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Hello, Flora here, welcome and thank you for reading this 31/7! This week I have been thinking about:
  • England lost a game
  • But don’t you worry because
  • Rain messes with us all
  • …among other things!
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Back to school

I could have sworn it’s the Easter holidays, but England have done some hard learnin’ this week.

I had so many nice things planned for this newsletter. Once register was done, we were going to really get our heads down to present England’s penalty shootout against Brazil as a series of haikus, then after break we were timetabled to spare a thought for Steph Houghton. Then, if you managed to get all of that done, I even arranged for a special treat — further meditations on the wonderful weirdness of Mary Earps.

But I’m chucking that all out of the window because you’ve let yourselves down, me down, Mrs Wiegman down etc etc etc.

And that’s not even the most left field analogy you’re getting this week because I’ve been up since 5am thinking about how Australia have gone and turned our worlds upside down and inexplicably fixated on hairdryers in the process.

If you’re looking for a convincing explanation of what hairdryers have to do with the Lionesses then don’t hold your breath but I promise I’ll give it my best.

Where to start? From the start, I guess.

An hour and a half before kick-off between England and Australia, it’s cats and dogs, it’s pleasure and pain, it’s seriously wet. It’s Brentford. If the Lionesses are pleased to shelter from the pouring rain on arrival at the stadium, imagine their delight when they discover a line of eager children welcoming them with a line of high fives. Maya Le Tissier, especially, looks giddy. Esme Morgan looks really tall. Jess Park’s game face is so severe that she looks close to punching a kid in the face. I suppose she has to keep serious, greeting these schoolchildren, lest she smile and be mistaken for one of them. Such a baby, baby face.

I know it’s kind of her brand, but should someone have a word? Imagine getting hyped up to meet your heroes, then one walks out and looks at you with disdain usually reserved for opponents, the referee, the skies above when it starts to piss.

I’ve never been afraid of the rain and I like to think it’s because I’m tough but really it’s because rain has nothing to rob from me. Were I the guardian of so magical and mystical a ponytail as Park’s then I might think twice about leaving the house without a brolly.

Take nothing away from her feet, her agility, her flair — but if I were a defender, I’d be scared to go near that hypnotic ponytail lest it persuade me into evil-doing.

And as Park was entering the field with just six minutes of normal time left to play, it all felt wrong. It was already curtains for England by then, but Park was never going to produce the star turn needed to salvage a result with the strands of her hair matted together by mizzle.

London was much drier last week, and while England were being shit in the second half at Wembley, my Leeds Hyde Park team-mate Cleo and I enjoyed rating the unbridled swishiness of the Lionesses’ ponytails.

Nice tier - Leah Williamson, Georgia Stanway, Keira Walsh
Top tier - Ella Toone, Alessia Russo, Lauren Hemp
Showpony tier - Jess Park

Each of them important in their own luscious way, but none so powerful as the Park pony.

Splitting hairs

I interrupt this cutting-edge analysis with a necessary caveat. It’s not been a good week for people who talk about women’s football players:
With less than 100 days to go until the World Cup, is everyone just forgetting themselves as they teeter on the edge of hysteria?

Given the backlash against those who pay anything short of full respect to women’s football players at present, I’m a little wary of going ‘but what about the Lionesses’ hair 🤪’.

Generally, passing idle comment on the appearance of a woman / anybody in the public eye is not really a vibe. You could argue that athletes’ physicality is their bread and butter, so the rules are different, right? Didn’t we all have a little chuckle when Kalvin Phillips came back from international duties too porky to play for Manchester City?

I’m not sure, but Andrew from Hampshire certainly thinks so. Among the top replies to this gorgey pic of Manchester United teammates Tooneh and Maya beaming on matchday morning is his insightful observation: “Legs!!! 👍” I can only imagine that he, too, was wondering why they were pairing a puffa jacket with shorts. I suppose you just never know what you’re going to get in Britain in April.
Ella Toone and Maya Le Tissier on a walkabout with England, in big warm jackets. And shorts.
But the key differences here are that I’m not a pervert, it’s kind of fun, and maybe, just maybe I’m onto something.

Hempo missed the memo

Were bucketfuls of rain ever part of Sarina Wiegman’s game plan? Do managers check the weather forecast? Who is doing the players’ hair?

I remember Beth Mead talking about the importance of conversations with doctors when players prepare to appear on their period and, as I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, Sue Smith has pointed out the clear link between comfort and good performance.

As any gay will tell you — or, frankly, any Premier League footballer — hair is important. I only learned that when I chopped it all off.

Before, when it was long, fixing my hair for football was about the only time I paid it any attention. In the dressing room, I relished the ceremony of strapping on my shinpads, tying my laces, pulling every scrap of hair into line then forgiving the flyaways that sprang loose within minutes of kicking off. Some players pull up their socks when they make a mistake. My stray hairs were as much a part of my matchday manoeuvres as front-post runs and tracking back. You can even measure your top speed by the angle of your long hair, and add a cute performative flourish when you rise highest to head home a corner.
Your 31/7 writer in full feet-not-touching-the-ground flow, long hair a-flowing
There's me, look. Look at that pony in full flight. A veritable halo of flyaways. Now, I love my short hair, but I’d be lying if I told you I don’t miss this a little bit.

