Romance made me love the women’s Euros
In the midst of all the attention and excitement around the incredible performance of England in the women’s Euros tournament, it may be a bit odd to encounter an English female football fan who was somehow *not* supporting the Lionesses in their 4–0 win against Sweden on Tuesday. My girlfriend, however, is no stranger to believing in things despite their lack of popularity in her country (she’s a Lib Dem). But she is also a diehard Sweden fan — and so am I, because of love.
Having grown up in a family with no interest in sports whatsoever, I was somewhat bemused when my girlfriend insisted we put on the football (“she means soccer,” I explained to my American family) over the holidays. But I am a very good girlfriend, so I found a way to watch Chelsea play Wolfsburg in California and subsequently lose their dream of finally winning the Champions League. “No!” my girlfriend shouted at the players on the screen. “Do NOT do this to Magda and Pernille! You are RUINING their holiday!!!”
Magda Eriksson and Pernille Harder, I soon found out, are two of the best female football players in the world. Magda is a defender, the captain of Chelsea, and plays for the Swedish national team. Pernille is an attacking midfielder at Chelsea, the captain of the Danish national team, and currently the world’s most expensive female player. They have also been dating for eight years.
“What?? Dating???” I asked. “Do they ever play each other?!” “Yes,” was the reply. “Magda fouled Pernille when Denmark played Sweden in 2020 and she was really annoyed by it.”
This, then, was how I found myself going down the Youtube rabbit hole of female footballer couples videos . . . there was the Q&A in which Magda is asked about fouling Pernille and cackles as Pernille shakes her head . . . the interview in which Pernille responds to the question about Magda being her captain with the cheeky reply “she’s the captain at home too” “yes,” Magda immediately agrees, “I am the captain of cooking, the captain of cleaning” . . . and, of course, the post-game Instagram post which confirmed that Magda and Pernille did indeed have a perfectly nice holiday despite my girlfriend’s fears.
“What are you doing?” my girlfriend asked me, puzzled. “Watching a video of Magda and Pernille ordering KFC with an English accent.” “What?!” was the shocked reply. “But you don’t even like sport!”
This is true. I had not, heretofore, liked sport. So it was with some incredulity that my girlfriend watched me sit down the next time she put on a Chelsea game. I was still somewhat fuzzy on the rules and tactics of football, but luckily I had a patient teacher. “Why was that offsides?” “Offside,” my girlfriend corrected. “That’s what I said, offsides!” (It has been the only silver-lining of Sweden’s ill-fated battle with VAR technology during this Euros that I have finally been able to understand what “offside” is.) And, slowly, I began to learn the names of other players on the Chelsea team too . . . Sam Kerr (does backflips) . . . Erin Cuthbert (the wee Scott) . . . Zecira Musovic (social media star and assist queen) . . . and, of course, my girlfriend’s constant refrain, “PASS IT TO PERNILLE!”
“Why don’t we go to a game?” I found myself suggesting one day. “Look,” I said, googling it. “We can get tickets to the FA Cup Final right now. It’s at Wembly.”
So we went.
It was strange, I remember thinking. There is a certain uneasiness that always pervades me whenever I do venture (or am forced) to watch men’s sports . . . despite the enjoyment it inspires in my friends, I cannot help but wonder — who is this for? Watching men who have been charged with assault or domestic violence, among teams who have been accused of systemic racism or transphobia, playing in front of fans who I would probably cross the street to avoid if I ran into them when walking home, I cannot escape the sense that these games are not really for me.
But my girlfriend and I were at Wembly, at a football match, holding hands amongst a crowd that seemed extremely nice, surrounded by families and little kids, and I remember thinking — huh. Perhaps this could be for me.
The author Nell Stevens recently wrote a lovely piece about being a queer “late-bloomer,” and falling in love with a woman in her early thirties:
“It felt like the most straightforward thing imaginable . . . That was the thing, I learned, about falling in love with the person you were meant to be with: it makes everything in the present seem incredibly simple, and everything in the past incorrigibly murky and strange.” That heteronormativity, that erasure — without any representation, how could you even recognize a sense of loss? It was only after you found that person that you could realize you’d been missing something.
I had never been jealous of the men who were unaccountably obsessed with sports. But, watching the coverage of the women’s Euros, and experiencing the fun my girlfriend and I have had inviting our friends over to watch the games, there is that same, queer realization that it hadn’t been fair. We’d been missing something.
I will not depress you with the scenes at our home when Sweden was knocked out of the Euros as England celebrated around us. Let me tell you instead, dear reader, about Pernille screaming into the camera when she scored a goal against Spain— about Swedish player Hanna Glas cheekily winking into the camera each time it passed her — the absolute class of the Northern Irish goalkeeper — about Magda telling the Danish press, sure, Pernille has it all together when it comes to football, “but she has one job at home, and that is to take out the garbage. At the end of the week there is always a mountain of rubbish and you have to look for a place to put your things because she is waiting until the last minute to clean up.”
With all the talk about the momentum in the women’s games, I’d like to say that my girlfriend and I have no doubt that in ten years time, our dream of watching women play football with our own children will come true. But as I watch the rollback of women’s rights in the US, the transphobia gripping the UK, the impending overturning of Obergefell, I cannot help but remember that these dreams are not inevitable — and they will not come without a fight.
But, for now, my girlfriend and I will dream of Sweden wining the next World Cup and getting tickets to see Chelsea play in the Champions League.
“Season tickets???” my girlfriend asks.
One dream at a time.