Shirt’s off, football: Chloe Kelly and England ram through women’s football myths just like Chastain and USA did


It didn’t take the American Brandi Chastain long to connect the dots between 1999 and 2022. The visual of her celebrating a World Cup winning penalty kick from 23 years ago, removing the USA top, donning a black Nike sports bra and ridiculously ripped abs and screaming in front of a 90,185 record crowd at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena feel surreal to this day. A picture that was later described by The New York Times as the “most iconic photograph ever taken of a female athlete”.

“When that moment happened, the celebration just organically occurred,” she had shared with Just Women’s Sports, revisiting the moment only a few days ago. “The stadium was just exploding with lights, and sounds, and the team, the hugs, and the laughter. All the emotions you can imagine rolled up into that moment, happened…….everything changed.”

And so, when Chloe Kelly whipped off her England shirt on Sunday having scored the eventual decider at the Euro 2022 final in front of another record crowd under the Wembley arch, Chastain just had to tweet out loud.

“I see you @Chloe_Kelly98 well done. Enjoy the free rounds of pints and dinners for the rest of your life from all of England. Cheers!”

Back then, Chastain’s impromptu decision was also castigated by many. Kelly following suit in 2022 seems to have put a lid on those views.

While the former USA player may have inspired girls around the planet to take up the sport and be their individual selves, it was her time to feel inspired, having hung her boots 18 years back. 54 minutes after her initial tweet, she posted another.

Chastain and her team’s exploits at the 1999 World Cup helped shape not only the future of women’s football in US but also, the way women in sports were depicted and perceived.

At the Euro 2022 final, Kelly and her teammates played their part in unravelling a few more perceptions. Those who praised them for playing ‘nice’ football, diving less and not wasting time, were all made to watch as the Lionesses vehemently rammed through the several myths of women in football.

A prolonged shirt-off celebration that involved a yellow card booking. Check. Snooping on a note passed around by the opposition manager. Check. Dribbling in the opposition corner, constantly eyeing throw-ins and corners, and taking as long as 26-seconds to get on with them to defend the lead for the final nine minutes. Check. If It was all shithousery. It was all football. Just as the men’s.

This is a team that had scored 106 goals in their last 20 games and remained unbeaten while doing so. The same team that turned every page in the football book of dark arts to defend one. Because, why not?

Kelly’s celebration was at the very heart of a team displaying that they could play and express themselves whichever way they wished to. Just like Chastain and co. had back in 1999.

Why did Chastain whip off her shirt?

Chastain’s move had a bit of personal history between her and the Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong, who had “pysched her out” in a previous unsuccessful penalty earlier in the same year. “She got in my head and as I approached the ball. I was thinking more about her than about what I should be doing,” she had told BBC.

Chastain usually prefers her right foot for the penalties but her coach Tony DiCicco had urged her to use the left this time, wary about the scouts from the opposition during training. Chastain had never taken a penalty kick with her left foot in a competitive game before this fateful evening. She wasn’t even supposed to take that kick; she was slotted for the sixth, in case the score remained tied, but was bumped up at the last instant.

“I whipped off that shirt and I kind of whipped it around in the air over my head and dropped to my knees as a ‘Yes!’ moment that we had done what we set out to do,” she told BBC. “I had no idea that would be my reaction – it was truly genuine and it was insane and it was a relief and it was joy and it was gratitude all wrapped into one.”

A lovely postscript presented itself almost a decade after the goal. Among many photographs, Sports Illustrated’s shot by the photographer Robert Beck was regarded the seminal, as unlike others, he had the full frontal shot. And so when Beck introduced himself to her after years as the man who took that shot, Chastain erupted. She jumped on him, arms and legs around him, screaming- and he recalls, almost crying.

“She looks at me and she says, ‘You don’t understand what an impact that made on hundreds of thousands of girls in our country, let alone around the rest of the world,’” Beck told an Amazon and Starbucks documentary series This is Football. “I didn’t realize that.”

Changing the society

In the here and now, winning their first major football title playing at home has all the potential of turning the future of women’s game in England in a 1999 USA-esque or even better way. However, normalizing all their acts in the last ten minutes of a major final as something women can, and will do in football has the potential of being their biggest legacy.

Imagine the horror of those in England’s FA who banned women from playing at their grounds for more than 50 years in 1921 if a time traveler carried a screen to show them the scenes that would unfold a century later. At a ground referred to as the home of football in the country. Imagine the horror of those who condemned Brandi Chastain at the turn of the century. The shirt is off and there’s no going back.

England manager Sarina Wiegman summed it up with her last words in the final press conference, “We changed society today.”

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