It’s been three months, and many of us are still missing the 2019 Women’s World Cup. We were disappointed by the commentary and the hot sexist media takes and reminded of disparities in federations’ support for teams, but at the same time the Cup gave us reason to celebrate safe spaces in which queer joy can be on display, left us dazzled by the pink and purple hair, and of course amazed us with its broken records. While we can follow these players in various leagues—such as Liga MX Femenil, NWSL, WSL, and W-League—at various times throughout the year, there is something special about massive tournaments. So special we even composed poetry about the 2019 World Cup. No wonder we’re still missing the wonder of the World Cup.
Yet while we celebrated, we had to deal with regrettably predictable storylines throughout the tournament: the double standard of goal celebration criticisms, jersey sales in the USA setting records despite the supply being surprisingly limited, and racist comments by coaches against Cameroon. Since the tournament, there’s been commentary on how the recent record-breaking attendances at women’s games are due to low-priced or free tickets, while England is still debating whether it’s better to charge a (albeit low) fee, or give away tickets for matches in larger stadiums. Regardless, it’s clear that women’s attendances remain lower than the men’s, and anyone who’s tried to start a conversation about exactly why that is on social media is well aware that many are prepared to argue—often via misspelled vitriolic tweets—that the women’s game just isn’t a viable product. In fact, from the differences spotted between the 2018 Men’s World Cup and the 2019 Women’s World Cup, it would seem FIFA and the national federations might believe the same.
So just like last year, Unusual Efforts is taking the chance to fight back. For the Women’s World Cup, we aim to show that beauty is not just about women being the object of fetishism or fantasies—beauty can be goals, behaviors, statements, or complete chaos (although, let’s face it, some of us do appreciate their aesthetics—it’s just that those who aren’t men are less likely to reduce these athletes down to their looks alone). We asked #Effortistas—some who were in France, some who weren’t—to describe what they believed to be the most beautiful moments of the 2019 World Cup. When women and non-binary persons are given the opportunity to fully participate in soccer, the commentary surrounding it is wholly unique.
Argentina just getting to France
Given the Asociación del Fútbol Argentino cared little about fielding a women’s national team—they played not a single match between 2015-2017—it’s no surprise Google still attempts to autofill “national volleyball team” after “Argentina women’s.” Yet a number of outlets were on the ball when it came to showing just how unfairly the AFA treated women.
Knowing everything this team has persevered through to get to this point, seeing them get their first point in the World Cup was fantastic. Their unbridled joy was a great moment to remember that football is so much more than a final score.
Submitted by @themegansmith
Unfortunately, those who were brave enough to speak up about the need for the AFA to change found themselves cut from the national team without so much as a phone call. It’s yet another reminder of the work that still needs to be done.
The Italian women
After a few years of (a few) clubs on the peninsula taking the women’s game seriously, Italy qualified for their first World Cup in two decades. They made it to the quarter-finals, and gave people hope that the country would continue to grow the sport. Manuela Giugliano, in particular, quickly became a favorite of supporters, neutrals, and even those cheering the opposing teams.
Everyone felt in love with Manuela Giuliano game, hair and winks while the national Italian hymn: https://t.co/ozvYYvoVHV
— Honey Pomelo (@moltofre) July 7, 2019
Submitted by @moltofre
Grass, grass, and more grass
Hey, remember the bickering surrounding the 2015 World Cup and its use of turf? Yeah, we’d prefer not to be reminded of it either.
My bar is maybe a bit low here but the grass. Seeing players get the beautiful pitches they deserve after the last go-around was refreshing.
— Emily Anderson (@EmCAnderson) July 8, 2019
Submitted by @EmCAnderson
While we’ve already noted that the tournament was a rare moment in which queer joy could be expressed, it went beyond that, with the stadiums filled people of various ages and genders…and not all were there just to back the strongest team at the 2019 World Cup.
Parc des Princes stadium in Paris absolutely jammed with men, boys, women and girls cheering for France. Never been in a women’s game where US fans didn’t outnumber the opponents’ supporters.
— Mary Beth Hastings (@MBHastings94) July 6, 2019
Submitted by @MBHastings94
Off-pitch for me, my niece & nephew being excited about teams that were not America (ScotlandvArgentina). On pitch, basically every save Endler made against Sweden & the USA. pic.twitter.com/TtcwTfIYBi
— jennifer (@twbird18) July 7, 2019
Submitted by @twbird18
The amazing goals
Truly, we should’ve done a post on the tournament’s most incredible goals (and we’re willing to post one still, even after the fact) simply to celebrate how incredible these women are. Fans voted Cristiane’s goal that gave Brazil a 2-0 lead over Australia the best of the tournament, despite Australia snatching the win at the last minute (is there a separate award for best comeback?). Meanwhile, England fullback Lucy Bronze rightfully won the Silver Ball award, always a surprise for a more defensive player; her brilliant goal against Norway in the quarterfinals likely helped her catch the judges’ eyes.
