“A cultural moment”: what Bend It Like Beckham meant for UK women’s football | Women’s football

When Yasmin Hussain was a boy growing up in Manchester in the 1990s, he was a football fanatic. At first, she played sports with the boys, but when she turned 13, her parents told her that she needed to find a women’s team to continue. The problem was, there wasn’t one.

At the time, women’s football was a niche sport rarely represented on screen. When Bend It Like Beckham arrived in 2002 – telling the story of Jesminder and his battle to play football against his parents’ wishes – Hussain left thinking: “She’s lucky, she’s got a team to I didn’t have it. “

Twenty years later, fans are celebrating the anniversary of the revolutionary film on Tuesday and look forward to the biggest year for women’s football in the UK, as England host the Euro this summer.

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When Bend It Like Beckham came out, women’s football was not a professional sport and rarely appeared on television. This year, tickets for the Wembley final sold out in an hour.

But the film sparked a first spark for many women, and especially British Asians, who saw their own experience of wanting to play the game but struggling to find a way to reflect for the first time.

Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley in Bend It Like Beckham. Photo: Bskyb / Allstar

Since then the landscape has changed dramatically. In 2020, the Football Association said 3.4 million girls and women play football, and a 54% increase in women’s and girls ’affiliated teams since 2017. Football is now the sport. most popular among men and women in the UK.

These figures are partly due to the FA’s aggressive “growth plan” which includes the “let the girls play” campaign aimed at encouraging all schools to offer women’s football in the curriculum.

Hussain’s experience reflects the trajectory of women’s football: after giving up the game, he trained five years ago as a coach, 33 years old, reluctant to leave “the only thing that gives me joy.”

Now coach Frenford & MSA, a newly installed team of 80 female players, many of whom are from the South Asian heritage and have gone from worrying that “no one else seemed like us” to hearing “part of the family ”in their base league. east of London.

Parminder Nagra as Jess Bhamra.
Parminder Nagra as Jess Bhamra. Photo: Photo 12 / Alamy

Role models and acting are an important theme of the film, and they are the focus of a new documentary by BBC Sport to mark its anniversary. It’s a passion project for journalist Miriam Walker-Khan, who examines the film’s legacy for a generation of female athletes.

“I’ve never seen a movie about a young British woman in South Asia, let alone a sportswoman. It meant so much to me in so many ways because it was a performance I’ve never seen before or since. It’s more a cultural moment than a film for me, ”he said.

Although considerable progress has been made in women’s sports since the film was released, Walker-Khan said the stigma and stereotypes still remain with many South Asians, who are underrepresented in the Super Women’s League. There are misconceptions that traditional religious or family values ​​stand in their way or that Asians “are not good at sports because they eat curry, are too weak or too young,” he said.

Visibility has been a key driver of the sport’s rapidly growing popularity in recent years, said Stacey Pope, associate professor of sports at the University of Durham. It started in 2011, with the creation of the women’s professional Super League, and reached a turning point in 2015, when the Women’s World Cup gained wide and serious media coverage for the first time.

This created role models and inspiration for women, and helped to spread the image of the sport as a “bastion of masculinity”, which had been reinforced by a ban on women’s football that lasted until 1971. , he added.

When Bend It Like Beckham came out, women’s football was not a professional sport.
When Bend It Like Beckham came out, women’s football was not a professional sport. Photo: RONALD GRANT

Sophie Downey, who directs Girls On the Ball, which has promoted women’s football since 2012, said that in terms of the professionalization of the game, the biggest changes in recent years have been at the level of the base.

“It’s about girls who have the knowledge that they can play for fun and join, and that access wasn’t there 20 years ago,” she said.

“I think we are at the tip of the iceberg, we have the Euro this summer and this will be the biggest moment in history for sport in this country. There is a lot of room to grow, but it looks really positive at the moment.” .

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