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Hiya guys,

Thanks for tuning into another edition of 31/7. This time I'm thinking about:
  • how much fun it was to be a part of Euro 2022
  • the challenge of watching your friends thrive
  • what women have to do to be recognised
  • ....and other stuff!
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Silent Legacy

“I’ve never packed a suitcase so fast in my life,” Steph Houghton said of the moment that Sarina Wiegman told her she wasn’t in the Euro 2022 squad.

In the lead up to the home tournament, Wiegman invited 28 players to St George’s Park in June to make their case for the final 23 who would eventually fight for the European Championship. Houghton had suffered a torn achilles in September 2021 and, after surgery, was racing time to be fit enough to make the cut.

I went down to St George’s Park for a media day during a week when Wiegman was taking time away from training following the death of her sister. Accordingly, the squad announcement had been postponed — which was fortunate, Houghton said as she spoke to the media, as it just gave her more opportunity to prove herself.
She was holding her own, she thought. She hadn’t missed a session yet. There were other players whose load was being managed — no one wants to peak too soon. She’d hit every target so far, and above all, she was really happy to have the ball back at her feet.

It’s only hope that can get you through periods of injury, to pull you out of bed for yet another gruelling day of rehab. She sounded hopeful on the eve of the announcement, but Wiegman had already handed Houghton’s armband over to Leah Williamson in anticipation that she might not make it.

She was close. To the untrained eye, she looked as fit as the rest of them on that media day, and perhaps what she lacked in sharpness, she could make up for in experience?

After eight years as England captain, leading her national side at two World Cups and a European Championship and representing Team GB at two Olympic games, it was safe to assume that Houghton would be consistent on the biggest stage, and show maturity and leadership behind the scenes on camp — which was perhaps especially needed at the home Euros, where pressure would be at an all time high.
But it wasn’t enough. Her injury had set her back too far, the limitations of her body and cruel fortune denying her the opportunity that, in so many other careers, would reward the years of commitment and performance already behind her.

“I was devastated,” she told the Player Tribune. After everything I’d been through, I just wanted to go home, to be with [husband] Stephen.

“Getting out of St George’s Park, it’s impossible not to bump into people everywhere — teammates, staff, the media. In that moment, you just want to be invisible and not have to interact with anybody.”

Then, when the shock had worn off, Houghton had to sit and watch as her teammates enjoyed the times of their lives, winning and celebrating and inspiring and trophy lifting.

It’d feel rotten, wouldn’t it? Especially 31/7, watching 23 other people put the finishing touches on the project you’ve poured so much of your life into, heading up the England team for years of growth and improvement only to be denied the plaudits by a twist of fate, excluded from a moment you’ve craved for years.
For Jill Scott and Ellen White, the choice to retire straight after the tournament was easy. It won’t get better than this. Our work is done, and we’ve earned the time to bask in the glory of it all. Houghton, though, must have been left with a feeling that it was all a bit unfinished.

In the eighteen months since, fans’ calls for Houghton to feature for England again have gone unanswered. She has remained captain of Man City, where she has been a defender for a decade, but Wiegman has not found a place for her, while she has been limited to just three Women’s Super League appearances this season.

While Scott’s and White’s ended with a bang, Houghton’s career fades to black among thousands and thousands of post-31/7 fans who won’t know her legacy, but will be touched by it still.

“Football has been my life, my passion,” she wrote as she announced her retirement. “I have loved the career I have had.

“I hope that I leave the game in a better place than when I started, and that I have contributed in some small way to giving the girls of tomorrow a better future in football.”

Club and Country

Who needs recognition, anyway? The dust has hardly settled on Leah Williamson’s Euro 2022 medal and the club she’s served for eighteen years have already forgotten about it.

