World Cup Winners. Not a phrase us sporty-peeps are all that used to. Mainly because our media and our heads are dominated by footie – by the epic failure of England. England Men. In football. In World Cups or Europeans.
But who cares about them? Certainly I care waaaay less than I once did. Let me dispatch that whole industry of trauma with a flourish, with some disdain, with a few bullet-points.
I care less because;
- of politico-philosophical stuff about disassociating myself from the Posh South of England
- because of the rank dishonesty and/or meanness of spirit/anti-sportness football wallows in
- (but much more importantly) because other sports and other kinds of people seem better. More entertaining; more fun; more worthy(?) of our support.
Post the 2012 Olympics magnificent, generous, friendly, articulate athletes – proper humans who could talk engagingly even though they were world stars – lit up the footie-player-heavy universe. They were lovely as well as gobsmackingly talented. They were real and rounded.
Fast forward or maybe re-wind just a few days. Focus (finally, yes?) on a particular sex. Throw your arms around or share the joy around Anya S, Sarah T, Heather Knight and that daft bugger Dani Wyatt with her twitter and her Proper Sense of Humour!
Read the backstories about shared houses and shared disappointments or challenges. Get the whole idea that there’s been a tough revolution going on – one where these tremendous women have been through major, testing stuff. And now look at them. Listen. Get to know them. This is England Cricket. These are our World Cup Winners. How great is that?
I need to acknowledge coupla things. Firstly, I’m a dumb bloke. Secondly, there are people who think this dumb bloke is as bad as the rest of them: somewhere on that patronising/sexist/misogynist spectrum. Meaning I should be keeping my mouth shut.
I’m not going to because I know (actually) that I try pret-ty hard to be careful and reasonable with what I say… and I know however flawed I may be I am genuinely committed to some vague-ish but powerfully-felt ideas about equality. I’ll get stuff wrong but as a geezer and a coach I do not entirely lack political sensitivity and do try to make things better.
By that I mean specifically supporting women and girls into cricket – or in cricket. Apologies for the digression.
England’s World Cup win is a gift as well as a wonderful moment, a triumph. The manner of victory was intoxicating and gut-churning and all those things that characterise truly fabulous sport. It was unbelievable, dream-like, horrendous, glorious, daft, moving, nerve-shredding. The actual match was extraordinary and captivating.
So the drama – the sport – was as magical as sport can be be but the levels of interest and coverage also went off the scale in a way that must surely mark a new phase; ‘just the start of the story’ as described by the outstanding Ebony Rainford-Brent. Cricket needed that, the universe needed that and we Community Cricket Coaches needed that to really move things forward.
This is what’s exciting. I hope it doesn’t sound too worryingly cynical if it feels like we all – not just those of us work in cricket – have to use this. It’s BIG. BIGGER THAN CRICKET. I’ll not wade into the wider debates just now but I do hope there will be an unstoppable energy around this event, feeding into rilly profound developments ‘elsewhere’.
I personally have been enthusing folks for bats and balls and stuff for about ten years. For the last four, for a living. I am absolutely clear that us Cricket Wales coaches (who spend much of our times in Primary Schools and clubs) have actively set out to make girls feel like this is their game. The argument can certainly be made that we could have done more but one of the central messages we’ve been trying to put out there is exactly that: girls, you can do this – it’s yours!
We in the Community Team run what we call cricket assemblies, generally alongside or in the middle of a series of school cricket sessions. The centrepiece of these assemblies tends to be a shortish video, supplied to us by Chance to Shine, the treble-fabulous cricket charity, one of our sponsors.
I very often bring out a film that was made a few years back, showing India winning a World Cup, amongst other buzztastically uplifting cricket-scenes. The presentation (bit concerned about that word, in fact) features a Jesse J soundtrack and the challenge is laid to the teacher and/or learning assistant to name the singer and the song – Domino.
I encourage the kids to sing along and if the hwyl with the staff is good to ‘dance around a bit’. If the teachers get the points for identifying the singer/song then the kids get unholy amounts of points for knowing the words.
We have a bit of fun and maybe a quiz or a relatively ‘educational’ discussion around what we’ve seen. Which countries were playing? Recognise anybody – any flags? I big up the notion that cricket can feel like this then I always ask a few of the girls present
was it all blokes?’ (The film has clips of England Women in action).
When the girls say ‘NO!’ I ask the class
who’s the best team we’ve got?
A question that throws them, admittedly but soon enough the lads start saying Chelsea, Manchester Utd, Swansea, or Scarlets or Ospreys. I let them shout them out and we have a giggle or two around that – especially, obvs, at the Chelsea fan’s expense.
I then tell everybody that there’s a very strong argument that the best and most successful team we have (acknowledging the brilliance of our cyclists and rowers, maybe) might really be England (and Wales!) Women’s Cricket side. Because a) they are right up there on the world stage b) because they do win things.
I’ve been saying this fairly convincingly for four years. Now, these classes – these girls – are gonna believe me.
I will again look them in the eye and say
girls. This is your game. Cricket is a fan-tastic game… and it’s yours every bit as much as it’s mine… or his… or his.