I’ll be honest, until recently I’d never really watched women’s football with any degree of real interest or enthusiasm. For several years I’d made up my mind that the quality was okay but nothing I would rush to watch, particularly due to the fact that goalkeepers were dreadful.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that we should be questioning ourselves all the time. Revisiting things we may have decided in our minds because they are so often based on very limited information and our own biases.
So I, like so many others, started to take an interest once Scotland started to qualify for things. Well the men haven’t done it in over two decades, at this point I’m desperate for anything!
That may not be the best reason to take an interest, but whatever the reason I’m glad I did. Women’s football is actually pretty good. Or at least it’s entertaining and there’s still a feel of it being more balanced than the men’s game is these days.
Money has ruined our game. The elite tournaments are, more and more, being dominated by the teams with the big money. International tournaments, though shielded somewhat from the money aspect by virtue of the fact that you can’t really buy a place of birth – although those rules have relaxed somewhat over my lifetime, are burdened by the corruption of the governing bodies.
Yes, I was one of those who thought Michel Platini would be a breathe of fresh air. What do I know.
But the women’s game hasn’t hit these problems to any great extent yet. The domestic game in Scotland is still almost exclusively amateur. Professionalism is starting to come in more and more and will probably be where we end up, but for the time being we can still see teams like Glasgow City holding off the heavyweight names in Scotland and even competing well in the Champions League.
But it’s not without its problems that are shared across all of football, and sadly Scotland saw that at their very first World Cup.
Fifa love to mess about with the rule book. We saw how to take centre changed recently, we’re now losing the requirement to pass the ball outside of the area on a goal kick.
And then there’s handball. A rule that was already questionable now appears to be even more so, to the point we’re now all expecting strikers to kick balls at defenders arms in the hope of winning penalties.
Then of course we have the clamour for technology. Of course we do! Football is the biggest sport on the planet and yet almost every other sport has managed to get technology introduced that works really well. Tennis has the Hawkeye system, Rugby has the dedicated TV official. Football is still trying to find it’s system.
Goal line technology makes sense, it’s an obvious one to introduce and shouldn’t actually require time out of the game to deal with close decisions. But the Video Assistant Referee? Lets refer all major decisions back to a panel.
Anyone who kept up with Scottish football last season knows how farcical a panel of people can be when it comes to questioning decisions. That’s why Alfredo Morelos can successfully appeal a red card for kicking out at an opponent.
The latest changes, including more use of VAR, have arguably overshadowed the actual action at this year’s women’s World Cup. It shouldn’t be that way, because some of the football on display has been terrific. There were times during the Scotland v Argentina game where I could barely believe I was watching a Scotland team!
But now that the tournament is over for us due to the traditional group stage exit, I find myself reflecting on the terrible luck and terrible decisions that got us here.
Before I go into it though, I will caveat this. Shelley Kerr’s team did brilliantly to get to France, but I think they’ll probably be disappointed by how they performed at times in all three games. For the first two, we didn’t really start playing until the last twenty minutes of the game. For the final game, we stopped playing then. It harmed us in all three games, when otherwise we had shown we could compete with the best there is.
But we didn’t half get screwed over by Fifa’s finest as well.
The England game was our opener. One of the best teams in the world, and one who fancy winning the tournament – and not just in their usual arrogant way either, they have a genuine chance to do so. They didn’t start well and looked shaky at times until they got a goal to settle themselves.
A goal given thanks to VAR showing a hand ball against Nicola Docherty. Under the old rules you would have questioned if it was ball to hand or not. Under the new rules, the arm was out making her fill a bigger space, and so the decision was sadly correct. The referee had missed it, and if they hadn’t changed the rule it might have been okay, but that’s just how it is. Frustrating, but okay I’ll let this one pass. If anything it’s proof that VAR works to be honest.
Our second game came against Japan, and having already gone a goal down we found ourselves facing another penalty. Yuika Sugasawa had gone down under pressure from Rachel Corsie and the referee had pointed to the spot. Replays seemed to suggest that Sugasawa had gone down under very little contact but VAR backed up the referee and we were left facing an uphill struggle again.
