Love’s got the world in motion (at last)

You know what, I am a little bit teary-eyed today. Not because I never got the chance and not because I wish it was me. But because these England players have fulfilled an epic and wonderful dream that even I doubted.

I absolutely love football, as most of you know. Played it, watched it, followed it, all my life. Leeds, Liverpool, England. Even a bit of Dulwich Hamlet. Five-a-side. Panini stickers. Shouting at the TV. Singing all the songs. Love’s got the world in motion. You’ve got to move and pass, but do it at the right time.

Castle Junior School football team, 1989/90 (Picture: Tempest Photography)

But when I played, aged nine to 11 – 1988-1990 – I was a cute little anomaly. My parents were gently encouraging about my passion but (for family logistics reasons) rarely watched me play. It was Nanny Connie who bought me the shiny Liverpool shorts from Knaresborough market that I craved. Also from her, I got the Shoot! and Match annuals at Christmas. I eventually persuaded my Mum to buy me John Barnes boots from Mardo on the high street. They had fixed studs (screw-ins were better) but I was still delighted. I followed the season via those funny little cardboard tabs that you move up and down the table. I had a subscription to Roy of the Rovers from Greaves’ newsagent. I was obsessed and heartbroken by England’s fortunes at Italia ’90.

But it was all just a quirky thing.

There were no girls’ teams at all. I was the only female on the boys’ team at Castle Junior School. This in itself was strange, and all thanks to Mr O’Brien who saw me kicking a ball around the playground and invited me to try out for the team. I was picked and played on the left wing (I’m left footed, which turned out to be a gift) for two seasons.

I absolutely loved it all. Tuesday night football practice, in the dark, in the rain, in the frost. The nervous thrill of Wednesday lunchtimes when Mr OB named the team. A slow, teasing process, each position chalked up on the blackboard, one by one. The trepidation, then joy, at seeing the downward stroke of D for Doble in midfield or on the wing.

Girls on side – will there ever be a female Beckham? (2013, Channel 4 News)
The secret history of women’s football (2017, BBC News) 

Then away matches on the minibus, lined up in our bottle green shirts. The moment the opponents would point me out, occasionally snigger (“they must be rubbish if they need a girl”) but mostly – hilariously – a dash of fear (“she must be amazing to have got in the team”).

Then home matches on autumn nights. Clattering back up Stockwell Lane in our boots in the falling light, all excited and chattering about the plotline to Jossy’s Giants. Home for tea, muddy and tired and still pleased about my inside run from the wing to put Nigel through on goal. My teammates – Ian, Andy, Nick, Nigel, Kevin, Darren, John, Shaun, Tim – treated me well. I honestly can’t remember any negativity once I was a regular pick. I slotted in and we all enjoyed the reaction to a girl from rival teams.

To the teammates whose names I can remember – thank you. To the others – sorry. Just one of you was mean to me, at the very start. I forgive you. I was 30 years too soon. It was the late 1980s and I realise now that it’s pretty cool – and sweet – that you made me one of your own.

To Mrs Bolton, the secondary school PE teacher who killed the dream, I’m sorry for you that you missed the chance to see the future and develop a girls’ team back in 1990. You could have started history but instead you told me on day one that “girls don’t play football” and that it was “hockey and netball for you now”. The most annoying part of this tale: I didn’t argue.

I see now that Knaresborough Town has a newly formed women’s team. What a dream that would have been. How wonderful it’s happened now. Good luck to all the players.

I didn’t mean to write this much. So thank you, England, for your amazing win. Thank you for celebrating with such carefree joy. You did it for every 11-year-old girl now, in shiny shorts, dreaming of slotting home a winner. You also did it for this girl +30 years, still chuffed with my assist in the 90th minute against Meadowside.

Viva football. All of it.

Anna Doble
1 August 2022 

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