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Women's World Cup

Rapinoe, Hegerberg & 20 most inspirational women in football

23:30 GMT+3 29/12/2019
Women in football Ada Hegerberg Megan Rapinoe Jacqui Oatley
From Megan Rapinoe calling out Donald Trump to Eni Aluko speaking out against racism in her own dressing room, these women are making a difference

Goal has rounded up the most inspiring women in football, from those who take to the pitch to those who report from the sidelines and, in doing so, encouraging young girls to do the same.

These women are record-breaking international stars to acclaimed media personalities; from female referees breaking the glass ceiling to professionals using their platform to advocate for equality across the boards of gender, race and beyond.

  • Megan Rapinoe USWNT

    Megan Rapinoe

    Megan Rapinoe is probably one of the most important and impactful footballers in the world right now, for her on-pitch and off-pitch contributions.

    How many athletes can you name who managed to win a World Cup and be named the tournament’s best player, all the while sparring with the president of the United States – and coming out on top?

    Rapinoe is an openly gay footballer and a vocal LGBTQ+ advocate, and is outspoken about social and political issues.

    At a time where so many high-profile figures are wary of intersecting their personal politics with their platform, Rapinoe didn’t bat and eyelid when she publicly refused an invitation to the White House in the event that the USWNT win the World Cup (they did).

    She was the first white footballer to kneel while the U.S. national anthem was played, following in the footsteps of Colin Kaepernick, and continues to fight the battle for equal pay in the women’s team. Every athlete should strive to be like Megan Rapinoe.

  • Mia Hamm USWNT 2003

    Mia Hamm

    Arguably the most famous and recognisable female footballer of her time, Mia Hamm was a household name to even non-sports fans due to her success with the U.S. national women’s team in the ‘90s to early ‘00s.

    A football icon of the women’s game, Hamm held the record for most international goals scored - by a woman or man - until 2013 and remains in third place behind former team-mate Abby Wambach and Christine Sinclair.

    She is frequently quoted as a huge influence and inspiration for both professional and amateur players alike, inspiring young girls to take up the sport - perpetuating the idea that representation, in all industries, is vital. You can't be who you can't see.

  • Marta Brazil 2018

    Marta

    When you’re rattling off the likes of Pele, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as your GOATs, Marta deserves a mention in the same breath. She has scored more World Cup goals than any man or woman alive (17) and was christened “Pele in skirts" by Pele himself.

    Minutes after her Brazil side were eliminated by France in the 2019 World Cup, she gave an impassioned speech that implored young Brazil girls to take up the sport.

    “Women's football depends on you to survive," said the 33-year-old, with tears in her eyes. "Think about it, value it more. It's about wanting more, it's about training more, it's about looking after yourself more, it's about being ready to play 90 minutes and then 30 minutes more.

    "So that's why I am asking the girls. There's not going to be a Formiga forever, there's not going to be a Marta forever, there's not going to be a Cristiane. We are trying to represent women and show how women can play any type of role.”

  • Bend It Like Beckham 2002

    Jess and Jules from Bend it Like Beckham

    Ask a sports-mad woman of a certain age and they'll probably tell you that Bend it Like Beckham had some sort of influence on them.

    Teenage girls are extremely impressionable, and if you were a teenage girl watching Gurinder Chadha’s 2002 classic about two women as they try to make it as footballers against the backdrop of the patriarchal industry, you were bound to be a little bit inspired to take up the sport, too.

    Bend it Like Beckham follows Jess Bhamra as she dreams of playing football professionally, though hindered by her traditional Indian parents and the gendered social norms surrounding women playing football.

    Jess’ plight as a character - more specifically, that of a brown girl - was particularly enlightening. The film, which navigates the struggles of a second-generation woman living in the UK, explores not just gender discrimination, but issues of race, social class and differing cultures in a predominantly white male environment.

  • Eni Aluko Juventus 2018-19

    Eni Aluko

    Eni Aluko has won over 100 caps for England, but she will perhaps be the most remembered for her calling out ex-Lionesses coach Mark Sampson for alleged racism.

    Her whistleblowing on comments expressed by her former head coach led her to not be called up to the England squad since 2016, and she has since moved from England to play for Juventus.

    She remains an active figure in the industry, however, working as a pundit and regularly writing in the Guardian about the intersection of football, race and gender. She released a book in 2019 titled They Don’t Teach This, which explores her British-Nigerian identities and how she has navigated a male-dominated world in her work as a footballer and writer and her background as a lawyer.

    There was a particular moment during her punditry of the 2018 World Cup - where she and Alex Scott were just one of two female TV pundits - when she gave an acute assessment of Costa Rica’s playing style.

