Arsenal Ladies’ FC Freedom Celebrations

A fantastic evening tonight at Islington Town Hall, as Arsenal Ladies FC received the Freedom of the Borough. This is a rare honour but could not be better-deserved. Arsenal Ladies have won a quadruple in the last season – the Premier League, the FA Cup, the Women’s League and the UEFA Women’s Cup – adding to scores of trophies since they were founded twenty years ago. They are quite simply the best women’s football team in the country; and the only one to have received such an honour from any city or borough.

Politicians from all sides made graceful speeches but the highlight was a barnstorming speech from Lib Dem Cllr Laura Willoughby, who not only paid tribute to Arsenal Ladies, but laid down a challenge to sports bosses and the media to give women’s sport fair coverage. From my years working for the Sports Council, I’m used to women’s sport being marginalised. But I didn’t know that only 5% of sports press coverage goes to women’s sports. Or that the only reason the local papers printed match reports of Arsenal Ladies’ FA final was because Laura herself sent them in.

It was a very happy evening, with the gallery packed with teenage girls for whom Arsenal Ladies are fantastic role models. Normally at council meetings the gallery is empty; or if there are protestors, the Mayor has to shut them up. Tonight, the Mayor was encouraging the gallery to cheer along.

Afterward we had drinks and nibbles and mingled with friends old and new (I recruited a new deliverer for Canonbury!). The Sports Development officers were looking back on highs and lows of sports policy in Islington. In 1999, the dying Labour administration cut sports development all together. Under the Lib Dems it’s flourishing again. But tonight was not a partisan event. Councillors of all parties (in Islington that’s Lib Dem, Labour and Green), plus Jeremy Corbyn MP, chatted happily. Emily Thornberry MP did not bother to show up – her loss.

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