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Carol Ann Duffy writes poem paying tribute to England’s female footballers | Carol Ann Duffy

The UK’s first and so far only female poet laureate has written a sonnet to honour England’s Lionesses and their forerunners.

Carol Ann Duffy, who said she grew up in a “footballing family”, pays homage to the trailblazers behind today’s team in We See You, a poem described as a “team talk” to the nation.

It is “an ode to every woman from the pitch to the boardroom, the communities and grassroots who are helping to level the playing field”, said Duffy, who was poet laureate from 2009 to 2019.

The poem was composed for the WeSeeYou Network, which celebrates women in football and offers mentoring, training and networking opportunities for women in sport. The network was set up by the mobile phone company Three and Chelsea football club.

Duffy said: “I grew up in a footballing family; my father was an amateur manager and my brothers played with the local teams. It was ever present in my life growing up.

“The recent success of the women’s national team has helped bring mainstream interest to the women’s game, however there is a rich history of triumphant trailblazers to be explored.”

The poem pays tribute to Mary Phillip, who was the first black player to captain an England women’s international team and who now coaches and manages a men’s team.

Another to be honoured is Pat Dunn, who was one of the first women to qualify as a football referee, and had to fight to be permitted to oversee men’s matches. “Red card for misogyny. Free kick in progress. We’re all onside,” says Duffy’s poem. Dunn died in 1999.

The sonnet references Eni Aluko, who has challenged sexist, racist and misogynistic attitudes towards women in football, and it ends with a promise that the 10-year-old incredible “girl with ball” will be found.

Zarah Al-Kudcy, the Chelsea FC women’s commercial director, said Duffy had delivered the “ultimate team talk” with her poem. The WeSeeYou project was a “fantastic platform that supports and recognises the amazing things that women are doing in their sporting communities”, she said.

It is Duffy’s second football poem. In 2010, she wrote Achilles (for David Beckham) after the player sustained an injury that left him out of the squad for the 2010 World Cup. The poem was “written in sympathy for this part of [Beckham’s] story and to draw a parallel with Achilles, who gave his name to Beckham’s injury”, she said at the time.

As poet laureate, Duffy also wrote about the MPs’ expenses scandal, climate change, the banking crisis, the war in Afghanistan, and people who died from HIV/Aids.

She spent her early childhood in the Gorbals in Glasgow, and was made a dame in 2015 for services to poetry. She was briefly a poetry critic for the Guardian in the 1980s.

We See You – by Carol Ann Duffy

That rain-heavy, leather ball your left foot smashed a century ago

has reached us here, and so we see you, Lily Parr,

in hindsight’s extra time; linked to our female, family chain

of passing forwards … to Mary Phillip, first black Captain

of the Pride, Katie Chapman, Carly Telford, Millie Bright.

We see you too, Pat Dunn – you blew your whistle

and the game kicked off for women referees. Red card for misogyny,

Free kick for progress. We’re all onside. Team-sheets are the dreams

of managers – shout out the golden days of Emma Hayes – which make us visible

to thirty, forty, fifty thousand fans … so good, so good, so good …

from grassroots team to League to Euros to the World. Now.

Women’s voices – Eni Aluko, Karen Carney – tell the poetry of play

We’ll find you – 10 years old, girl with ball, incredible to be you.

So here’s our Team Talk: We’re right behind you. And we see you.

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