    Co-pundit Henrik Larsson said her analysis was “very good”, while Patrice Evra, who was sitting next to her, applauded her in a way that reflected his surprise that a woman could have such knowledge of the sport.

  • Ada Hegerberg Lyon 2018-19

    Ada Hegerberg

    Lyon's women are the best team in the world – they have been for the last couple of years – and though some aren’t quite ready to have that conversation yet, there’s no arguing that Ada Hegerberg is one of the most formidable players in both men and women’s football.

    She was the first-ever recipient of the Ballon d'Or Feminin in 2018 for her achievements with Lyon, which included winning the treble. She is the winner of four Women's Champions League titles, five Division 1 Feminine trophies and three Coupe de France awards, all the while remaining extremely vocal about fighting for equality within the women’s game.

    She chose not to represent Norway in the 2019 World Cup as she wanted to take a stand against her country’s handling of women's football.

    "I've always respected men's footballers for what they earn. The gap is enormous, but at the same time you need to give young women and girls the same opportunity as the men. That's where we need to do the change,” said Hegerberg in 2019.

    "There are federations, there are clubs, there are men in high positions who have that responsibility to put the women in the right place and that's where I think, I feel, and I know, we have a long way to go."

  • Alex Morgan USWNT Women's World Cup 2019

    Alex Morgan

    Alex Morgan seems to defy the rules of football. She is one of the most – if not most – recognisable faces in football today, no coincidence in her being named the highest-earning USWNT member. She scored five goals against Thailand in the opening game of the 2019 World Cup, and was awarded the tournament’s Silver Boot.

    Her and Rapinoe were the first two female players in the United States to sign up for Juan Mata’s Common Goal initiative, and is a keen advocate of equal pay between the men’s and women’s national teams.

  • Jacqui Oatley

    Jacqui Oatley

    Jacqui Oatley became UK football highlights show Match of the Day’s first female commentator in 2007, and since then, has become one of the most prominent and regular female presences in sport.

    With a resume that includes the likes of covering the 2016 Euros and 2018 World Cup with ITV Sport and the 2015 and 2019 Women's World Cup for BBC.

    Her coverage has since expanded beyond football and into snooker, Moto GP, golf, tennis and rugby league – and was given an MBE in 2016 to acknowledge her role in fighting for elevating women in football.

  • Sandrine Dusang France Euro 2005

    Sandrine Dusang

    Ex-France and Lyon international Sandrine Dusang currently works as journalist for Foot d’Elles, a website focusing on women’s football. She won the UCL with Lyon and made 47 appearances for Les Bleues, and now continues to take part in a number of initiatives in the fight to achieve gender equality.

    She takes part with Equal Paying Field, an organisation that "promotes women's football and defends the conditions of women in sport, business and society".

  • sam Kerr Australia 2019

    Sam Kerr

    New Chelsea signing Sam Kerr is the talismanic forward in her Matildas side, scoring four goals against Jamaica in the 2019 World Cup and becoming the first Australian to score a hat trick (plus one!) at the same tournament.

    She has been the obvious shining light in an Australia side that has had more than its fair share of struggles, but topped the NWSL (National Women’s Super League) charts for a second successive season after moving from Sky Blue FC to Chicago Red Stars.

  • Eugenie Le Sommer France World Cup 2019

    Eugenie Le Sommer

    Eugenie Le Sommer deserves as many plaudits as strike partner Hegerberg does for Lyon’s success, her hat-trick against Toulouse in February 2018 taking her tally to 226 and making her Lyon’s all-time goalscorer.

    She vice-captained her France side to the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup, but ultimately losing to the USWNT, scoring twice in the tournament overall.

  • Sian Massey Premier League

    Sian Massey

    You can be on the pitch and not play the sport to still have an impact on the game.

    It’s important for there to be more female officials and referees, and assistant referee Sian Massey is definitely is showing that there is space and room for women to take up roles in officiating – and not just in the women’s game.

    Massey is one of the few female assistant referees working in the highest level of the men’s game, most notably in the Premier League.

    Though she has gained a reputation as a respected assistant referee, that didn’t stop commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys infamously mocking Massey, and wondering aloud on air as to whether she knew what the offside rule was.

  • Stephanie Frappart

    Stephanie Frappart

    Stephanie Frappart became the first female official to take charge of a major UEFA competition match when Liverpool faced Chelsea in the Super Cup in Istanbul on August 14, 2019, breaking the glass ceiling for female referees.

    She was also the first female referee to officiate a French Ligue 1 match when she took charge of Amiens against Strasbourg in April 2019, and also became the first woman to be named in the pool of Ligue 1 referees for the 2019-20 campaign.

