Chloe Kelly scored a 110th-minute winner in front of 87,000 people to secure England's win over Germany in the Women's Euros 2022 final.
Women's football has come a long way from the time it was banned in the 1920s. Its resurgence was captured in one iconic moment as Chloe Kelly pulled off her shirt and tore across the pitch. More than 87,000 people watched history unfold before their eyes as Chloe Kelly toe-poked the ball past the German keeper and celebrated the goal that would win England the Women's Euro 2022 final. Wembley stadium exploded as her teammates chased her to celebrate with the 24-year-old. The iconic image of an ecstatic Kelly waving her shirt over her head was splashed across the front pages of the English media. It's extremely rare or even unheard of for the English tabloids to publish images of women on the front page without sexualizing them. This was a massive shift that captured the power of women's football and the support it has from the people.
In a world where women are constantly policed on what to wear, what to do and how to behave, Kelly's visceral scream and shirtless picture are a celebration of women's freedom. Freedom to not be boxed, classified and commodified. Author Lucy Ward summed the importance of the picture best when she wrote in The Guardian, "This is a woman’s body—not for sex or show—just for the sheer joy of what she can do and the power and skill she has." It was a photo that signified a victory for women, and the prologue to every victorious chapter that will here on be written by little girls inspired by this English side and Kelly. This was, after all, England's first major football trophy in 56 years. It was something the men's team had failed to do in over half a century.
This is why it matters. Representation. My daughter doesn’t have to have an interest in football. She just has to know that it’s an option. That she can become anything she sets her little heart on. From a princess to a lioness. And everything in between. #Lionesses #WEURO2022 pic.twitter.com/TIkWuD4gxu— Kevin Windsor 💙 (@Reni_Von_Skwid) July 31, 2022
The final between Germany and England drew a massive 87,192 people, a record crowd for any UEFA tournament. Even the men's game didn't draw as much crowd as the Euros and it just showed how much the women's game has grown in the last few years. The past few weeks have seen pundits, politicians and fans calling for more funding and support for women's football, starting with encouraging girls to play sports at the school level to investing in football academies for girls and more.
Kelly running across the pitch in her white sports bra was also a nod to another iconic moment more than 20 years ago. USA soccer player Brandi Chastain yanked her shirt off and celebrated in a black sports bra after scoring the winning penalty in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final against China. It was a watershed moment for women's soccer in America and she too was celebrating in front of a record crowd for a global women’s sporting event. It would become the defining image of the tournament and find its way to the front pages of the newspapers in a country that hardly watched soccer until then.
I see you @Chloe_Kelly98 well done. Enjoy the free rounds of pints and dinners for the rest of your life from all of England. Cheers!— Brandi Chastain (@brandichastain) July 31, 2022
Chastain tweeted Kelly after she recreated the iconic celebration and wrote, “I see you.” Chastain's winning moment sparked change and saw investment flow into the women's game and led to the establishment of the first professional women’s league. The girls inspired by that famous win in 1999 are today's stars in America's soccer team, the best in the world. The parallels are uncanny and a sign of good things to follow for the women's game.
Ian Wright could have joined in with the painstaking cheerleading going on around him. But instead he chose to suggest that if this night doesn't act as the catalyst for girls nationwide being able to play football in PE, then it's worthless. Superb. pic.twitter.com/XXzyah2L6c— Andrew Cunneen (@Cunneen92) July 26, 2022
The record crowds at the game were also a testament to the potential of the women's game. As in every other field, the potential of women in football was curbed blatantly by men in power. When men left to fight World War I, women took the place of men in factories and went on to form their own football teams just as men had. Women's football grew rapidly and saw more than 53,000 people pay to watch Dick, Kerr Ladies who beat St Helens 4-0 at Everton’s Goodison Park on Boxing Day 1920, according to Abc.net.au. Once the war was over, men returned to factories and the FA (Football Association), possibly worried about the popularity of the women's game, banned its affiliated clubs from using the stadium. “The game of football is quite unsuitable for females,” said the FA, reported The Guardian. Kelly's goal securing the most famous win for English football and the FA came at its most famous stadium—Wembley.
When girls world over watch Kelly's iconic celebration in her sports bra, they will all be emboldened to celebrate and express themselves, in all walks of life, as they see fit and not as how others see fit and that's a victory that transcends sport, and that's what sport is all about.
really is absolutely mental that we weren't allowed to play football in PE isn't it— hannah louise (@hannahlouisef) July 31, 2022
This was me playing football for the first time at university (a very long time ago). It has been a long journey from there to the #Lionessess winning yesterday, but at least my daughter has so much more to look forward to now. pic.twitter.com/lu6ZmThDBp— Clare S (@clasch80) August 1, 2022
That is why, this phenomenal victory is not only for all girls around the world, but also for all grandmothers who were discouraged and banned from playing football. #Lionessess 💜 https://t.co/RfhtRA0m6m— Elif Shafak (@Elif_Safak) August 1, 2022
Always manage to separate emotion from covering football but when I was growing up in this country, I never, ever thought I'd see something like this for women's football - the hype, the spectacle, the crowds, the attention. Can't not get goosebumps. Feels defining— Ameé Ruszkai (@ameeruszkai) July 31, 2022