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Foreigners are often baffled by American sports. American football looks to many like a more strategic, body-armored version of rugby, and the whole idea of a “World Series” for baseball is considered absurd when hardly any other countries play it.
Everyone had been waiting for Americans to wake up to the beauty of football, a sport they can’t even seem to get the name of right, when the US women’s “soccer” team seized the spotlight, qualified for the World Cup, and won the tournament in 1991, 1999, 2015, and 2019.
So let’s all acknowledge that football — real football, fútbol, Fußball, footie (that is, soccer) — is the true international sport, proudly invented by the English, who embarrassingly haven’t won a major tournament since their World Cup win against West Germany back in 1966.
Until this year, that is. Just this past July the Women’s England team, affectionately known as the Lionesses, brought home the European Cup — a major event that matched the excitement of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (though not quite the international interest of the queen’s death a couple of months later).
I’m not a sports fanatic, but I’ve become a fan of the English women’s team and found myself following their progress through the European championship, watching the final against Germany with friends and family in a farmhouse in Norfolk, about three hours northeast of London. They won that match 2-1 at Wembley, and it was a riveting watch.
When I noticed that the England–US friendly would occur on October 7, when I was visiting Paris, I scoped around for a suitable venue to watch it, and thought I’d found it at an English sports pub near the flat called The Long Hop.
When it comes to an England-US face-off, I’m a servant of two masters, because I’m an American born in the US, but living in England with an English family. My loyalties are slightly tipped in England’s favor, especially after the US team’s unsporting behavior on their last match-up, goading the English with mimed tea-drinking gestures.
Small-bore harassment, I admit, in a game that can bring intended serious physical harm or a staged injury to win an unearned penalty kick. But still, the England team had been playing with the best of manners and the finest of tactical finesse, as well as true style.
When Alessia Russo scored a goal backwards in the match against Sweden — she actually had to turn around to see if it’d gone in — it was celebrated in England as an “impudent strike,” a “cheeky little backfoot goal,” and “pure filth” (the ultimate compliment).
The English can only marvel at how Title IX, decreeing that government-funded institutions could not discriminate on the basis of sex, has financed women’s sports in the US. The women’s clubs in England have had to make do with a fraction of the money spent on their male counterparts, which has made the success of the Lionesses such a great story.
In Paris, as it turned out, the match held less interest than I was expecting, as The Long Hop had decided not to show it after all. But some friends found the Great Canadian Pub on the Left Bank (a “lively brick-lined haunt featuring classic Canadian comfort food,” according to their website) that agreed to put it on a single monitor at the back of the café — maybe the only bar in Paris offering it. And even then, it took a staff member 20 minutes to finally locate the game on Fox Sports.
It had been a disruptive week for the US team, as the release of the Sally Yates report, detailing systemic emotional and sexual abuse in US women’s soccer, had overshadowed the match itself. But it was designed as a healing evening, as players from both teams wore teal armbands, and the Wembley arch was lit to represent the campaign against sexual violence. All the players stood beneath a “Protect the Players” banner before kickoff.
When the match began, it was clear England were determined to dominate the World champions, and in fact England scored their first goal just 10 minutes in.
But it was a good match, with the Lionesses dominating much early play before the US found their feet and returned fire. The score was 2-2 before half time, until a fractional offside US goal was disqualified, which put them on the back foot, and they never recovered. In the end England won 2-1.
As a friendly game it didn’t alter any league tables, but it clearly pleased the home crowd at Wembley (when tickets had gone on sale in July, the match had sold out in 24 hours). It was only the third time England had beaten the US team in 19 matches.
No one else in the pub had taken much notice, and we were constantly asking people to step out of our view of the screen. But for the small party in the back of the establishment, it was an international event, with four Americans watching a US-England match in a Canadian pub in Paris.
J.B. Miller is an American writer living in England.