My relationship with soccer started when I was a small child. My parents still tell the story where I apparently planted myself in front of my dad and told him that soccer was absolutely boring and useless. Could we please watch something else? (Back when we only had one TV with three channels.) My next and own memory is how we all watched the Euro 96. By then I was already so excited about soccer that 12 year old me raced home to watch all the important matches. Fast forward to a discussion in German class at what I suppose might have been the end of middle school: I argued that we were not given the opportunity to watch women’s soccer because media didn’t cover any events and we thus also didn’t know anything about it. I still remember the direct reply by a boy (yes, I even still remember who that was): There wasn’t any media coverage because nobody was interested in women’s soccer and nobody would ever be. Over the next twenty years I would watch all big soccer championships and cheer – for the Germany men’s national team.
I have only heard of the successful Germany women’s national football team for maybe a little over 10 years. I remember watching a few games over the last few years. Then the World Cup 2019 started in June. And suddenly – but not without discussion – we also watched one of the German team’s games at work. And even though Germany was eleminated in the quarter-finals, I of course live in the U.S. – and the World Cup here was far from being over. People talked about Rapinoe and her verbal exchange with Trump. About the U.S. women’s team lawsuit for equal pay – esp. considering that the U.S. is a country where the women’s soccer team is endlessly more successful than the men’s one, but they still earn much less. The last few weeks were also about soccer of course. I have never seen so many U.S. Americans watching soccer. It just isn’t the most popular sport here (yet). The U.S. team won every single game and thus the World Cup.
So I found myself on the Canyon of Heroes yesterday morning just after 9 a.m. That is the Broadway part between Battery Park and City Hall. Thousands of people lined the street in the Financial District. Mainly women and girls. Most of them wore the U.S. American colors, had painted their faces, wove flags. Choruses chanted: “USA – Equal pay.” again and again. The atmosphere was positive despite the more than 30°C in the shade. Policemen cycled by. Media teams walked by and talked to single spectators.
When the parade began at 9.30 a.m., NYC mayor de Blasio walked by as well as a marching band. Offices threw confetti out of their windows, in some cases even whole sheets of paper and toilet paper rolls. A gang of female motorcyclists participated, displaying big signs of “Equal pay”. Eventually the floats passed by with the winning team players on them and the crowd went crazy. I found Rapinoe herself a phenomenon and she just partied all the time. Other players waved the golden cup.
The crowd followed the floats to City Hall where the players were welcomed by de Blasio. Big telescreens were set up on the sidewalks, unfortunately without any sound. A big part of the crowd gathered there while a giant brigade of street sweepers started to clean Broadway from all the confetti. On screen we could see what happened in the fenced off yard in front of City Hall, so few meters away actually. Speeches were given, each player received a key to the city.
I saw little girls next to me who didn’t yet want to go home, even though their parents tried their best to convince them, esp. since we really could have heard everything much better online. The crowd erupted again and again in “USA – Equal pay!” Many stayed until the end of the whole ceremony – even though we stood in the very hot noon sun and couldn’t hear much. To pay tribute to a team that embodies so much more than only soccer.
It stands for the 21st century where women’s soccer is more and more taken for granted. Where soccer players are diverse and it becomes obvious that of course some of them are gay and that doesn’t matter. Where a women’s national team captivates the masses. Where women fight for equal pay and more and more parts of society support them because they carry out the same amount of work as men – and in this case even much more successfully. Where a team’s co-captain contradicts the president. Where little girls have female heroes.
And I went home and wondered if that boy from middle school had watched any of this year’s World Cup games.