Analysis: How Arsenal’s history of women’s football led to Beth Mead’s ground-breaking award

Beth Mead being named Sports Personality Of The Year by Dan Smith

What was ground-breaking about Beth Mead being named Sports Personality Of The Year this week is the fact it’s no longer ground-breaking.

She’s the first women Footballer to win the honour, but it no longer seems like a trail-blazing moment, just an accepted well-deserved achievement.

In fact, it’s the first-time a female has picked up the award for the main honour, as well as England’s Lionesses named BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year 2022, while head coach Sarina Wiegman has won Coach of the Year and world champion gymnast Jessica Gadirova won Young Personality.

That didn’t happen to promote equality it was simply based on sporting merit.

The irony of course is we are not even a week removed from The World Cup In Qatar, which some of our Lionesses refused to watch in protest due to a lack of Women rights and same sex couples being illegal.

Beth Mead is a role model for both.

A common line in the last month is its’s wrong to say workers shouldn’t die building stadiums due to unlawful labour because ‘the West’ are not innocent either.

While I would teach a child that something wrong elsewhere doesn’t make it okay for you to do bad things as well, it is true that every country has a period in their history where their choices and actions are questionable.

England, as European Champions, fly the flag for Womens Football now but that wasn’t always the case.

In 1921 the FA enforced a ban on the gender playing professionally, a decision which lasted 50 years!

During World War 1 women factory workers played their male co-workers during lunch breaks.

Dick, Kerr Ladies FC were formed and with men’s Football postponed due to the War, this new team attracted thousands to watch them play, proving that there has always been an audience to see both sexes play, it was just trained for you not think that way.

The reasons for the sanctions wouldn’t be acceptable today, essentially a football pitch was not safe for a woman. It’s never been confirmed but the assumption has always been those in power were worried that 53,000 watching the women play would impact on the attendances the men were getting.

Mead was born in 1995, with not many women players around she could relate to.

That was due to the UK’s lack of aggression in fighting for Women’s football compared to their European and world counterparts.

Italy held an unofficial Women’s World Cup in 1970, followed by Mexico – who due to recently hosting the men’s version, had contacts with serious sponsors and advertisers.

110,000 people watched that final. So again, the target audience has always been there, it was just finding the person who cared enough to market a competition and make it professional.

That’s why many females with the dream of being a footballer being a paid job had to leave Europe (outside of Italy who did battle the Olympic Committee over a gender dispute), who either were discriminating or didn’t want to take eyes away from the men’s game.

France had a women’s league set up in 1918, stopped in 1932, re-established in 1972.

Germany kicked females out of their Association in 1952 but it resurfaced in 1972 with different rules (size of pitches, length of matches).

Spain were one of the last footballing powerhouse nations to recognise women’s football as a sport (into the early 1980’s) which is ironic when you think how many attend the female El Classico.

The Women’s FA was set up in 1969 but essentially with zero funding and on a volunteer basis.

While Football was the UK’s national game, generations of fans had been conditioned that it was what the men played.

The marketing success that was the Premiership made all involved more money than they ever thought possible. There was zero need to invest in a Women’s equivalent.

The irony being the man who was influential in forming the Premier League, pitched to Arsenal’s board for investment in a women’s side …. David Dein.

Mr Dein was a frequent viewer of sports in America when women’s soccer was popular and when discussing the idea with Vic Akers (also our kitman) and a female employee who played for Aylesbury, Dein almost felt an ‘obligation,’ to help out young girls he was frequently meeting, as Arsenal had connections with Aylesbury as part of their community projects.

With several Aylesbury players working with Arsenal, Dein wanted to support their dreams.

Dein and Akers would help their players as much as possible in periods where Arsenal were not even a semi-professional department club.

Paid employment was given in various departments of the club ranging from box office, merchandise, laundry, catering etc.

Accommodation was provided close to Highbury.

A deal was reached with Boreham Wood for that to be the women’s home ground, with Highbury (now the Emirates more often) an option.

Dein though would battle with his peers who didn’t agree with his vision, thinking this was just a PR stunt, as there was almost zero profit to be made.

Dein would battle for the team to get modest win bonuses let alone a salary they could live off.

So, it’s fitting that if the BBC chose to celebrate the Lionesses, a Gunner should take centre stage.

Like it was fitting that one of our own had the honour and privilege of lifting the Euros last summer.

Beth Mead and Leah Williamson have become poster girls for the sport, hence why they are asked to be the ones to model the latest merchandise.

It’s positive PR for the club, which they deserve after being the leading club in pushing for the women’s game to evolve, giving opportunities when they didn’t have to, with money not the motivation.

The Sporting aspect of Beth Mead’s trophy is obvious, she was the Golden Boot winner in a home tournament that broke records.

Many would have been learning about the ‘Personality’ part for the first time this week.

Incredibly Mead’s best form coincided with her mum being diagnosed with incurable cancer.

Her brother, dad and teammates insist the last person to understand just how talented Beth Mead is, is the 27-year-old herself.

Once a Gooner always a Gooner.

Well done Beth Mead

Dan

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Do you want to read more about the Arsenal Women’s Team? Click here….

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2 Comments

  1. That is a great article Dan. Well done. As well researched as I am picked up some new info. A great read and it sparked a debate or two here xx

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