Aged just 17 when she broke the Siege of Orléans in 1429, it is little wonder that Joan of Arc has come to be known as the Norman Whiteside of The Hundred Years War.
And such was the fortitude shown by Boudicca when she stepped out against the invading Romans AD60, turning defence into attack with such devastating effect, that few could deem her unworthy of the title bestowed on her in Simon Schama’s imminent biography: Baresi of the Iceni.
As watchers of the Women’s World Cup will know, there is no higher praise that can be lavished upon womankind than to be favourably compared to their male counterparts. There’s a reason Margaret Thatcher still gets called the Grantham Souness – bringing Liverpool to its knees is not an easy job.
When Colombia’s Daniela Montoya crashed in a 25-yard, rocket-propelled grenade of a strike off the underside of the crossbar against Mexico, it took the football watchers, commentators and writers of the world about two seconds to christen her the James Rodriguez of the Women’s World Cup. Her goal, after all, bears a passing resemblance to his thunderous volley in the Maracana last summer that was declared the Goal of the Tournament. There is now even a mash-up of “hers and his” goals to be found on the BBC website.
It is a pity cameras haven’t been allowed into the women’s dressing rooms in Canada, forcing us merely to imagine the furious playground-style rows that must erupt, in the moments pre-kick off, over who gets to “be Rooney”, and who ends up red-faced and teary-eyed, the reluctant Phil Jagielka.
For those of us whose job it is to describe a minor sport, to put it into some sort of context, this metaphor is the safest place to retreat. At every Olympics it is commonplace to hear some water polo player or other described as “Team GB’s Wayne Rooney”. Someone else, inevitably, will be “the Lionel Messi of Wheelchair Rugby”.
But football is not a minor sport. It is very well understood. No context nor explanation is required. If Daniela Montoya scores a terrific goal, then well done her. It is little wonder that England striker Eniola Aluko has politely described this incessant urge to compare the women with the men as “a bit uneducated, really”.
Of course, the women long for the great sunlit uplands of parity with the men’s game, where they too can be publicly shamed for inhaling nitrous oxide, get arrested for drink-driving and have their racist, sex tourist iPhone gangbangs sold to the tabloids by their mates. That longing is shared, to an extent, by those parts of the media that are properly covering this tournament.
But the most helpful thing that can be done is to judge it on its own terms. Those few sports in which women achieve something close to equality with men, like tennis or athletics, have grown in parallel, their competitions running side by side. Martina Navratilova was never called the John McEnroe of tennis (primarily because she was better). Jessica Ennis-Hill is not the Bruce Jenner of the heptathlon, though that one we admit is confusing. One was never dragged into the daylight by association with the other. It won’t work. There’s no point trying.
Football, of course, is king. That is why, in the case of Ennis-Hill, one of the more curious rewards for being the immaculate hero of her nation at its finest hour, was to have a stand at a third-tier football club named after her, even if the sign bearing her name was taken down earlier this week and replaced by the logo of a local estate agents. Whatever great heights Sheffield United’s rotundamorph midfield hero Jose Baxter scales in what remains of his career, it is doubtful it will prompt anyone to christen a long jump pit in his honour.
There are still two weeks of this World Cup to run. The matches have, for the most part, been closely fought. There have been a few Davids doing a job on Goliath, and there’s plenty left to enjoy. From now to the end, let’s let Montoya just be Montoya.Reuse content