Natasha Chahal


9 July 2024

Soften Up Hard Lad

Corbin Shaw’s work draws on the history of flag-waving and textiles in football. Now based in East London, he was born and grew up in a South Yorkshire ex-mining town. He began making flags after the death by suicide of his father’s longtime friend and companion on the terraces. The first one was a parody of a Sheffield United banner that instead of ‘we hate Wednesday’ said ‘we should talk about our feelings.’ He’s made versions of the St George’s Cross with slogans like ‘I’m never going to be one of the lads,’ ‘God save the queers’ and ‘Soften up hard lad.’ Shaw collaborated with Women’s Aid during the 2022 World Cup to highlight the rise of domestic abuse during football tournaments.

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1 July 2024

Who else?

The star of the England squad, fresh from winning the Champions League with Real Madrid, is 21-year-old Jude Bellingham.

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21 August 2023

It isn’t all over

To paraphrase Ed Miliband in 2015, this is not the piece I wanted to write; this team has come back before and will come back again. Maybe it’s glib to compare football to politics but try telling that to the politicians. Keir Starmer has been lending his support to the women’s national team on social media. His style of play, he says, is ‘midfield, controlling operations, strong left foot’, though he admits his teammates might not describe him that way. Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, managed to mangle the cliché about a team leaving ‘everything on the pitch’ or ‘nothing in the dressing room’ and told the England women that they ‘left absolutely nothing out there’, though he went on to say: ‘We are all incredibly proud of you.’ I can only assume he didn’t really mean it but which part is unclear.

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10 August 2023

England’s Progress

The BBC coverage began with a children’s choir singing a song from Roald Dahl’s Matilda: The Musical over a montage of the players then and now. Now I know that these women playing for the national team used to be teeny tiny girls with big big dreams and I am delighted they keep inspiring a generation but there’s no need to keep infantilising them. When Chloe Kelly sat down for an interview on Good Morning Britain after winning the Euros in 2022, Richard Madeley insisted on calling her ‘Coco’ because ‘that’s what I call my daughter Chloe’. He asked Alessia Russo: ‘How are you feeling? It’s three days on now. If I was your dad and asked you that – “how are you feeling love” – what would you say?’ As far as I know, though, he isn’t her dad.

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21 July 2023

The ACL Club

Football fans often like to say ‘it’s not about the football.’ Sometimes that’s true: when the England women’s national team won the European Championship last summer, the collective joy felt by women around the country, irrespective of fandom levels, really wasn’t about the football. Although there was some excellent football on display throughout: if you aren’t already familiar with Alessia Russo’s back heel goal against Sweden from every possible angle, I don’t know what to tell you.

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28 July 2022

Goals are goals

In January, after Chelsea beat West Ham 4-2, the Sun ran the headline: ‘Cuthbert Harder! Chelsea scorers sound like posh people having sex.’ Erin Cuthbert tweeted that she wished ‘people reported on the actual match reports and women’s football with the same level of enthusiasm’. The article was eventually removed from the Sun’s website even though Piers Morgan defended it: ‘Calm down ladies, it’s called HUMOUR. This kind of stuff happens to male players all the time. Get over yourselves.’ My eyes cannot roll back far enough. 

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26 May 2022

One Night in Turin

Turin for English football fans is synonymous with Italia 90 and Paul Gascoigne’s tears but for the 32,257 people at the Allianz stadium on Saturday it meant something else entirely. Ordinarily the Allianz is home to the Juventus men’s team but last weekend’s fixture was Olympique Lyonnais Féminin v. FC Barcelona Femení in the UEFA Women’s Champions League final. Women’s football tends to be marketed to children and the women’s liberation movement, which is nice and infuriating in equal measure.

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24 August 2021

Liverpool v. Burnley

Through childhood and adolescence, the autumn brings the excitement and apprehension of the new school year: new uniform, new lace ups, the promise of a future, uncertain though it may be. When I finished university, I remember a distinct feeling of disappointment as the autumn approached. What now? Will every month be the same as the last? At least there was still the beginning of the new football season.

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12 July 2021

The kids are all right

If someone were to ask me how I spent my summers, the books I read, the fashions I liked (or didn’t) with each passing year, I would have little to no recollection. If you asked me where I was (and who I was) during a football tournament, I think I could tell you with a great degree of accuracy. There is something melancholic about the end of a large tournament, maybe to do with measuring life in trophies and seasons, or the way it signals that the end of summer is approaching. I look back on tournaments with the nostalgia non-football fans might feel for – I don’t know – royal weddings, general elections or solar eclipses.

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8 July 2021

Good Omens

Something strange happens to fans when they watch football. Even more so when watching the national team. For many, as their team progresses through a tournament, superstition takes over. They have to wear the same shirt (unwashed) as last time, or be in the same place to watch the game. The weather’s the same – an omen surely? Is the match on the BBC or ITV? In the 1998 World Cup, England even had their own faith healer. But Eileen Drewery couldn’t stop them losing to Argentina on penalties in the second round and was among the reasons Glenn Hoddle got sacked as manager the following year.

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