London Diary: Learning to love football

Despite England’s defeat, a certain festive, proud atmosphere prevailed. After all, Londoners don’t require much excuse to celebrate.


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Published: Sun 10 Sep 2023, 11:34 PM

For the first time since 1966, England made it to a football World Cup final. The women’s team, nicknamed the Lionesses, battled Spain for the trophy, ultimately losing 1-0.

Most people watch football at a local pub. It offers comradery, easy food and drink, and free viewing for those who don’t pay for sports channels at home.

I’d arranged to watch the game at the White Lion, but I woke that morning with a stuffy nose and pounding headache. As my friends careened down the sunny Sunday streets on their rented e-bikes and scooters, I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself. But then, ten minutes after kickoff, I flicked on the live stream.

Full disclosure, I’m not a football fan. Like many girls, I’ve always felt slightly excluded from the sport. I never played at school, and the complexities of the various leagues bewilder me now. But this felt like the ideal opportunity to dip in.

Why? Because it was a women’s game? Not entirely. It was because I was watching alone.

My sickly state forced me to focus on the football instead of gossiping and chugging pints with my friends. But even more than that, the absence of boys helped. Whenever I’ve watched sports with men in the past, I’ve felt ill at ease. It’s always been a performance, with pressure to exclaim at the right moments. To ask questions that create the illusion that I’m cool enough to grasp the basics, while also allowing men the pleasure of didacticism. It’s exhausting. It’s also meant that I’m never actually paying attention.

But I was paying attention to the Women’s World Cup. Various elements began to seduce. I grew frustrated when the referee seemed taken in by Spain’s frequent and—in my opinion—exaggerated injuries. The use of technology to call fouls and penalties astonished me. There’s a difference between reading articles about AI developments versus seeing them in practice. Then there was Mary Earps, England’s goalkeeper, who kept sticking out her tongue in a raffish and charming way. By the end of the match, even when the outcome seemed disappointingly clear, I sat up in bed feeling as if things could still change. I realise, now, that I was tasting that concoction of misery, ecstasy, and hope familiar to all sports fans.


I ventured out later that day. Despite England’s defeat, a certain festive, proud atmosphere prevailed. After all, Londoners don’t require much excuse to celebrate. People were spilling out of pubs dressed in jerseys and white and red hats. I cycled among them, turning right instead of homewards. The cobbled, villagey streets of north London gave way to a gleaming silver platform — the Emirates Arsenal Stadium. I hopped off my bike and lingered. The massive, modern venue evoked Dubai itself. A group of girls came up from behind. Were they tentative fans like me? Perhaps. Perhaps we’d meet inside for a match someday.

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