The Dutch women’s football team – known as the Lionesses – are taking part in the World Cup for the very first time. The event kicks off on Saturday and to get you in the mood, here’s the lowdown on women’s football in the Netherlands.
1 The Dutch took part in the first ever Fifa-recognised women’s international back in 1971 but have lagged behind since then. Oranje secured a place in the World Cup for the first time after beating Italy 3-2 on aggregate in the play-offs.
2 The Lionesses start their campaign on June 6 when they take on New Zealand in their first Group A match. On June 11 the Dutch will play China, and on June 15 they will be doing battle with host Canada. Both Canada and New Zealand were eliminated in the group stage in the 2011 World Cup. China, like the Netherlands, failed to qualify at all.
3 The Dutch not so secret weapon is 18 year-old Bayern Munich player Vivienne Miedema who is possessed of an intimidating coolness when it comes to scoring. She secured the Dutch win in the under-19s European Championships and her three goals in the final play-off game against Italy put the Oranje Lionesses on the road to potential World Cup glory. She is also one of nine Dutch squad players to play abroad. Watch her in action here.
4. Dutch coach Roger Reijners has set the goal of finishing among the top three European teams – which will ensure the Lionesses qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games. ‘It will be difficult but that is the goal,’ he told reporters. Germany, the US, France and Japan are all tipped to take the title.
5 Football has always been popular with women. In 1924, the Oostzaanse Vrouwenvoetbal Vereeniging wanted to start up association football for women but the Nederlandsche Voetbalbond (forerunner of football association KNVB) opposed the move. It was of the opinion that women should be content to be ‘the spouses, mothers or girlfriends of football players’. In 1955, the women defied the Voetbalbond and started a league of their own. It wasn’t until 1971 (!) that women’s football was finally recognised by the KNVB.
6 Since then, women’s footie has gone from strength to strength. According to figures from the KNVB, female membership in 1985 stood at 36,000 of whom 12,000 were young girls. By 1998 this had jumped to 65,000 members, of whom 30,000 players were under 18. The total number of female members in 2014 stood at a whopping 137,525.
7 Vrouwenvoetbal or damesvoetbal? The sport is called vrouwenvoetbal, or women’s football, now. Damesvoetbal, or Ladies’ football, was/is a name used by people who still think footie for women is ever so slightly embarrassing and makes it sound as if the women are trotting after a ball while holding up their skirts in a dainty manner. Having said that, we should laud Dick Kerr’s Ladies F.C. from Preston, England who played women’s association football as early as 1917.
8 Although plenty of women want to play in the Netherlands there are not enough top players to form a league of 16 or more teams. The same is true for Belgium and in 2012 it was decided to form the inter-national BeNe League for a period of three years. This has now come to an end (Standard de Liège won this year) but the KNVB is hopeful that the Dutch entry in the World Cup could revive plans for a Dutch league.
9 Female referees are very much a rarity in the Netherlands. In 2012, only 240 of 7,000 referees were women and the KNVB is still trying to interest more women in taking up the whistle. Vivian Peeters is the only female referee on the KNVB’s books with some international renown.
10 Some men think women can’t/shouldn’t play football at all but the times are changing. Here’s former player Jan Mulder in an interview with Belgian magazine Knack: ‘Men are simply not used to it. The women who are playing for teams in say Germany, Japan or Norway are ten times as good as the Rode Duivels (Belgian team, DN) in 1960. So if men are giggling when they see women play, they’re really laughing at their own idols.’
11 The Netherlands has been chosen to host the next World Championships in 2017. Well, they were the only candidate to apply for the job, but hey, it’s good for women’s footie. Go Oranje Lionesses!