Martin Smith column: Respect at last for the England football women - and females in any sport

Its time has come.

By Martin Smith
Monday, 03 June, 2019, 08:01
Beth Mead, Rachel Daly and Millie Bright of England England v Spain Women's International match, County Ground Stadium, Swindon, UK - 09 Apr 2019

In the next four weeks women's football could take its biggest strides towards equality since the FA lifted the ban on females playing on affiliated pitches.

Imposed in the post WW1 struggles of 1921 when women were ushered out of kits, overalls and uniforms and back into the kitchen and domestic service, the ban on women lasted, almost unbelievably, until 1971. 

Just the 50 years to catch up on then.

Twenty years later we had the inaugural official women’s World Cup and in this area we had the phenomenal Doncaster Belles, dominant for a decade as the women’s game began to grow.

The last two world cups have seen huge leaps in press and TV coverage, attendances and public interest. 

The 2019 women's World Cup tournament starts in Paris on Friday with attendances and TV audiences expected to be the highest yet. 

How big can the women’s World Cup be?

Given the historic inequalities and the FA’s half a century of organisational apartheid of the women’s game it’s impossible to say.

But things are rapidly looking up and we’ll know more after the final in Lyon on July 7. 

England are ranked third and despite their 1-0 warm-up defeat by New Zealand at the weekend the Lionesses have a great chance.

We wish them well - especially Killamarsh-born former Sheffield United and Doncaster Belles defender Millie Bright and Worksop’s Jade Moore.

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*Cassius Clay beating Sonny Liston the first time, Buster Douglas taming Mike Tyson, Max Schmeling taking out Joe Louis.

All huge shocks, jaw-dropping suprises in the history of a sport often characterised by the predictable.

Saturday night in Madison Square Garden is what boxing is for and Anthony Joshua knows it now if he didn’t know it on Saturday afternoon.

Andy Ruiz - not the best athlete you ever saw - is the first ever Mexican world heavyweight champion after he battered Joshua in seven rounds.

And he did batter him, but you have to feel for Joshua.

He’s a bright and likeable man, an awesome fighter but somewhere in his head he will forever be wondering what the hell happened on a night that was meant to be straightforward.

A rematch is mandatory and it will be in Britain.

Joshua should have won the first one and he should win the second.

But now they both know that Ruiz knows how to beat him, the new champion has proved he has more the proverbial puncher’s chance. 

It’s why we love boxing.