Martin Smith column: Women’s football overtakes male cynicism

USA teammates Shannon Boxx, second from right, and Christie Rampone, far right, pose with the trophy as the USA team celebrates following their win over Japan  at the FIFA Women's World Cup  soccer championship in Vancouve
USA teammates Shannon Boxx, second from right, and Christie Rampone, far right, pose with the trophy as the USA team celebrates following their win over Japan at the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouve

This is the turning point.

This is the moment the world got it.

For women’s football the 2015 World Cup will always be the great leap forward, the time it went mainstream around the globe. This may sound like an insult to those thousands of players and millions of fans worldwide who have been following, playing and watching women’s football for the past 50 years.

But it’s not, it’s a tribute to their determination, enthusiasm and ability. It’s because of them that the women’s game is growing in significance and quality.

And it’s fitting that the USA, with their long-standing nationwide grassroots programmes of junior and women’s football, should be at the top of the women’s game.

But we’re all getting it, aren’t we? Compare last weekend’s two games from opposite ends of the spectrum.

On Saturday we had a tense, nasty, overly-cautious and frankly miserable COPA America final between Chile and Argentina. Fascinating though it may have been, you had to be a lover of football’s dark arts to enjoy the cynicism and brutality of much of that game.

Contrast that with Sunday’s bright - wasn’t every game in the tournament played in perfect sunshine? – flowing, positive, attractive football of the women’s final where skill, organisation and flair won out. An unfair comparison? Don’t think so.

The quality, nature and spirit of the two games illustrate perfectly the differences between men’s and women’s football.

Men’s football at its most intense is a playing out of historic rivalries, clashes of national identities with racial and political dimensions that add weight and significance to often over-charged encounters where gamesmanship and cynicism can create a poisonous inertia. Women’s football is fresher, younger, less embittered, less tribal and more honest.

At its best women’s football is pure sport, at its worst men’s football is a substitute for war.

Between those two extremes we have all the beauty and inspiration of the game that has enchanted the world since Sheffield gave it proper rules in 1857.

The men’s game will continue to be physically, financially and politically dominant but the passion, skill and love for football that the Women’s World Cup of 2015 showed to hundreds of millions around the planet was a joy to behold.

The women’s game has earned its place at the top table of international sport and we should all be delighted that it has.