The Most Important Moments in Women's Football History: Part Five

Football is more than just a game. Over the last 150 years it has become a source of identity, conflict and debate for all who follow and play it. It has reached the furthest corners of the globe and boasts more players and supporters than any other sport. In this list, we will be going right the way through the illustrious, colourful and pioneering history of women's football. We will be looking closer at the teams, coaches and individuals who have overcome negative attitudes, antiquated misogynistic views and repressive social expectations to create an inclusive and popular game supported by millions around the world. Let's see which moments have shaped the game we love!

21. 1991 FIFA World Cup (1991)

Image result for womens world cup 1991Following decades of struggle and fight for the freedom to play - the women's game would see a major milestone in 1991. As the game began to grow around the world - FIFA would organise the first Women's World Cup in China. The FIFA website describes the tournament as a 'coming of age' and a resounding success. Brought to life by then-president Joao Havelange, the competition saw 12 nations competing for the biggest prize in women's football.

The nations, representing their respective continental confederations saw teams from all around the world. The opening game between China and Norway was played in front of 65,000 fans. Spectator levels wouldn't reach this height again until the final, but an overall average of around 20,000 could be seen a hugely successful for a first official tournament. Defender Ma Li would score the first ever women's world cup goal.

It would be the US who would emerge victorious however. A dream team featuring the mercurial talents of Mia Hamm, Michele Akers and Carin Jennings would defeat Scandinavian nation Norway in front of a raucous 65,000 in Guangzhou. Jennings and Akers were joined by captain April Heinrichs to form the famous 'triple-edged sword' in attack for the US. Amazingly, the trio managed to score 20 of the side's 25 goals in China. For Jennings, the affinity and togetherness of the squad was something she hadn't witnessed on such a level before. The family atmosphere amongst competing nations would be a sign of things to come in the women's game.
“What I remember most is the friendship of the players on the team... We all played for the love of the game and for our team-mates.”
 Despite the defeat, Norway would form an incredible rivalry with their US counterparts over the coming decade. Meeting in the subsequent 1995 tournament (Norway 1-0) and the 1996 Olympics (USA 2-1 a.e.t) - the rivalry would come to define a decade of innovation, growth and consolidation.

22. The FA Takes Control of Womens' Football (1993)

Image result for womens football 1993
One notable absentee of the first women's World Cup was England. In recent years, the English side has been ever-present at the tournament, even coming third in 2015. In the early 1990s however, women's football was only now being recognised by the Football Association. Despite lifting the ban of the women's game in 1971 - twenty years of confusion and frustration would follow as a lack of funding and advertisement meant the game struggled to receive any attention.

According to historian Richard Holt (writing in 1989), women's participation in sport had been negligible, until the 1980s. Despite forming a national league in 1991, women's football, at least in the UK, had seen activity stagnate. The WFA had struggled to fund the game and were little more than a 'leaky umbrella' (Williams, 2013), under which British clubs were struggling to stay dry.

By 1993, fortunes were to change. The Football Association, still revelling from the profitability of the newly formed Premier League - set out to bring the women's game into its ever-growing monopoly. Matthew Taylor writes that the 1990s would be a decade of progress for women's football and overall participation rates would dramatically improve from 9000 registered players in 1991 to 35,000 in 2000. A clear pyramid system and sound financial backing would provide women's football in Britain with a forward thinking structure.

Although promising a bright future, the FA's authority and suitability to lead women's football was challenged frequently at the time. Leading figures from within the game complained as to the lack of priority shown to the female teams competing in the Premier League and FA Cup. Jean Williams cites the lack of support for pioneering independent clubs like the Doncaster Belles as reasons for their eventual decline. Despite the scepticism, women's football at least now had some direction - and an umbrella free from leaks. It just needed the arms of future pioneers to keep it aloft.

23. Atlanta Olympics (1996)

Ask any sportsman or woman what the pinnacle of sport is and they will probably answer: The Olympic Games. For the past 123 years, athletes have pitted themselves against the best in their respective disciplines, to see once and for all - who is this greatest. Furthermore, when asked who the greatest Olympian of all-time is - answers will range from Usain Bolt to Michael Phelps and Nadia Comeneci to Flo-Jo. However, what seems to be apparent is the lack of any footballer, either male or female. Due to the domination of the World Cup - the Olympics has been a minor tournament. Albeit, in 1996 - the Atlanta games showcased a "new" form of football and one which would change perceptions forever.

Football had been played in the games ever since the second edition of the sporting spectacle in Paris, 1900. Despite such a long history, up until 1996,  women had been excluded from the football competition. So, when it was finally introduced - reaction amongst players was overwhelmingly positive. The 1994 men's World Cup had brought soccer to new heights in the US and the appetite for more was clear to see.

"What an incredible opportunity. You hear all the clichés, that it's a dream come true. Well, it is, for me and for every other young girl growing up who plays sport."

What the tournament would bring was improved training facilities, funding and administrative support, not just from the US but across all of the competing nations. Women's football was growing.

