Graham Ruthven: English media have done a disservice to the Lionesses

Will they ever learn?


Nobody likes a winning team. Not a team that wins everything, anyway.

Think of the way Manchester United became the most hated team in the country through the 1990s and early 2000s. Jose Mourinho’s first Chelsea team weren’t too popular either.

It’s therefore not too surprising that the USA have been cast as the villains at this summer’s Women’s World Cup.

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They are, after all, the defending champions, the red hot favourites and the most successful country in the tournament’s history. One headline accused the USA of “arrogance” ahead of their semi-final clash with England.

Another pundit took exception to Alex Morgan’s tea-sipping goal celebration in that semi-final, calling it “distasteful.” “We love our tea in England,” added Lianne Sanderson barely managing to hold the sulkiness back.

Maybe it should be taken as a sign of just how far the women’s game has come. This was the sort of orchestrated scorn often reserved for icons of men’s football.

But, a lot of it left a nasty aftertaste.

The English media, just as they have done during many major tournaments in the past, did themselves a disservice.

The lack of self-awareness in some of the coverage has been remarkable. Take the accusation that the USA have displayed a grotesque level of smugness throughout the competition.

Did nobody see the irony in the English press, the same English press guilty of building up their national team for a fall every two years, using overconfidence as a stick to beat another country with?

Did nobody stop to think how patronising some of the reaction to Cameroon’s behaviour in England’s last 16 win would come across?

Of course, much of this was based on the questionable comments made by Phil Neville after the match, but critical thought seemed beyond sections of the media as they echoed the sanctimonious hypocrisy of the Lionesses head coach.

We should be used to this sort of thing by now. There is just something about international tournaments that causes certain sections of the English media to short-circuit.

Even at the 2018 World Cup, when there was a healthier understanding between the England team and the media, there was an overblown scandal over the publishing of a tactics sheet at an open training session. This prompted the same sort of faux outrage that was witnessed at various stages of the Women’s World Cup.

Remember the reaction to the USA running up the scoreline and celebrating each and every one of their 13 goals against Thailand? This is where the United States of Arrogance tagline was first applied.

Sure, there was weight to the argument the USA, a team of superstars, might have shown a touch more humility as they hit double figures against a team of semi-professionals and amateurs, but did their conduct really warrant such hand-wringing?

Some seem confused over the media’s role in covering England at a major tournament. Many believe they should act as cheerleaders for the national team – see those who argued against the publishing of the aforementioned tactics sheet on the basis it would harm Gareth Southgate’s team’s chances.

Others, more pragmatically, see the media as a medium of record. It is not their job to cheerlead, but to record and hold public figures accountable when it is required. How do the accusations of arrogance towards the US or the problematic barbs angled at Cameroon at this Women’s World Cup square with that?

England return home having played their part in a landmark tournament.

The true significance of this Women’s World Cup might not be felt for years, but the sense is that barriers have been broken and ceilings have been smashed through.

But sadly, striking a mainstream chord comes with the sort of mainstream bluster that has dogged England at men’s World Cups and Euros for decades. This tournament was no different.

USA favourites to win the Women’s World Cup

What do you think?