Lucy Bronze’s goal from the top of the box. Probably my single favorite strike of the tournament.
— Nicole Haase (@NicoleHaase) July 7, 2019
Submitted by @NicoleHaase
We saw incredible keeping, from Japan’s Ayaka Yamashita against England to Chiamaka Nnadozie protecting Nigeria’s goal against South Korea’s attack. The keepers broke records and impressed the crowds, even as they battled against VAR scrutinizing their moves.
The spotlight on the keepers from these teams who had to claw, beg, & lawsuit their way to the WWC. Jamaica, Argentina, Italy, Cameroon, Nigeria, Chile, etc: all their keepers, many young and untested, really stepped up to the challenge and were the story of the tourney for me.
— ????2023 (@HJHaldanePhD) July 6, 2019
Submitted by @HJHaldanePhD
Marta and her lipstick
Seeing Marta break the World Cup goal record against Italy was phenomenal as a fan of football. Being alive to witness Brazil’s all-time goalscorer dominate for multiple World Cup cycles has been an honor. Even more, seeing her wear dark, red lipstick showed that women don’t have to check their femininity at the door when playing. And that badass women are still making statements in every way they can.
The legend herself explained, “I always wear lipstick. Not that colour, but today I said ‘I’m going to dare’…The colour is of blood, because we had to leave blood on the pitch.”
Submitted by @themegansmith
Christen and her tribute
The US forward was devastated when she missed her penalty at the 2016 Olympics, sending the United States out of the tournament. But no #DogsForChristen hashtag could cheer her after her mom passed away in January 2019. Knowing that she’d lost her mom, just 58 years old, to a brain aneurysm earlier that year made her celebration after scoring against England all that more poignant to watch.
Press scoring and then looking up to the sky for her mom was pretty beautiful to see pic.twitter.com/JnJ297ACGK
— mia (@MiaTheMost) July 8, 2019
Submitted by @MiaTheMost
While this tweet may simply be a bit of snark directed at the Netherlands defeating Sweden in the semifinal—or composed by one of the many who felt it wouldn’t necessarily be A Good Thing if the USWNT won another tournament—we often saw players at the World Cup going out of their way to comfort the opposition, from Alex Morgan hugging Miranda Nild after the US put 13 past Thailand, to Shanice van de Sanden comforting Swedes after Jackie Groenen’s goal in added extra time put the Oranje through. It’s likely the Netherlands themselves took some consoling after the final, but many of us were too busy worshiping at the Pinoe altar to notice.
Clearly, van de Sanden’s consoling defeated opponents! Which I hope to see more of Sunday ?
— Shona Black (@shona_black) July 5, 2019
Submitted by @shona_black
What’s more, it wasn’t just the women on the pitch who were willing to comfort, to embrace, to get physical with one another. We don’t always remember that women publicly displaying emotion can be construed as a political act—a not-insignificant reminder of the presence of women, and the fact that they’re not willing to hide themselves. In particular, at this tournament we saw more manifestations of many of the women’s true selves—it wasn’t just Pinoe who was ready to stand up and be proud of her queer identity.
I also appreciate how openly gay many of the players are at this #fifawwc
It feels really significant this year. The players seem more assured, confident & vocal than before. Not just Megan Rapinoe.
This feels like a bigger wave & as the kids these days say “I’m here for it!”
— stephanie~pixie ?️? (@mariposapixie) July 7, 2019
Submitted by @mariposapixie
Many of the usual suspects turned up at the 2019 World Cup, and it’s unlikely that we’ll see many of them play a starring role in 2023. But rather than be sad at who we’ll see stepping aside, we want to celebrate the fact we saw these veterans give us moments of greatness in France.
Marta. Carli Lloyd. Formiga. Elyse Bussaglia. Onome Ebi. Lena Goessling. Hedvig Lindhal. Christine Sinclair. The conversation is usually about the up and coming, the future, the youngsters, but the veterans were all over this World Cup, making their experience and their presence count. Megan Rapinoe celebrated her 33rd birthday with a goal—and a trophy. It’s a necessary reminder that beauty comes at all ages, in all bodies.
Submitted by @JessieLosch
Three months after and with more than three years to wait until the women return to the world stage (and more than six months until we can even find out where we’re flying with the pocket change we’ve already started collecting), we’re both missing the glory that is the World Cup, and doing our best to dive deeper into what we know about the women’s game. While we will maintain our policy that Unusual Efforts is a place to write about all genders participating in football, our promise to you is that we will make every effort to lift up more stories that aren’t centered around men, and to help both the newcomers and the veterans learn to love every aspect of the beautiful game.