When the final whistle blew on the opening day at the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022, England players, coaches and fans all let out a sigh of relief. A nervy 1-0 win over Austria hadn’t been on the cards for most fans but if one had seen the previous meeting between the two sides, a tightly contested fixture should’ve been expected.
However, I won’t focus on that as plenty of other people will write detailed recaps of this game in more eloquent terms. My focus will be on what happened after the final whistle between Beth Mead and Manuela Zinsberger, two current Arsenal players.
The Austrian goalkeeper approached Mead, who scored the sole goal of the match and proceeded to tell her “f**k you!”. Mead let out a surprised laugh but immediately knew that Zinsberger wasn’t angry at her, just mildly annoyed that it was her Arsenal teammate that had handed an opening day loss to her and her country at the tournament.
When asked about the interaction by Asif Burhan at Forbes.com, Mead was amused by the interaction. “We had a bit of fun after the game, she was a little bit annoyed I scored against her but I know her pretty well, playing with her week in, week out so I know she’s pretty good at stopping the ball around the body so going over the top was probably the best option at the time.”
That’s exactly the response one would expect when two teammates come together after a tough match against each other. No bitterness, no disharmony, just an understanding of what had transpired between the two of them.
With all the levels of pressure on football today; from corporate sponsors, from the “money men”, from ardent fans of each team, it’s easy to forget that when club teammates square off against each other at the international stage, it doesn’t have to be an acrimonious affair. Yes, when you play for your country there’s a lot at stake and you want to do your nation justice but at the end of the day, for 8-10 months of a footballer’s life, they will be in each other’s pockets every day. We shouldn’t expect them to carry whatever leftover negativity they may feel from battling it on the international level into their club season. As fans, sometimes we need to understand that this is still just a sport, players are still human beings and we need to let them enjoy what they love doing.
We don’t always get to do what we love and then do it on such a big stage in front of 68,000 plus fans so for those that get the opportunity to do so, I hope we as fans or spectators never take that ‘fun’ aspect away from them. We should all embrace the attitude that Zinsberger and Mead displayed that night. The sport will be better for it.