The tournament itself was hugely successful. In recent years, there has been a growing resentment to the men's game's inclusion in the Olympics - but little towards the women's. 1996 was key. 8 teams competed in the games including hosts the United States. Alongside them, to name a few, was 1991 hosts China and 1995 World Cup winners, Norway. The US team, which included superstars Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Michele Akers would win the gold medal, defeating China 2-1 in front of a staggering 76,000 spectators. For a maiden tournament - the figures of attendance are quite incredible. Football was clearly growing in the states and the women were leading the way.

24. 1999 World Cup (1999)

Three years after victory in the 1996 Olympics, the USWNT were emerging triumphant once more. Following the success of the games in Atlanta and the previous editions of the Women's World Cups - the natural hosts in 1999 was of course the United States. By the end of the millennium, soccer fever had well and truly gripped the nation. This would lead to larger stadia and significant effort being put into the tournament originally planned to be played on a far smaller scale. New precedents were set in terms of media coverage, attendance and television rights.

The FIFA website describes the tournament as a milestone in women's football history. Over a million fans would attend the tournament's matches, where Brazilian forward Sissi would light up the early matches, scoring 7 goals. Alongside Chinese star Sun Wen, she would end the World Cup with the golden boot. Wen had herself been present at both the 1991 and '95 competitions, later being named as the FIFA female player of the century (with Akers).

China would go on to reach the final at the Pasadena Rose Bowl. Facing them would be the mighty US team featuring the likes of Akers, Hamm and  Kristine Lilly. Despite a tournament laden with goals (123 in total) the final would end goalless. The 90,000 fans, including President Clinton, had witnessed an encounter balanced on a knife-edge. Extra-time would see the sides cancel each other out leading to a dramatic penalty shoot-out.

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The defining image of the decade

Following a Briana Scurry save from Liu Ying, the chance had arrived for defender Brandi Chastain to send 90,000 screaming fans into utter pandemonium. Thumping the ball into the top left hand corner, an euphoric Chastain would remove her shirt and create one of the defining images of the decade. Numerous articles have been dedicated to this moment alone as the image of the US left-back on her knees became splashed on every newspaper and magazine in the States. The tournament in 1999 had set the standard and the created a platform for the women's game around the world.

“Come on, I’m a left-back in a World Cup final, I’m hardly thinking this game will be my moment. It was a combination of things: joy, relief, satisfaction, the desire to do well for your team, your country, your family – those are emotions that you carry around every day for years and finally I could let it all out. Put all those things together and what you get is insanity.”

 25. Mia Hamm (1990s)

Related imageGrowing up, I was mad about football. My earliest memories are kicking a ball around the garden with my brother and reading endless issues of Match magazine whenever I had the chance to do so. Flicking through the pages I would see the same old faces - Beckham, Gerrard, Scholes, Owen. Despite the male-dominated pages, there was one other player who seemed to appear every so often and make me take note of an emerging game. The player was Mia Hamm.

Mia Hamm has featured heavily in earlier stories, being an integral figure in the great US side of the 1990s. So why does she, over the rest of the USWNT deserve her own personal moment? Simply put, Hamm's influence went far beyond the sport. Indeed, following the success of her side - she would become the face of women's football around the world. It is testament to this belief that Hamm's worldwide fame happened in a time, especially in the UK, where women's football received precious little coverage.

Following the success of the US in numerous global competition, the free-scoring forward would be included in Pelé's 125 Best Players in the World list for the FIFA centenary (along with Michele Akers). Never one to hog the limelight, Hamm would frequently request the inclusion of other members of her respective squads to be included in any cover story or newspaper article. A modest approach in light of superstar fame would come to represent women's football as a whole.
Mia's unwavering commitment to the group defined who we were as a team. She set the standard for all of us to follow.

So how good was she? The stats say it all. Retiring in 2004, she would score 158 goals in 275 caps for the national team. Playing for North Carolina Tar Heels, she won 4 championships, only losing 1 game of the 95 Hamm played in. Hamm was the youngest player to debut for the national side at the age of 15 in 1987 and would win 2 world cups and 2 Olympic golds. Hamm’s legacy rolls through the Mia Hamm Foundation formed to help those with bone marrow problems after the death of her brother. A pioneer, innovator and genuine superstar - she ranks alongside the greatest in women's sporting history.


Images not owned by TFHB, no copyright infringement is intended.

Follow @TFHBs on Twitter in order to keep up to date with our countdown of the 'Most Important Moments in Women's Football History'!

If you missed out then catch the previous articles here:

Part One (1881-1895)

Part Two (1895-1920)

Part Three (1921-1939)

Part Four (1969-1990)

Further reading:

Richard Holt, Sport and the British, (Oxford: Oxford University, 1989)
Jean Williams, A Game for Rough Girls?, (London: Routledge, 2013)
Jean Williams, Beautiful Game, (Oxford: Berg, 2007)


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