Football fans were graced with three moments of genius in just 24 hours this week.
The first was that corner from Trent Alexander-Arnold on Tuesday, while the third was Dele Alli’s superb flick to set up Lucas Moura’s sensational winner the following evening.
Yet while both were huge game changers on the field, the example that fell in between was the most culturally significant as it proved that women’s football really has entered a new stratosphere.
Whoever came up with the idea behind of the #BeReady campaign announcing the Lionesses’ squad for next month’s World Cup deserves a standing ovation. It was utterly brilliant.
As someone who works in elite sport communications, I could only sit back and admire as celebrity after celebrity announced the 23 players heading to France for the game’s biggest tournament.
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) May 7, 2019
Of course the FA are the biggest and most influential national governing body this country have and only they would really have been able to pull this off due to their extensive network of contacts, but that’s besides the point.
The fact is that they have pulled off a masterstroke in getting almost the entire nation to take notice of women’s football.
There was no subtlety about it; this campaign was designed to significantly increase the pool of people aware of the tournament this summer and the players who will be featuring.
It contrasted hugely with the way in which the men’s squad was announced last year, where the focus was on highlighting the huge diversity of the sport and less on the athletes themselves.
While support and appreciation for the Lionesses and the women’s game has grown exponentially in the last few years, there is still a need to drum up support for the team in order to generate even a fraction of the national pride that swept the country for their male counterparts last summer.
And what better way to do this than by drafting in a host of high profile names?
By getting the likes of Emma Watson, James Corden and Prince William involved in their campaign, the FA have now potentially added millions upon millions of extra fans to their supporters list.
That might sound like a huge exaggeration but it’s true.
Due to their celebrity status, these fans each have an army of incredibly loyal fans who will get behind literally everything they are involved in.
Us when people ask why we didn’t do a normal squad announcement: pic.twitter.com/jBLTJ8Qvs4
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) May 9, 2019
We experienced this at England Hockey last year when we were fortunate enough to get Watson to appear in a video ahead of the 2018 Vitality Women’s Hockey World Cup.
The level of attention this received across all formats of social media was something we had never seen before and even now the views and engagements with it continues to grow despite the fact we aren’t doing much to actively push it.
While it’s difficult to tell how many people paid more attention to the tournament as a direct result of this, the fact was we opened up our sport to at least 80 million more people (Watson’s combined Twitter and Instagram following).
This is exactly what’s needed in order to push women’s football to the next level and silence those insecure little men who still feel the need to criticise anything and everything associated with the game.
‘Everyone keeps saying that this one is gonna be the biggest one they’ve ever seen.’
The @Lionesses on the Women’s World Cup!
⚽︎ @FranKirby pic.twitter.com/rfmHdJC5WO
— BBC The One Show (@BBCTheOneShow) May 8, 2019
Despite the wave of positivity surrounding the #BeReady campaign, there were still plenty of comments that at best belittled female footballers and at worst were outrightly sexist and highly derogatory.
Nearly all of the perpetrators seemed to fit the same basic stereotype: male, aged 20 and above and long-term fans of men’s teams.
What the FA has done here is recognise that there is going to be little reward trying to convert these fans.
Instead they’ve tried to reach out to people who may have previously shown little interest in the sport or those who perhaps weren’t aware of the tournament itself.
But without many, if any, pre-conceived ideas of women’s football – especially those in their teens or younger – they are much more likely to show an interest if their favourite celebrity thinks it’s cool.
And even if just 10% of those targeted individuals follow the tournament or even take up the sport as a result, that would still be a significant improvement and could have a massive knock-on effect.
Not only was the announcement a brilliant and different way of engaging a plethora of potential new fans with women’s football, it was also a sign of how seriously the FA are taking their female stars.
— Beth Mead (@bmeado9) May 8, 2019
Not only were they promoting the team on a mass scale, nearly every celebrity delivering the messages also had a genuine connection with the squad or, in some cases, the individual whose place on the plane they were announcing.
In particular I loved the message from Kelly Smith to Beth Mead – not only is Smith one of the country’s greatest every players, she was also the current Arsenal star’s sporting hero when growing up.
Imagine having the person you looked up to most as a child telling you the best news you’ve ever wanted to hear? We can only imagine how special that must have been for Mead.
This wasn’t just a clever PR campaign; it was also the FA showing how much they care about the Lionesses.
The trick for them now is to not only continue this momentum into and throughout the campaign but also afterwards, particularly if England don’t live up to expectations.
But if this is anything to go by then this could be the beginning of a huge momentum shift in the way in which this country views women’s football and we for one can’t wait to see what the future brings.