English footballer’s celebration of victory in Wembley brought a moment of infectious free-spiritedness

England footballer Chloe Kelly says she didn’t know what to do after scoring the all-important winner in the nervy final of the Euro 2022 against Germany. Then, in a moment of inspiration, she followed Brandi Chastain, whose late strike had seen the US win the 1999 World Cup. Chastain had pulled off her shirt and swirled it in the air amid her delirious team mates. The world is used to euphoric celebrations by male footballers but women playing the same game with similar intensity are expected to restrict themselves to courteous high-fives. The New York Times would call the Chastain image the “most iconic photograph ever taken of a female athlete”. It would change women’s football forever, the game would get more followers, in the US and globally. The Kelly frame is also expected to have a reinvigorating impact in England which has probably the most popular men’s league in the world.

Look again, and Kelly was also making a statement on behalf of women pursuing professional sport. She showcased the free-spiritedness of the woman athlete on the sporting field. She asserted the right of a woman to own the moment of victory and celebrate it as she wants to. Like a male athlete might do. It’s particularly refreshing and symbolic that it came on a football field in England where women’s football had been banned in stadiums from 1921 for 50 years.

Kelly at Wembley brought back memories of Sourav Ganguly at Lord’s. Ganguly’s shirt-swirl had shaken off an age-old reticence of Indian cricketers. The moment would help give Indian cricket a new identity. Sponsors and promoters would follow. Before the final in Wembley, the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, had called the team to wish them luck. Sitting next to him, his daughter wasn’t the only little girl who had her eye on the team. Kelly didn’t disappoint, she gave them more than the Cup.

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