Shirt’s off, football: Chloe Kelly and England ram through women’s football myths just like Chastain and USA did

It didn’t take long for American Brandi Chastain to connect the dots between 1999 and 2022. The visual of her celebrating a World Cup-winning penalty from 23 years ago, pulling off the American top, donning a black Nike sports bra and ridiculously ripped abs and screaming in front of a record crowd of 90,185 at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium seems surreal to this day. A photo that was later described by The New York Times as the “most iconic photo ever taken of a female athlete.”

“When that moment happened, the celebration happened organically,” she shared with Just Women’s Sports, revisiting the moment just days ago. “The stadium was exploding with lights and sounds, and the team, hugs and laughter. Every emotion you can imagine was building up in that moment, happening…everything changed.

And so, when Chloe Kelly took off her England shirt on Sunday after scoring the eventual decider in the Euro 2022 final in front of another record-breaking crowd under the Wembley arch, Chastain only had to tweet out loud.

“I see you @Chloe_Kelly98 well done. Enjoy free rounds of pints and dinners for the rest of your life from all over England. Cheers!”

At the time, Chastain’s impromptu decision was also lambasted by many. Kelly followed suit in 2022 seems to have put those opinions to rest.

While the former USA player may have inspired girls around the world to get into the sport and be themselves, it was time for her to feel inspired, after hanging up her boots 18 years ago . 54 minutes after her first tweet, she posted another.

Chastain and her team’s exploits at the 1999 World Cup helped shape not only the future of women’s soccer in the United States, but also how women in sport were portrayed and viewed.

During the Euro 2022 final, Kelly and her teammates played their part in unraveling a few more perceptions. Those who praised them for playing ‘good’ football, diving less and not wasting time, were all left watching the Lionesses vehemently smash into the many myths of women in football.

An extended shirtless celebration that involved a yellow card booking. Check. Snooping on a note sent by the opposition manager. Check. Dribbling into the opposing corner, constantly watching for throw-ins and corners, and taking up to 26 seconds to agree with them to defend the lead for the final nine minutes. Check. If it was crap. It was all football. Just like those of men.

This is a team that has scored 106 goals in its last 20 games and gone unbeaten. The same team that turned every page in football’s dark arts book to defend one. Because, why not?

Kelly’s celebration was at the very heart of a team showing that they could play and express themselves however they wanted. Just like Chastain and co. had in 1999.

Why did Chastain take her shirt off?

Chastain’s move had a bit of personal history between her and Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong, who had ‘sent her off’ in a previous unsuccessful penalty earlier in the same year. “She got into my head and as I approached the ball. I was thinking more about her than what to do,” she told the BBC.

Chastain usually prefers her right foot for shots on goal but her coach Tony DiCicco had urged her to use the left this time, wary of opposition scouts in training. Chastain had never taken a left-footed penalty in a competitive game before that fateful night. She wasn’t even supposed to take that kick; she was placed for sixth, in case the score remained tied, but was knocked down at the last moment.

“I took that shirt off and kind of whipped it in the air above my head and fell to my knees saying ‘Yes! when we had done what we had planned to do,” she told the BBC. “I had no idea what my reaction would be – it was really genuine and it was crazy and it was relief and it was joy and it was gratitude all rolled into one.”

A beautiful postscript presented itself almost a decade after the goal. Among many photographs, Sports Illustrated’s shot by photographer Robert Beck was considered the most significant, because unlike others, he had the front shot. And so, when Beck showed up to her after years as the man who took this photo, Chastain erupted. She jumped on top of him, arms and legs around him, screaming – and he remembers almost crying.

“She looks at me and says, ‘You don’t understand the impact this has had on hundreds of thousands of girls in our country, let alone the rest of the world,'” Beck told a documentary series. Amazon and Starbucks This is football. “I had not noticed it.”

change society

Here and now, winning their first major football title on home soil has all the potential to transform the future of women’s football in England in a way worthy of USA in 1999, if not better. However, normalizing all their deeds in the final ten minutes of a major final as something women can and will do in football has the potential to be their greatest legacy.

Imagine the horror of those in the English FA who banned women from playing on their ground for over 50 years in 1921 if a time traveler carried a screen to show them the scenes that would unfold a century later. On a field considered the cradle of football in the country. Imagine the horror of those who condemned Brandi Chastain at the turn of the century. The shirt is off and there is no turning back.

England coach Sarina Wiegman summed it up with her final words at the final press conference: “We have changed society today.”

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