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Call me a Lioness: A glimmer of hope in a dark season

Call me a Lioness: A glimmer of hope in a dark season

In light of the Lionesses’ victory over Australia, bringing England to its first Fifa World Cup final since 1966, Hannah Rich reflects on the hope the tournament has brought to an otherwise gloomy season. 16/08/2023

After reading a draft of a report I’d written about how even churches and charities were being overwhelmed by the state of the economy last winter, one of my Theos colleagues pointed out how bleak the whole thing was. “Where’s the hope?” they asked. It’s become something of a refrain recently, as we’ve tackled research projects on the cost of living crisis, human mortality, and crises across health and social care. It’s the mood of the nation too, faced with headlines about inflation and wildfire and war.  

Even football, where we often turn for respite from the ills of the world, has offered much to be dispirited about. Leaving aside my own team’s dismal relegation, the sport as a whole has been tainted this summer by the advent of the Saudi Pro league, attracting players we thought had more moral fibre than that, and the general sense of there being too much money in the game. 

For the second summer in a row, it’s taken the women’s game to restore hope in football and maybe beyond. It began with Hope FC, the group of female artists brought together to record this year’s England anthem ‘Call Me a Lioness‘. The name might be a nod to former England player and manager Hope Powell, but it’s surely also a manifesto for something else. On and off the pitch, there have been storylines of hope and an unshowy sort of belief that the men’s game has lost. 

It was the near–miraculous resurrection of Keira Walsh, after what we feared could be a tournament–ending knee injury, only to return slightly more than three days later to face Nigeria. It was Colombia’s Linda Caicedo, returning from cancer treatment to score a stunning goal in her team’s shock victory over Germany. 

It was players that have known the heartache of this game getting to savour its joy too. Like last summer, many of the loveliest moments have been seeing the elder stateswomen of English football watching on like the proudest big sisters from their seats in the punditry line up. Ellen White, Alex Scott and Fara Williams all tearing up when England reached the final, all of whom having experienced agonising semi–final defeats in previous World Cups.  

It was Nouhaila Benzina making history as the first player to wear a hijab in a World Cup match. There was added poignancy in her playing against France, a country whose secularism means that she would have been banned from doing so in the World Cup held on French soil four years ago. As positive representation of religion in public goes, the impact cannot be overstated; next season’s FIFA video game will also feature Benzina, the first headscarf–wearing avatar in the game’s history. Hijabi journalist Fadumo Olow providing analysis for the Sky Sports coverage without much fanfare has been an understated highlight of the tournament too. 

It was the whole Moroccan team defying predictions to be the first Arab or North African team to reach the knockout stage and erupting in joy when they realised they’d done it. It was their defender Rzia Mazrouai dropping straight to her knees, pointing to the sky, and praying in full view of the TV cameras too. I defy anyone to watch that clip and not feel more hopeful about the world than before.   

It was the world, captivated by a set of players who have never been allowed to take playing football for granted, who know that the success of their sport is hard–won. And yes, it was Alessia Russo’s right foot sealing the deal once again.  

It’s not been perfect or squeaky clean; it is still football, after all. Spain have made the final despite missing a dozen of their top players to a boycott against their manager Jorge Vilda. It would make it all the sweeter if Sarina Wiegman’s England team, led by the last female manager in the tournament, triumphed over his. 

If the hope is what goes on to kill us on Sunday, as the cliché goes, then so be it. But for now, I want to dwell in the moment with a team who have rediscovered the hope that 2023 has sorely missed. 


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 Image by Jacob Lund on Shutterstock

Hannah Rich

Hannah Rich

Hannah joined Theos in 2017. She is a senior researcher working on theology and economic inequality. She is the author of ‘A Torn Safety Net’ (2022).

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Posted 16 August 2023

football, Hope, Sport


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