As we chased a way back into the game in the second half, Erin Cuthbert was clearly tripped in the box by Hina Sugita but the referee didn’t award anything. That’s fine, surely VAR will pick up on it? But no, there was no VAR check this time. Soft penalties that are awarded are backed up by VAR, but more obvious penalties that the referee misses aren’t even checked.
Okay then, how about when Cuthbert’s shot was blocked by Risa Shimizu sticking her arm out and whacking away the ball? We know from the England game that if the referee misses a hand ball then VAR will pick it up, and this one is so much of a hand ball that even the old rules would rule it an infringement! But no, there was no VAR this time either. Was it broken in the second half? At every turn, VAR went against us in this game, whether it was questionably backing up a soft decision or just not being used when the referee hadn’t awarded us anything, we were screwed over.
And then came the ending of the Argentina game. As I said, I have no doubt that the whole team will be bitterly disappointed that they let a three goal lead slip away, but the ending to this game was one farce after another.
First of all, this referee had already lost the plot when she let an Argentina set piece occur while Fiona Brown was still coming on as a substitute. I’ve never seen that at any other football match. But then we had Sophie Howard’s challenge in the 86th minute on Aldana Cometti. The referee initially waved play on as perhaps she had seen the ball deviate as Howard got a touch on it. VAR replays showed this as well, but there was very little ball and too much leg taken in the challenge and the penalty was awarded.
This VAR decision was incredibly tight and took several minutes to iron out. By the time the penalty was taken the game was into the 91st minute – and Lee Alexander was a hero as she heroically saved the first effort and then the rebound. Scotland won a free kick out wide and everything was fine.
Except it wasn’t, as VAR stepped in again to judge that Alexander had jumped forward off her line when the penalty was taken. Some angles looked worse than others, with one angle appearing to show that actually she was still had one foot above the line when the penalty was taken – which is the rule!
Of course she barely moved when the penalty was retaken and Argentina got their equaliser in the 95th minute. It was heartbreaking. But with Argentina also knowing they needed another goal to qualify for the last sixteen, there was still plenty of time for either team to get the winner – and Argentina had their tails up now!
Except a minute later the referee blew for full time.
There were four minutes left on the clock when the infringement happened, there were three minutes left on the clock when VAR first started. There’s at least another two minutes to play for that reason alone, never mind the actual injury time that should have been added on for regular stoppages and substitutions! Every player on the park stood in disbelief that it was full time!
VAR needs some serious work. It needs applied consistently or perhaps limited to a challenge system. It needs to be quicker and the referee needs to have faith that the decision they come to is correct – not have to run over and check for themselves. And if it can’t be quicker, then we need to have better time keeping! We can’t have nine minutes for one decision and then never add it on later!
The jokes started almost immediately. The women’s team had found a new and farcical way for Scotland to go out at the group stages. It brought back memories of not losing a game in 1974, dropping points to unfancied teams but still being able to beat eventual finalists in 1978, goal difference defeat in 1982, only drawing with ten men for 89 minutes in 1986, losing to minnows and being one of the two rubbish third placed teams in 1990, and still being mathematically possible only to get pumped anyway in 1998. Now we could add binning a three goal lead in spectacular and controversial style.
But you know what? Everyone was talking about it. I’ve never known interest in women’s football like it. I was caught up in it myself. The narrow defeats were frustrating, but the loss of that lead was heart wrenching. Women’s football is on the map in Scotland now, and I for one hope it stays there.
I’m not sure it will ever match up to men’s football, and I’m pretty sure if Steve Clarke can get us to Euro 2020 then the interest in that will be far beyond what we have seen this summer, but equally there’s no good reason it can’t. The quality is good, the drama is clearly a match for anything else we’ve seen, and the passion is definitely the same in the right circumstances.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m a convert. Now I have to back that up.
Celtic v Rangers on August 4th you say? Hmmm…