In the build-up to England’s historic win in the Euro’s 2022 final last night, a constant chorus explained why women’s football shouldn’t be compared to the men’s game – why it should be recognised, and celebrated, as a separate entity in itself.

Rachel Yankey, one of the most capped England players of all time who UCFB interviewed last year, subscribes to this viewpoint – for the most part. There are, however, certain ways that it’s logical, even beneficial, to compare the two, to serve as a reminder of what we don’t want to lose from the women’s game.

YouTube video

Yankey explained: “The beautiful thing about women’s football is you can go to the stadium and you can actually meet these players. You look at your Premier League footballers and they’re not touchable. You rarely get to actually meet them and talk to them and have a photo with them.”

She added: “Women’s football is like that. [These are] some of the best players in the world and you can actually go and watch them. You can go there and meet these people and interview them, you can get a real deep insight. That’s one of the beauties of the women’s game which we don’t want to lose.”

The emphatic win last night, the magnitude of which we won’t really understand for twenty to thirty years, has thrust women’s football into the mainstream media and the public eye like never before. It’s no surprise to anyone that this will irrevocably change its perception and its landscape – in what exact capacity is yet to be determined.

This is, undoubtedly, a cause to be celebrated - it feels as if the women’s game is finally recognised for the uniquely defiant sport that it is, 100 years after the FA banned females from football. Predictions for the Women’s Super League’s (WSL) attendance and viewership have sky-rocketed, and investment for teams and individuals will escalate with the unprecedented media attention.

But perhaps there is something worth clinging onto from the sport’s humble origins. The ‘touchable’ qualities that Yankey reflects fondly upon, the relatability of a group of players who have not been corrupted by celebrity culture and unfathomable wealth, the team spirit required to compete against not just your rivals, but systemic inequality and relentless set-backs from a country who refused to take them seriously until last week.

There is a humanity and an integrity to the women’s game that it’s important not to lose sight of as it inevitably grows into the sport and spectacle it deserved to become decades ago. If Beth Mead, the tournament’s top goal-scorer, didn’t epitomise this in response to being asked if she’s ready for everything that’s coming her way, with a modest shrug of the shoulders and ‘Nah, I’m just Beth Mead, me’, then I’m not sure what did.

Women’s football has never been corrupted by money or fame for obvious reasons. The competition is fierce, as was made clear in the anger, tears and euphoric joy at Wembley last night, but there is a unifying goal which lifts the game far beyond the 90 minutes on the pitch. These players have to care – they are victims, as well as champions, of their sport, and it’s impossible to disentangle their football from their fight for equality and recognition. This heroic battle has been synonymous with the women’s game for as long as it’s existed, and this is precisely what we don’t want to wash away in the wave of glory, fan frenzy and temptation that lies ahead for the players.

A great deal of emphasis has been placed on the impact this victory will have on young girls seeing female faces, and their symbolic sports bras, plastered all over the front pages today. They can finally see it to be it. They can see that the women achieved what the men could not last summer.

But if the focus is on creating role models for the next generation, surely we need to grasp hold of these qualities – of their genuineness, their accessibility to aspiring players and, most importantly, their feminist ferocity – and do everything we can not to strip these women of the traits that led them to their first major international tournament.