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The other half of football

Valeria Ancione, journalist for the Corriere dello Sport and writer*, gives Acrimònia her account of the night when the women of football filled the Olympic stadium in Rome, dropping another stake. Once the time of insults and mockery was over, the women's movement took a quantum leap forward in terms of technique and spectacle. Valeria explains how. And why


On 21 March, day of Spring, of rebirth and blossoming, on the lawn of Rome's Olympic Stadium, temple of football and athletics, but also of rugby and epic concerts, hope blossomed. On a truly magical night, the Champions League football quarter-final between Roma and Barcelona was played: but there were women on the pitch. And it is not an invention, nor is it an island that isn't there, it is all true and the numbers bear witness to this: 39,454, an all-time record number of spectators for a women's football match.

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Un post condiviso da Valeria Ancione (@valeriaancione)

Exactly four years ago (on 23 March 2019), Juventus opened the 40,000-seat Stadium to the women's big match with Fiorentina, totalling 39,027 non-paying spectators. For Roma, the ticket cost between 5 and 14 euros. The difference is not so subtle. The result was the same: 1-0 for Juve, 1-0 for Barcelona. The news will inevitably bring with it an effect, but a slow and long-lasting one like everything else when it comes to women.

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Un post condiviso da ᒍOᖇGᕼE (@giopuce)

Thirty-nine thousand four hundred and fifty-four is a number that counts spectators to transcribe a record, but when it becomes a word it reveals that imagination has turned into history. In fact, behind this long word are eight years of women's struggle and affirmation in football. Eight years ago it was insults against women footballers, risings of shields, posters with the words “Respect” raised in emptiness and silence, cups delivered late and broken, threats to strike but also the beginning of revolution.

Behind that word of figures, as long as a lifetime spent waiting to be right, there is also the fact that Uefa has imposed the construction of the women's sector on the professional clubs: Fiorentina and Lazio were the first to respond in 2015, one in Serie A, the other in Serie B, then in a row the other big clubs, but not all of them. Napoli for example is still resisting the temptation. Can it afford as Italian champions not to have its women's team in A and why not in the Champions League?

So 2015 is the year of the break, the watershed between before and after. Respect for women, professionalism (obtained last year, however, only for women footballers in Serie A), equal rights, big words, claims that seemed like fantasy if not fairy tales, and instead it all became true. So much so that we have finally begun to use the feminine form of defender and goalkeeper (do they sound bad? Well, we'll get used to it, as Jannacci used to say, you need an ear, and go ahead with the referee as well), because a correct declension is worth more than an asterisk that the Crusca rejects without appeal.

In that very long word we also put the ten thousand at the Franchi in 2017, the Fiorentina-Tavagnacco scudetto match, which made such an impression, it was the first time in the modern women's Serie A, because - we should know - women in Italy have been playing football for almost a century.

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Un post condiviso da ACF Fiorentina Femminile (@acf_women)

And again, behind that almost forty thousand spectators are the return after twenty years of the national team to the World Cup, in 2019, led by a woman, Milena Bertolini, after the disappointing conduction of the handsome Antonio Cabrini, the conquest of the quarters as if it were a victory, the consecration of women's football in Italy. And again the surprise or amazement, wow they are also beautiful, because in prejudices and stereotypes football girls have big thighs, they are masculine not to say all lesbians. Instead look at that, they are not “female footballers”, are women who play football, play soccer, put on nail polish and also have the “claim” of having children.

Professionalism also serves this purpose, to protect motherhood. Because until yesterday if a woman got pregnant she was out of the pink, and the 'problem' was hers. TV has also arrived to make a difference, but in the newspapers the space remains modest and regional, let's say as much as salt, just enough or on occasion, “an event”, although evidently the last one, which event was and forever will be in a word “lapartitadell'Olimpico”, has not been considered as a social phenomenon worthy of space in major newspapers.

In that very long word there are not just numbers, but the story of a journey “in progress” just to put it internationally. The 39,454 at the Olimpico put a smile on the face of the 90,000 at the Camp Nou for the Barcelona-Real Madrid Champions League derby a year ago, it is true they did not pay. Instead, Roma filled it up quite a bit on payment, and rightly so because even women's football is a spectacle and must be paid for precisely so as not to depreciate or despise it with gratuitousness.

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Un post condiviso da Nazionale Femminile di Calcio (@azzurrefigc)

At the Stadio Olimpico, the Giallorossi's fans, albeit hiccupped and not continuous as with the boys, made the difference, in the sense that they filled the void, if anything was felt, of 20-25 thousand absentees (Mou's Roma sold out to 60-62 thousand). Whether it is too good to be true we shall see. The fairytale told over these eight years, culminating in that number, 39,454, should end with the women of Serie A playing before the men in front of full stands, in days spent inside stadiums that become Saturday and Sunday homes, where people enjoy the spectacle and stay in peace and harmony, families with young children, lovers, friends, brothers.

This was also there on the magic night at the Olimpico, joy and brotherhood, no violent cheering, insults, racism and homophobia, just love for football. My son, a Curva Sud fan, sighed at the end of the match “very good, I am proud”, and there I thought that even a Romanista these days can be happy watching Roma.

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Un post condiviso da Angela Martinori (@angela79martin)

21 March 2023 was the day of a new beginning, not a finishing line but a starting point, as they say about professionalism. On the first day of Spring a hope blossomed during a football match, a football in colour, don't call it pink please, let's water this hope so that it grows. After all, there is no going back.

* Inovels published by Valeria Ancione: 2015 “La dittatura dell’inverno”, 2019 “Volevo essere Maradona”, 2022 “Il resto di Sara”.
Image Valeria Ancione