By Russ Crawford
From June 24-30, women from six nations are meeting in Langley, British Columbia to contend for the title of world champion in American football. Australia, Britain, Canada, Finland, Mexico and the United States have sent teams to showcase the best female football players in their respective countries. At the time of writing, there have been two days of games, and winners and losers are starting to separate.
If you are not a woman who plays football, or a close friend or relative, this probably comes as a surprise to you. The most visible women’s football league in the U.S., and globally, is the Legends Football League, formerly the Lingerie Football League, who play wearing very little. Several players that I have talked to told me that this is the first thing people think when they say that they play football. These women, however, play in full uniform.
They also hit hard. In the Mexico versus Australia game on the 27th, the collisions seemed particularly crisp. Nor do they save this only for games. On the first skeleton play at a Canadian practice Monday, a receiver and defensive back had to be reminded that they were not wearing pads, so they should stop hitting each other.
But their play is largely for their own enjoyment, and for the few fans – generally friends or family – who show up to watch them. With the internet, anyone who is interested can watch games, can. The final games on Friday will be live streamed, courtesy of Football Canada, and can be accessed here. If you want to watch the games that have already been played, they are archived on the Football Canada website. For those who want to dig into the statistics, Football Canada has also linked them on the same page.
This is the third edition of the WWC that the International Federation of American Football has sponsored. The first was in Stockholm, Sweden in 2010, and the second was in Vantaa, Finland in 2013. After the 2015 schism in the IFAF, this championship is being sponsored by IFAF New York. The first championship being held outside of Europe has shaken the decks of teams involved. Germany and Austria, who were pioneers in women’s football, belong to the IFAF Paris faction, and did not choose to cross the international picket line to play in Canada. That gave space for two Australia and Mexico to join in the celebration of women’s football.
Both previous championships have featured the USA team and Canada finishing in first and second place, respectively, and that will once again be the result, as Canada plays the USA in the final game on Friday at 7:30 PST. Finland finished in third place in the previous two games, but will be fighting for 5th and 6th, after losing to the British on the first day.
The first day of the games on June 24 featured games between Finland and Britain, USA and Mexico, and Australia versus Canada. In the two later games, the USA and Canada started slowly, but faced no serious challenges. The USA defeated Mexico 29-0, but the Mexicans, who are one of the surprises of the games, held the USA scoreless for the first quarter and a half. After the Finns also held the Americans out of the endzone in the first quarter, USA Head Coach Jim Ferrell reminded a reporter in the postgame press conference that “The game isn’t 12 minutes long, its 48 minutes long.” After their slow start, however, the Americans, who have so many of the world’s most experienced players (more than 3,000 women play in the USA, according to the Women’s Football Alliance) that they platoon them, started rolling. They rolled up 317 yards against Mexico, fairly evenly divided between rushing and passing. The Mexicans struggled, as might be expected for a team playing in its first international match, but did surprise the Americans with a halfback pass from RB Luisa Fernanda Sustaita Rodriguez to WR Tania Garcia Sanchez. After the game, Team USA DB McKenzie Tolliver praised her opponents saying that they were “very fast, and great tacklers.”
Canada likewise started slowly, but rolled over Australia. Australia is coached by former NFL coach Dr. Jen Welter, who was also the first woman to play in a men’s professional football game. She and her assistants tried to fool the Canadians with trick formations and plays, but the North Americans were too experienced. When they finally started scoring, they did not stop until they had rolled up 31 points to the Australians 6.
The first game featured Britain versus Finland in a rematch of the 2015 European Women’s Football Championship. In 2015, the Finns had no troubles defeating the British 50-12. This time, the British had more experience, and were out for revenge. The Finns did not go down easily however, and they were on the British 5 yard line when time ran out. The final score was Britain 27 Finland 21. Finnish players and team officials mentioned that the 2013 team was their best, and that they were now rebuilding, but they also managed the clock badly at the end, wasting 17 crucial seconds. There was some justification to the remarks that Finnish player Suvi Mantyniemi gave that “I cannot say they were better team,” but they were better when it counted.
