July 9, 2019

Will this year’s Women’s World Cup spark a memoir frenzy?


England Women: breaking viewing figure records—and hearts. (Wikicommons under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Liondartois)

Recent sports news has borne a strange resemblance to certain events last year. England fans, once again buoyed by the sight of a talented, forward-thinking, likeable set of players giving their all, faced disappointment in the final four of a major tournament. Their manager, a personable and self-effacing former England men’s player, was, it turned out, not the one (this time, at least). And football—despite having been away for an awfully long time now—remained tantalisingly, frustratingly reluctant to come home. Sound familiar?

On Tuesday night England Women’s football team (a.k.a. The Lionesses), managed by dodgy-haircut having former England player Phil Neville, were knocked out at the semi-final stages of the World Cup by its eventual winners: a supremely athletic, street-smart and ruthless USA team. The latter’s combination of crisp passing, clinical finishing, and penchant for iconic goal celebrations has left audiences divided, yet awestruck, over their evident superiority to most teams in this year’s tournament.

As for England, a combination of awful bad luck (Steph Haughton’s penalty miss in the final five minutes of the match) and devastatingly fine margins (the Video Assisted Referee call ruling Ellen White millimetres offside, for what appeared to be the equaliser) was enough to end their hopes. It was effectively a bittersweet re-run of their last World Cup campaign in 2015—and the third time in two years that an England team of any gender has been knocked out at the semi-final stages of a tournament. It was a case of so close, and yet so VAR.

However, there are encouraging signs for the Lionesses this time around. The Guardian reported UK viewing figures peaking at 11.7 million, making it the most-watched British television broadcast of the year (just 1.6 million watched England’s 2015 semi-final against Japan—although the post-midnight kick-off time can’t have helped). The England v. USA semi-final was the lead story on Tuesday evening’s BBC 10 O’Clock News, with Clive Myrie broadcasting live from Lyon; the BBC has also screened every single game of the tournament live on across its various channels. As such, it felt like the nation genuinely got behind a sport that hadn’t previously made the same impression as its male-led counterpart.

Yet there’s also a sense of needing to capture the moment: BBC presenter and commentator Jacqui Oatley rightly tweeted ‘Now what?’ last week, adding it was “imperative that this interest translates to [domestic] ticket sales.” Perhaps England could take a few tips from their most recent conquerors: the US team are considered superstars in their homeland, and their profiles have never been higher. Indeed, in the days leading up to Sunday’s final, the LA Times published a list of seven books to “fuel your World Cup fever.”

The list includes Gemma Clarke’s Soccerwomen: The Icons, Rebels, Stars, and Trailblazers Who Transformed the Beautiful Game, as well as goalkeeper Hope Solo’s 2012 memoir. Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach, and Alex Morgan have all been the subject of recent books in the US. So maybe a memoir or two from England’s more prominent Lionesses—Toni Duggan, Jill Scott, or even current “greatest player in the world” Lucy Bronze—could help to cement the team’s reputation over here? After all, anything the men can do…

Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.