  • Lucy Bronze Lyon 2018-19

    Lucy Bronze

    Is Lucy Bronze the best right-back slash midfielder in the world? Phil Neville thinks so. Bronze came into her own after leaving Manchester City to join Lyon in 2017, scooping up the UCL and Division 1 Feminine titles in her debut season.

    She went on to shine for England in 2019, winning the SheBelieves Cup in the United States and then emerging as one of the stars in her Lionesses squad in the 2019 World Cup. She won the tournament's silver ball that recognises the second best player in the tournament.

    Bronze also was the recipient of the UEFA Women's Player of the Year award – no small feat.

  • Kelly Cates

    Kelly Cates

    The eldest daughter of Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, Kelly Cates is an established presenter for Sky Sports, the Premier League and BBC Radio Live, working alongside notable pundits such as Jamie Carragher, Gary Neville and Jamie Redknapp.

    Having grown up in a football household and watching your father write himself into the Liverpool and Scotland history books, it’s no surprise that Cates has decided to remain in the industry.

    You might remember her from that bizarre transition involving Neville and Carragher in which they just walked off from Cates as she finished speaking.

  • Alex Scott

    Alex Scott

    Former Arsenal and England right-back Alex Scott has also made the smooth transition from playing to punditry.

    It’s important to see women take up roles in football media that aren’t only that of presenter or host, who can also challenge their male counterparts and be treated as equally as the former male players they bring on to provide analysis of the game.

    Scott now works in broadcasting, and was a pundit in the 2019 World Cup.

  • Chelcee Grimes WSL 2019-20

    Chelcee Grimes

    Chelcee Grimes is proof that you don’t need to be limited to just one industry. Grimes is a footballer for Fulham as well as a musician in her own right, a talented guitarist and songwriter who has penned tunes for pop icons Dua Lipa, Olly Murs and Kylie Minogue.

    A born and bred Scouser, she is a diehard Liverpool fan and Anfield regular and juggles her music and football career seamlessly.

  • Christiane Endler USWNT vs Chile Women's World Cup 2019

    Christiane Endler

    Chile goalkeeper Christiane Endler was extremely impressive during the 2019 World Cup, with some critics, such as ex-USWNT star Hope Solo, lauding her as the best female goalkeeper in the world.

    Amid heated discussion that women were in need of shorter goal posts – the argument being that as women are less physically endowed than men, they'd theoretically need goalposts that correspond to their stature – Endler proved that no such thing was necessary.

    "Quality goalkeeping elevates the women’s game to a different level," said Solo. "That’s one reason why it was unbelievable to me to see an advocate and a coach for the women’s game make comments about women playing with smaller goals.

    "Instead, we should be pushing the game forward and showing what women footballers are capable of. Against the U.S., Endler showed the world we can do this."

  • Girlfans

    Jacqui McAssey

    Having an influence in football extends past the world of media and punditry and into the DIY world of photography, art and zines.

    Jacqui McAssey is a lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University and a photographer who documents past, present and future female fan culture through her photography zine Girlfans.

    The publication is a collection of photographs depicting diverse female football fans on matchday, with each issue focusing on a particular club's unique set of supporters – from Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City, Celtic and Tranmere.

  • Felicia Pennant

    Felicia Pennant

    Felixia Pennant is editor of the football zine SEASON which spotlights female football fans and serves as the intersection of fashion and football.

    A graduate of Central Saint Martin’s in London, Pennant realised there was no publication or platform that combined her two greatest loves – football and fashion – so she decided to start SEASON, which has also since become a platform and community for celebrating female football fandom.

    She was also inspired to start the zine after becoming disillusioned by the often degrading and insulting way that female fans were often depicted in the press (minimal clothing, only there to support their football-fan boyfriends – you get the picture). 

  • Lieke Martens Netherlands

    Lieke Martens

    A UEFA Women’s Player of the Year and FIFA Women’s Player of the Year recipient in 2017, Lieke Martens scored three goals in Netherland’s victorious 2017 Euro campaign.

    She scored double figures in her debut season for Barcelona, picking up the Copa de la Reina and Copa Catalunya in 2018.

  • This Fan Girl

    This Fan Girl

    Having started as an online DIY community on Facebook designed to bring female-identifying football fans together, This Fan Girl has expanded into a broad UK-based network of women supporters, writers and media personalities.

    TFG organise regular fan meet-ups for games, and sold out most of their 2019 World Cup viewing parties in London. TFG has since expanded their viewing parties from London to New York, consistently maintaining an inclusive, diverse and supportive network of female fanatics of the sport.