Book Review: The Making of the Women’s World Cup – Defining stories from a sport’s coming of age by Kieran Theivam and Jeff Kassouf
With all eyes on France this summer for the eighth FIFA Women’s World Cup, Kieran Theivam and Jeff Kassouf’s The Making of the Women’s World Cup is a timely and welcome read, reminding us of the unfairly stunted history of the women’s tournament, how far it has come in its officially short-lived existence and how far it still has to go if parity with the men’s game is ever to be achieved. But the overriding message that leaps from the pages of this book is of the incredible people – both female and male, on and off the pitch – who have fought every step of the way to raise the profile and quality of the women’s game and continue to do so. This book itself is part of that process and its authors and publishers deserve great credit for their contribution.
In ten insightful chapters, the book takes the reader through some of the most defining moments in the history of the Women’s World Cup – the first chapter, which looks at the competition’s early years, a shocking reminder that the women’s format is only its second decade – having been introduced, albeit in a watered-down version, in 1991 – some nearly sixty years after the men’s inaugural tournament in 1930. Viewed in these terms, the success of the women’s game is even more impressive – and begs the question of quite where it will be in another two decades. Indeed, the stories in this book show the incredible leaps women’s football has made in such a short period in everything from training and talent development to nutrition and spectators. Some of the anecdotes that are told by those who have been involved throughout the tournament’s development are genuinely astonishing, but sadly all too real. That many prodigious female footballers did not have the opportunity to be involved in a World Cup prior to its emergence in 1991 is surely one of the most poignant takeaways from this book – all the more reason to celebrate and promote the tournament today.
With the book beginning at the start of the World Cup journey, I had anticipated a chronological development to the chapters, but the structure takes a more thematic approach, focusing on some of the key players, individuals and teams who have defined the various stages of the game’s development. The main guard are well and truly covered – with chapters dedicated to the US, English, Japanese and German teams, as well as figures including Marta, Kelly Smith and Carli Lloyd. Other chapters focus on lesser-known histories including that of the Matildas – the Australian women’s football team – and the inspirational Japanese side of 2011, and the book is peppered with the names of a vast array of coaches and players who have similarly contributed to the game’s history.
I did feel, though, that the book is somewhat US-centric. Of course, given America’s unprecedented success – they are the only country to have won the tournament three times, prior to the 2019 competition – and the way they have arguably been at the forefront of the female game, this is somewhat understandable. However, it made other nations, such as, in particular, Sweden and Norway, all the more conspicuous by their absence, and indeed it would have also been nice to hear the stories of the less-dominant teams, who perhaps have had an even bigger struggle just to develop a women’s team, let alone qualify for or compete at a World Cup. Certainly, on the back of the current competition, there would, for example, be an argument for including the stories of Chile, Jamaica, Scotland and South Africa – all of whom make their World Cup debuts this year. But if there is one thing that this book underlines it is the continual drive and ambition of the women’s game – so whilst it marks the starting point of the journey, there is very clearly a lot more history yet to come, and Theivam and Kassouf have merely begun the conversation.