Things ain’t what they used to be: Come out to play

Things ain’t what they used to be: Come out to play

CHAMPIONS: Queen Letizia holds the newly-won World Cup accompanied by her daughter, the Infanta Sofia and the Women’s Football team Photo credit: Casa Real

AS La Roja battled and defeated the Lionesses in Sydney on August 20 I recalled that girls didn’t play football in Spain half a century ago.

Come to that, they didn’t in the UK, either.  Or did they?

Google reveals that the Women’s FA was formed in the UK in 1969, with Southampton beating Stewarton and Thistle 4-1 in the first Women’s cup final in 1971.

In Spain, women’s teams and informal competitions became popular in the 1970s but weren’t officially recognised by Spain’s Royal Football Association until 1980.

It’s obvious that women were playing football to generalised indifference for some time in both countries, but in a non-sporting context you didn’t see little girls kicking balls around in Spanish streets when I first lived here.

According to my husband, there were games that girls just didn’t, couldn’t play when he was growing up.

Leapfrog was proscribed, as those splayed legs gave entirely the wrong idea, and the fivestones played British girls were similarly barred because this involved sitting on the ground and possibly revealing what was best kept concealed.

Boys played fivestones instead, as well as knucklebones.  This game, my husband assured me, was still played  the same way that the Romans played it and all I can say is that a very boring time must have been had by all two thousand years ago.

Little girls mainly appeared to play with dolls.  From what I see in the small inland city where I now live, many still do.  It’s common to see a young mother pushing a pram and, beside her, a mini-me version  pushing a doll’s pram, in a setup unquestioned and enjoyed by both.

Back in the mid-70s my daughter, around five at the time, acquired while out shopping a carpentry set, something she had  been nagging me to buy for some time.  When we stopped at the Estanco for the cigarettes no-one was ashamed to buy or smoke half a century ago, she showed it to the man – a young man incidentally – who always served us.

“Look what I’ve got!” she boasted.  “There’s a saw and a hammer and everything.”

He looked amazed and laughed: “But little girls don’t play with things like that,” he told her.

As it it happened, she never did take to carpentry. Hammering in nails and sawing pieces of wood without an end product in sight was fun only for a limited space of time and the tools were eventually put aside and forgotten.  In hindsight I can also see that today’s risk-averse mothers in Spain as well as the UK would never  let a five-year-old loose with a saw, hammers and nails.

When our daughter started at a coeducational school that year, rigid gender assignation was very gradually changing, helped by the fact that girls were not segregated from boys in the classroom, at breaktime or in the dining room.

At my request, her English grandmother brought out fivestones which met the same fate as the carpentry set although she was keener on leapfrog which was no longer vetoed.

“But we didn’t play football, or want to,” she tells me now.

That’s the difference.  The little girls I see here with their doll’s prams might have their future roles as wives and mothers  mapped out for them, but no-one will stop them from becoming footballers and winning the World Cup if that’s what they want.

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Written by

Linda Hall

Originally from the UK, Linda is based in Valenca and is a reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering local news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at