This week, Declan Rice wore the England armband for the first time as Gareth Southgate’s men scraped a draw with Belgium and Arsenal were, rightfully, very proud of him.
The club marked the moment by sharing a feature which teaches us about ‘ARSENAL'S NINE PREVIOUS ENGLAND CAPTAINS’. Great! I’d never heard of Eddie Hapgood but now I know that he was very good at football and served his country admirably. It’s an interesting article. However, where are the women?

Fine, I guess writing about all seventeen of the Arsenal players who have captained England was a big ask. And inserting the word ‘men’s’ into the headline would have alerted wokerati-hating trolls, generating negative conversation at risk of distracting from the good news story of the day. After all, it wouldn’t do for Ricey’s achievement to be shouted over to the point of total erasure.

For completeness, here are the other eight Arsenal players who have worn the armband for their country:

Leah Williamson
Jordan Nobbs
Alex Scott
Rachel Yankey
Kelly Smith
Mary Phillip
Faye White
Debbie Bampton

The Land of the Free

Elsewhere in disrespecting the greats, WoSo Twitter is up in arms this week about the views and opinions of Korbin Albert, who recently made her first appearance for the US Women’s National Team.

The 20-year-old allegedly liked a post by Instagram page ‘funnyblokes’ which reads: “God taking time off performing miracles to make sure Megan Rapinoe sprains her ankle in her final ever game”.

Posts like this aren’t hard to come by on the internet, because Rapinoe is a successful woman who is visibly queer and has fought against racism and for equal pay. A walking talking nightmare for a lot of people in America.

People like Albert’s family, seemingly, a crowd of stars-and-stripes-totin’ Trump-supportin’ patriots from Illinois. Fans have been horrified to find Albert re-sharing TikTok videos about God 'saving' people from homosexuality and the sin of 'feeling transgender'.

It was pretty odd for a staunch patriot to slate Rapinoe, one of the best players to ever represent the States, all while wearing the shirt number she recently gave up and directly benefiting from the enhanced profile and respect for the women’s side which the pink-haired dyke legend fought for.

But now, she’s upsetting the apple cart at a time when the USA needs a fresh start. After a disastrous World Cup campaign capped off years of stagnation, the cavalry is coming in the form of Emma Hayes and the team have a real chance of building and returning to their former heights.

Sure, be bigoted in your own time — playing football in the public eye does not mean that you have to change your politics any more than playing women’s football demands you be a lesbian, but threatening the comfort of the players that you share a locker room with isn’t a solid sporting choice. A hypocritical one at that, coming from someone who’s TikTok bio instructs us all to “spread kindness and joy”.

If Emma Hayes thinks player relationships are difficult, wait til she finds out what it’s like to manage players discriminating against each other.

Things I dig this week

Coming Up

  • Thursday — Champions League
    • Chelsea will learn who they will face in the semi-final tonight as SK Brann fight Barcelona for a place in the final four.
    • The Norwegian underdogs have hope after keeping themselves within touching distance of the holders with a 2-1 defeat in the first leg.
  • Saturday — Women's Super League
    • With leaders Chelsea distracted by the League Cup, Man City have the opportunity to seize first place away at Liverpool.
    • Liverpool are their sternest possible opponents in the Super League right now, second in the form table topped by City themselves.
  • Sunday — The Continental Tyres League Cup
    • It's the final! It's in Wolverhampton! You can stream it live on BBC Two!
    • Chelsea could take the first step to their quadruple, while Arsenal could salvage some silverware from a season that hasn't gone quite as expected.
  • Sunday — Division One North
    • Leeds United host Barnsley, managed by former Whites coach Dan O'Hearne, at Garforth Town.
    • The Reds outside chance of sealing the title is slightly less outside than Leeds' so it promises to be a competitive six-pointer, with a respectable end to a disappointing season at stake.

More at The Square Ball

A photograph of Sarah Danby walking out of the tunnel for Leeds United Women with two mascots either side of her

The making of fans for life

by Flora Snelson

Leeds are the only team in Division One North with no dedicated social media account and haven't played at Elland Road since 2022. How do they expect to attract new fans?
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