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David Randall: The Emperor's New Clothes (05/08/12)

Women's football has been mocked for years. But this is one game in which men are outplayed

Women's football? Women's FOOTBALL? You mean women, playing football? It'd be like men's embroidery. Or an OAPs' relay race. Or synchronised sitting still. Who'd want to watch that? Well, me for one, irrespective of whether GB are up (beating Brazil), or down (and out).

It's, firstly, all the things it is not. Its players are not paid £180,000 a week – our top performer, Steph Houghton, earns less than a tenth of that in an entire year. And they try! They actually look as if they enjoy playing – as opposed to the men who, despite their absurd rewards, all too often give the impression that the game is an arduous penance they have to endure before going out for a night's drinking and groupie-assaulting. Neither, it seems, do the women yell schoolyard effing and blinding abuse at each other, or borrow each other's spouses for the afternoon.

Nor do they cheat, as the men routinely do. Diving, sneaky handballs, and shirt-tugging are at a minimum. The game's played at a sensible pace, which gives skill a chance; and even the commentaries seem better, the inanity and cliché quotient kept well below the dismal Hansen/Shearer/Lawrenson level.

So, what took it so long to hit the big time? Well, thereby hangs a tale. During the Great War, with men's football suspended, the women's game began to take off. The dominant team, as it would be for decades, was a factory side from Preston called the Dick, Kerr Ladies XI. They were virtually unbeatable, had triumphant overseas tours, and attracted vast crowds and raised the modern equivalent of millions for charity. In 1920, when they played at Everton's Goodison Park, 53,000 paid to see them, with 14,000 more locked out. This gate was some 15,000 larger than the biggest crowd at any men's league match that year, so the blazer wearers of the Football Association decided to ban women's football, its council declaring: "The game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged."

It was with no little difficulty that women of the calibre of Hope Powell, Team GB manager, have forced the women's game back into prominence. The very best of luck to them.