I love playing football because I can express myself on the pitch, so I think it stands to reason that your hair — how it looks, how it feels — can affect how you perform.

Like Brentford on Tuesday night, the internet is awash. Hot takes everywhere. Everyone has an idea about what it was that brought the Lionesses’ unbelievable invincible run to a crashing end. Now I’m not going to sit here and argue that England lost to Australia because it was raining and it messed with their hair — am I? — but I will note down some of my observations and leave it for you to try and join the dots.

Besties Ella Toone and Alessia Russo showed up in matching pony-plaits, their luxurious locks neatly tucked away. Sarina Wiegman traded her glasses for contacts. Mary Earps secured her hair with a tidy little bun at the back of her head.
England keeper Mary Earps in one of those terrible warmup tops, kicking a ball
(Because there are topics of greater significance at hand, please respect my decision not to comment on that zip at this time.)
England's Lauren Hemp with face-protecting mask, but nothing to save her hair
Though weather was clearly on the radar of the squad at large, Lauren Hemp’s hair was in a right pickle. She was subjected to a few close-ups as England staff were deciding whether or not she could play on through an injury. After taking a biff on the nose at Wembley, Hemp had to wear a face mask and its big black strap combined with the rain to seriously dishevel her pony. Now I’m obviously not saying she came off cuz she looked a ragamuffin but the chaos of Hemp’s hair spoke to me on a deep level.
Blood is pouring from Lauren Hemp's nose, but at least her hair looks good
Here's a brighter day for the barnet of Hemp (if I had to see this blood tap, then you do too).

In that moment, like England, it wasn’t up to scratch. Great hair, bad day.

Bad hair day

On Tuesday the Lionesses weren’t breathtaking, and that’s ok. Leah Williamson isn’t perfect, and that’s ok. England lost a game, and that’s ok.

I had a great time watching at the pub with some of my Leeds Hyde Park pals. Early in the game, firsts ‘keeper Sarah and I agreed that it would actually probably do England some good to lose a game before the World Cup. You learn loads, you build character.

But the timing… wasn’t ideal. Fresh from having lost to *Scotland*, the hosts of this summer’s World Cup showed up to the city where England lifted a trophy on home soil last year and beat them convincingly. And it was the Lionesses’ send-off and all, the last time fans could offer energy to the players before they set off down under.

But the supporters in the ground were about as fired up as I was watching on telly up in Leeds. As England set up for a corner in the last ten minutes, I couldn’t get excited about it, and not just because Oz keeper Mackenzie Arnold was proving herself pretty handy in the air. In knockout games, your heart’s in your mouth at this stage, because even if your team have played rubbish you hope and pray that they just sneak through, catch their more-deserving opponents napping and qualify on fortune over merit.

But the result didn’t matter, any goal that England might have scored — though it never looked like coming — would not have mattered, because the performance was off. And three months before a major tournament, you want it to be on.

“We need to figure out why,” captain Williamson said in her post-match interview. Fans expect players and managers to show resolve to fix a mess, and so they always do.

But have you ever spent longer than you’d like to in front of the mirror before going out, trying to make your hair look kind of ok when you know in your soul that you’re fighting a losing battle? Some days, there is no ‘why’ — it’s just not meant to be, and that’s fine.

It can be quite energising, setting down your comb, coming to the conclusion that it’s going to just be like that. You leave the house full of the peace of acceptance. Only, it becomes a little harder to embrace imperfection when you rock up to the party to find Eva Longoria was also invited.

With their confidence on the wobble, England mustered something passable but Australia were actually really good.

Trust me, I’m going to stop labouring any second now — and I’m dying inside because there’s so much more I COULD do — but before I do I just want you to know that, in this analogy, Millie Bright is probably a broken hairdryer.

But hairdryers can be fixed, greatness re-realised. Jess Park will shimmer again. Just don’t forget to pack your conditioner.
Bottles of 'Aussie Miracle Moist' shampoo and conditioner

Leeds United Women

Leeds United Women are having a rough patch of their own, but one 45 minutes of football in Middlesbrough showed they’re up for overcoming it.
A graphic featuring photos of Leeds United Women players, including Olivia Smart and Carrie Simpson

Something to play for

It might have taken 270 minutes of eleven a side in one week, but Leeds United Women are working out that they still want more from this season.

Coming up

  • FA Cup semi-finals!
    • Manchester United v Brighton and Hove Albion, 5.15pm on Saturday
    • Aston Villa v Chelsea, 2.15pm on Sunday
    • I’m torn between hating Man Utd and wanting the Reds besties to have one last club hurrah together before Alessia Russo goes away. You could see the light leave Ella Toone’s eyes when she realises that she’s being asked about it in her England press conference last week.
  • Leeds United Women are away at Hull City on Thursday night, before travelling to title challengers Durham Cestria on Sunday and then Wednesday it’ll be back to Tadcaster Albion for a game against Barnsley. Oof.
  • Full set of Championship fixtures on Sunday afternoon. With three games left and Coventry already relegated, it’s now a case of discovering who will compete in next year’s WSL — Bristol City and London City Lionesses are leading the race, but it’s still numerically possible for Charlton while Birmingham City have got more than half a chance.

Things I'm digging this week


Thanks for reading! Don't forget you can get in touch with me anytime at [email protected] — and if you enjoy these emails, it's a great help if you forward them to everyone you know so they can read them too. Cheers!
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