2019 is a history-making year for women’s football: for the first time, England is going to send a fully professional women’s squad to the World Cup in France, kicking off on 7 June.
The whole sport is going through a seismic change: stereotypes are being challenged, brands are lining up to sponsor teams – Nike’s designed a majority of kits for women’s football teams competing this summer; gone are the days of women wearing adapted men’s kits – and people are watching the sport in droves. FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s thinking big for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup: an audience of 1 billion.
Even better, two new FIFA award categories have been added for the sport: Best Female Goalkeeper and Women’s World XI, ensuring the top female names in football will be on everyone’s radar, including our football-loving daughters.
There are many female football stars who can act as role models for the next generation of women: they’re strong, they’re quick and they’re doing everything they can to make football more accessible to everyone. Let’s meet the inspiring female footballers you need to know about.
Lucy Bronze, England defender
An impressive athlete and winner of the PFA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year twice in 2014 and in 2017, Lucy Bronze is also BBC’s Women’s Footballer of the Year for 2018. The right back, who also plays midfield, currently dominates at Olympique Lyon, and England Women’s head coach Phil Neville calls her “the best player in the world”. Watch out for her this summer: “I know that when we come and play in the World Cup, I’m going to feel at home. I speak the language, I know the people; if we get to the semi-finals and final it’s playing on my home field,” she tells The Guardian.
Lisa Zimouche, freestyle footballer
The 19-year-old with 1.9 million Instagram followers started her career in Paris Saint Germain’s women’s youth team, but left aged 14 to pursue freestyle footballing – juggling the ball with your head, shoulders, knees and toes – winning the title of Female Panna World Champion in 2015. She travels the globe, promoting her sport and showing off her skills on the street, encouraging the next generation of girls with her moves.
Mia Hamm, FIFA Women’s World Cup champion and double Olympic gold medallist
Mia Hamm is a footballing legend, whose lengthy career saw her playing as a forward for the US national football team between 1987–2004 ensuring Hamm’s place as the face of female footballing and women’s sport, and her position as a role model for girls across decades. Fun fact: she held the record for most international goals scored by any footballer, male or female, until 2013. Hamm is, unsurprisingly, a passionate advocate for women in sports. “I just know how it empowered me. I was a really young, shy kid who was also from a military family, so we moved every two to three years. And sports was an easy way to make a connection when we moved to a new base, a new town to people with similar interests. And I think it really helped give me confidence not only with that move but with feeling that I could contribute,” she told TIME magazine.
Sara Gama, Juventus defender
The Italian footballer, who represents Italy at the national level as well as kicking butt – and stopping balls – as Juventus defender, is a household home at home, and an inspiring athlete who has done a lot for the women’s game.
Alex Morgan, US forward and Olympic gold medallist
This powerful American female footballer – a forward for the US women’s national football team – is racking up endorsement deals to rival her male counterparts and using her star power and prestige to shift attention to issues female footballers face. In March 2019, Morgan and her US teammates filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation. The team is fighting back against pay discrepancies, as well as unfair treatment in the medical care they receive and how they travel. “This isn’t just about us; it’s about women in all industries. Women fight for equality every single day. Our hope is that we not only set up ourselves, we set up the next generation as well,” Morgan told Pro Soccer USA. Morgan has also written a series of fun and inspiring kids’ books about a struggling girls’ football team, The Kicks.
Ada Hegerberg, striker
The first-ever winner of the prestigious Ballon d’Or Féminin, Norwegian striker Hegerberg, who plays for Olympique Lynnais, may be at the top of her game – but she’s also disappointed in her home country’s treatment of women in the sport, and has refused to play for the national team since 2017.
Steph Houghton, England team captain
The Manchester City captain and centre back has played for the England National Team over 100 times. She’s such a big deal that her inclusion in the England team for this summer’s World Cup didn’t just get announced by anyone: Prince William delivered the news himself.
Nikita Parris, England forward
Another Manchester City player – although rumours are swirling that’s she’s going to play for Lyon or Bayern Munich after receiving offers – Parris is FWA Women’s Footballer of the Year and has 19 Women’s Super League goals under her belt. She’s giving back to her community: she recently opened the NP17 Football Academy in Liverpool, offering sports qualifications to girls from deprived areas of her hometown.
Karina LeBlanc, former Canada international goalkeeper
LeBlanc may have retired from her life on the pitch, but she continues to motivate as a UNICEF Canada ambassador, through her eponymous foundation, which mentors and sponsors girls from all backgrounds to help them achieve their dreams, as a motivational speaker and as a FIFA Legend, a football ambassador encouraging girls to try the sport.