IN men’s football a series of iconic moments have helped seal the game in our collective memories. Each is a cultural landmark. Geoff Hurst’s third goal against West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final and Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary (“they think it’s all over”) was the first one I ever encountered. In Scotland, we had our Archie Gemmill moment against Holland in 1978. Brazil’s fourth goal in the 1970 World Cup final against Italy in Mexico was symphonic in its build-up, execution and conclusion.

There was Johan Cruyff’s turn in 1974 against Argentina which seemed to extend the boundaries of football’s aerodynamics. And then there was that volley 14 years later by another Dutchman, Marco van Basten against Russia which seemed to defy geometry. And, in 1986, came perhaps the most thrilling goal that has ever recorded on film: Diego Maradona’s winning goal against England.

Last night in Sheffield during the European championships women’s football was finally graced with such a moment. Allesio Russo’s audacious back-heel that sealed England’s 4-0 semi-final win against Sweden will help imprint this tournament in our memories. You may have seen more cleanly-struck goals of this type, but none as emblematic of its time and place as this one. It seemed to signal a coming-of-age for the women’s game in a tournament which, I think, will come to be seen as a watershed in its development.

Russo’s goal occurred in front of a sell-out crowd at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium and in a match which attracted a television audience of 14m – a record for women’s football in the UK. For football historians, it carried an added significance. The city of Sheffield is home to the England Northern Premier side Sheffield FC, the oldest existing football club in the world, according to FIFA. The re-birth and development of women’s football is perhaps only second in importance to the modern invention of the game we know today in Victorian England.

I’ve watched all of the women’s international football tournaments over the last decade or so. And there can be little doubt that these European championship matches have provided us with a high water-mark in women’s football.

In men’s football, the Mexico World Cup in 1970 is reasonably regarded as the tournament which sanctified the game as the world’s number one global sport. It stretched our understanding of what might be possible in football and influenced tactics and attitudes more than any other series of games. These European championships in England are doing something similar for women’s football.

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In almost every game the fitness, athleticism and skill-levels have been impressive, and most of them have been keenly contested. Last night’s 4-0 score-line in favour of England might suggest a rout, but this was an intense game of football. It started off at a breath-taking pace which was maintained until the end.  

Yet, there are still many males who continue to be dismissive of the women’s game. Almost a decade after Scotland’s newspaper sports sections began allotting a few inches of space to women’s football the excellent Alan Campbell who has championed the women’s game tirelessly remains the only journalist who reports on it in a full-time capacity.

The numbers of women and girls playing football in Scotland has increased significantly in the last five years to more than 20,000, yet it’s still largely neglected by major commercial sponsors who are prepared to invest serious money.

Rangers and Celtic now field full-time women’s teams, while Hibs and Glasgow City are the other main centres of women’s football excellence in Scotland (though neither has a fully-professional team). There’s a smattering of other full-timers across the two divisions of the Scottish Women’s Premier League.

And while the SFA have taken women’s football completely under its organisational control, there remains a significant gap in quality and sophistication between the game in Scotland and other comparable nations.

The lack of success by Scotland’s men at international level reflected backward and ignorant attitudes by administrators and a self-congratulatory coaching mafia. They steadfastly refused to embrace the way football was being played and coached in the rest of Europe.

These European championships in England have seen the women’s game reach a new level of professionalism and technique. The rest of the world is coming alive to the spectacle of elite, professional women’s football and its potential to change the lives of young female players.

Let’s hope that Scotland’s football administrators are rather quicker to embrace the possibilities than they were when the global men’s game began moving to another level.

And if you haven’t yet watched any games in these European championships you don’t know what you’re missing. Germany play France in the second semi-final tonight at 8pm and the final is at 5pm on Sunday. You will not be disappointed.