didn’t do the things we usually do,” Taylor said. Ah well. Focus on the league, now.

More at The Square Ball

A photograph of Sarah Danby playing for Leeds United Women against some team in red

Spiritually: Top of the League

by Flora Snelson

Actually: Leeds United Women are failing to take the chances to get the results that would put them there.
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