Book Review: The Homecoming: The Lionesses and Beyond (Football Shorts) by Jane Purdon
Football Shorts are a series of books created in a collaboration between award-winning journalist and author Ian Ridley’s own publishing company Floodlit Dreams and renowned sports book publisher, Pitch Publishing. Ridley details in the Notes and Acknowledgments of the first in the series, Pantomime Hero: Memories of the Man Who Lifted Leeds United After Brian Clough, that the inspiration came about during lockdown and his desire for a short sporting read.
The intention is that there are to be three books in 2023, with the first, Pantomime Hero: Memories of the Man Who Lifted Leeds United After Brian Clough by Ridley (January 2023), the second (reviewed here) The Homecoming: The Lionesses and Beyond, from Jane Purdon who has extensive experience in sports administration and football in particular, and finally from comedian and writer Andy Hamilton with Blue was the Colour due for release in September 2023.
The Homecoming as with Ian Ridley’s Pantomime Hero is a heartfelt and personal story and not a single word is wasted in the 160 pages.
And within the five chapters the story unfolds not only about Jane Purdon’s association and love for the beautiful game, but about the reclaiming of football in this country with the Lionesses triumph in the European Championship Finals of 2022 and her hopes going forward as we sit just a short time away from the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. A real past, present and future debate, reflection and journey.
The book opens on the eve of the European Final back in July 2022. Purdon finds herself on a bench near home to calm her mind as she tries to comprehend what the Lionesses had achieved in reaching a sold-out Wembley and the prospect of them lifting the title against Germany. As a reader you can feel the summer heat drift you into Purdon’s sub-conscious as she describes her early years in becoming a fan at Sunderland, her years at Cambridge University attempting to get women’s football off the ground and significant and subsequent career in sport. A journey which has seen Purdon become secretary of her beloved Sunderland and roles within major bodies such as the Premier League, UK Sport, Women in Football and most recently Premiership Rugby.
The opening chapter also contains an excerpt from an article Jane wrote for the football publication When Saturday Come in November 1992 which said:
The real issue is to get women’s football properly publicised, funded and appreciated. The England women’s team winning the European Championship – now that is not a fairytale, it could just happen.
Chapter two then jumps 30 years from that quote and is Purdon’s personal telling of the European Championship tournament taking readers through the group games and up to the last four clash for the Lionesses against Sweden. As a reader and somebody who was able to get to watch group games over in Rotherham and the Semi-Final in Sheffield between England and Sweden, the magic, the emotion and pure joy of that month is beautifully captured by Purdon. To be at Bramall Lane that night felt like a privilege and was as engaging, emotional and dramatic game as any I’ve had watching football in the last 50 years.
So with the Final now booked against Germany, Chapter three focuses on that crazy yet wonderful afternoon when the Lionesses achieved what the men’s team couldn’t a year earlier and claimed the title of European Champions. And whilst yes, this book is full of the emotion and celebration of that occasion, Purdon always has an eye throughout the book on making serious points. One such relates to the crowd and behaviour at that men’s Final and the disgraceful events prior to the game that shamed the game and the contrast with that for the women’s event. Further, the win wasn’t just for Head Coach Sarina Wiegman and her wonderful squad, it was about all those that had gone before as pioneers of the game and the reclaiming of football 100 years after The FA’s ban which stated: the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.
Chapter four focuses on the euphoria post-victory and includes the friendly against the USA, the powerhouses of Women’s football. However, it was played against a backdrop of anger and revulsion. The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) had published an independent report which highlighted systematic abuse and sexual misconduct against players, with the finger pointing at those in charge for failure to have proper safeguarding and even more outrageously, seemingly turning a blind eye to the abuse.
The final chapter looks at the future of the women’s game and makes some significant points that whilst the Euros win has been hugely beneficial there are many issues out there. And that’s where this book is also a winner in raising these things. Take for instance the recent spate of ACL injuries that have seen players such as Leah Williamson, Lionesses captain, miss out on the forthcoming World Cup – what has caused these, where is the research? Also, (and I was genuinely amazed) Purdon highlights the limited options for women’s football boots. And boots is where the story ends, as Purdon reclaims the game for herself buying her second ever pair after taking up playing again in September 2022.
As with the first book in the series, Jane Purdon has proved that ‘good things come in small packages’, with this second offering from Football Shorts, hitting the mark in being not only a joyous celebration of that balmy month in July 2022, but a genuine debate about the women’s game.
(Publisher: Football Shorts. May 2023. Paperback: 160 pages)
Buy the book here: The Homecoming