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Everything You Wanted to Know About Women’s Soccer

Beyond Bend it Like Beckham: The Global Phenomenon of Women’s Soccer
Timothy F. Grainey
University of Nebraska Press (March 2012)

Every four years, the United States gets excited to watch women play soccer. Though it quickly became the most popular sport among women in the country following the 1999 World Cup, most know little about how long women’s soccer has been played and how much effort has gone into making it successful.

Timothy Grainey touches on this and more in his book, Beyond Bend it Like Beckham: The Global Phenomenon of Women’s Soccer. Starting off with the slightly more familiar story of the rise of women’s soccer in the United States, Grainey then branches out to the sport’s presence in countries such as Sweden, Russia, South Africa, Pakistan, Australia and Iran.

He identifies many areas where the sport can improve and develop more equality with the men’s side, and documents progress and forethought by both players and coaches in the sport. Citing and quoting new sources, Grainey puts together a well-rounded account of the history of the sport around the globe.

Though Grainey touches on stories and leagues in European and African countries, he skips Asian countries such as China and Japan. Speaking from the American perspective that in 2011 watched Japan’s national team take down the only U.S. team to make the finals since the Brandy-Chastain-memory of a World Cup in ’99, it seems their country’s history would have been a good addition in a global book of women’s soccer, especially with the issue of transparency and equality in the country.

In addition to giving a history of the women’s game in other countries, Grainey explores the challenges women face in playing because of their country’s perception of women and their comparison to, and ultimately second-class status, to men. Not all countries bear this burden, and in fact, could be the exact opposite. Marta, the best female soccer player in the world and from Brazil, which is touted as one of the foremost soccer-producing countries in the world, played for Sweden instead of her native land because she was more well-received by the Swiss.

The United States portion of the book delves into the history of the sport, its rise following the 1999 World Cup and the incongruous attempts to establish a women’s professional league. It seems the United States has made great progress, but is still lacking in gaining a true foothold for success.

Due to time constraints, Grainey wasn’t able to add the 2011 World Cup to the history, but he manages to find both well-known and obscure stories and players to document, especially for such a short — at least in the public’s perception — period of time the sport has been on the radar.

Grainey uses many resources and charts to lend facts to his book, but there are periods where his personal opinions seem to rise to the surface, especially in the discussion of women in sports and sexuality. A full chapter is dedicated to the controversy surrounding whether women should use sexuality as a means to promote viewership of their sport. It is clear through Grainey’s words he feels this gives the sport a negative appearance.

Generally speaking, the book has an overt tone of being simply a recount of women’s soccer globally, without any prognostications as its future success or failure on the world’s stage.


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