I am once again a member of the international press corps, writing stories for American Football International, and on Monday, I feel I finally earned my spurs when I was sent packing from the Australian practice by Coach Welter who sent an assistant to ask me to leave. The Canadians ignored me (a Football Canada official mentioned it was likely because I was wearing a red hat so they thought I was a parent of one of their players), and Finnish General Manager Petra Eloranta helped gave me an interview, and found others for me to talk with.
The second day saw continued dominance by Canada and the USA, who beat Britain and Finland. Canada won by a margin of 35 points despite suffering some early turnover problems. The USA rolled along against Finland, who did improve on their 72-0 loss against the USA in 2010 by shaving the margin to 48-0. Mexico continued to impress by defeating Australia 31-10 in a game plagued by penalties – the first half took nearly as long as the USA versus Finland game.
The stage is now set for the third meeting between the Canadians and Team USA for the championship of the world of women’s football. The Americans haven’t really demonstrated any weaknesses so far, other than being slow to score. The Canadians, however, did have problems stopping the British ground game with RB Ruth Matta racking up 121 yards on 18 carries against them. What American running backs-by-committee Odessa Jenkins, Hannah DeGraffinreed, and Alexis Snyder, among others, who have run well in previous games will do against them remains to be seen.
The first game of the day Friday features Finland versus Australia at 11:30 PST, or experience versus enthusiasm. The Australians, along with the Mexicans, and the British have the most raucous fan followers of the games. The Canadians might have the largest crowds, but those others make up for lack of numbers with energy. Perhaps nations that have soccer have an edge there, or at least that is my working theory. The Australians have even brought an inflatable kangaroo, as well as having a fan who also dresses as the native marsupial.
Britain versus Mexico at 3:30 PST will pit two of those fan bases against each other and should be a good time on the field and in the stands. Again, the British will have significant experience while the Mexicans have pulled out all stops in their previous games. The British, who have only lost twice in international play, including the game against Canada, will likely will have the advantage in this one, but the speed of the Mexican team might overcome that record.
The event has been well run by Football Canada. There have been some hiccups – nobody told me there would be postgame press conferences until Australian General Manager Elissa Manera mentioned it on Monday, and they still have not figured out the wifi password, but the main action has been well-managed. Although the games, with the exception of Britain versus Finland, have not been nail-biters, the action has been good. The collisions could make a good highlight reel, and the athleticism of the players is impressive.
Each of the players I have talked to have been grateful for the chance to represent their country on the biggest stage that exists in their sport. They are rock stars at home – DL Jasmin Collins, the Australian game 2 player of the game, mentioned that her New South Wales Surge teammates were excited to be getting up in the middle of the night to watch her and Team Australia teammates play. LB Phoebe Schecter of the British team enthused about how much great experience she and her teammates were gaining, and that they would take their hard-won knowledge home to help grow the game there. Several have mentioned that they are living the life of a professional athlete. All they are doing this week is practicing and playing football, and occasionally sleeping and eating. They all profess to be having the time of their lives, and who can blame them?
The concrete stands are hard as concrete, and by the end of the day, a plastic chair at the press conference seems extravagant, but the hotdogs at the concession stand are first-rate, and they serve good Canadian beer. The Canadian Burger King has poutine (french fries with cheese, covered in gravy) with bacon. Jared Hardesty, a former student and author of Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston, who teaches at Western Washington University, recommended Nando’s – a Portuguese chicken restaurant that was very good.
Many of the players for Canada and the USA are in the middle of the WFA playoffs and will have more games to play when they get home. I will have another post about those playoffs and the professional women’s game later, but for now, the Women’s World Championship are one of the best events to be completely unknown, save for the participants and a few others. If you have nothing better to do on Friday, I would urge you to tune in and watch some of the games.
Russ Crawford is an Associate Professor of History at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. His area of specialty is sport history, with an evolving focus on nontraditional practitioners of gridiron football. Along with several chapters on sport history, he has published one book, The Use of Sport to Promote the American Way of Life During the Cold War: Cultural Propaganda, 1946-1963, and has another, Le Football: The History of American Football in France that will be published by the University of Nebraska Press in August of 2016.