Women's Football

Bend It Like Beckham at 20: What does it mean to players today?

Ali Rampling
Bend It Like Beckham is officially 20 years old
Bend It Like Beckham is officially 20 years old / Vince Bucci/GettyImages

Crank Move on Up by Curtis Mayfield to full blast, load up a plate of aloo gobi and pretend you're still not completely infuriated by the standard of goalkeeping on display in the film's climax; Bend It Like Beckham is 20 years old.

From the buoyant soundtrack to the mothers' ability to outdo each other with their impeccable one liners, it's an iconic piece of British cinema. But Bend It Like Beckham goes beyond being a mere cult classic.

Gurinder Chadha's 2002 film is embedded in the culture of women's football.

Two decades ago, England had not qualified for the Women's World Cup for seven years, the Women's Premier League consisted primarily of amateur sides and the idea of a broadcast deal or matches being shown on live TV was a far-fetched fantasy.

For an entire generation of girls, Bend It Like Beckham opened their eyes to a world they never knew existed. For a generation of British South Asians, many saw their lives depicted on the big screen for the first time.

"I’ve seen the film a long, long time ago - well, I watch it a lot..." Arsenal forward Beth Mead told 90min. "When you look at the film now to how far the women’s game’s come it’s incredible.

"That’s a big part of the women’s game moving forward, Bend It Like Beckham. I love that movie but it’s amazing that it can have such an effect on so many people, probably without even knowing."

While girls today have female football role models spilling out of their TV screens, Jess Bhamra and Jules Paxman were the noughties equivalents of Lauren Hemp and Fran Kirby.

These fictional characters inspired a generation of girls to pick up a football and attempt to bend it around a washing line.

"When I was watching it I was always feeling so pumped," said Coco Briden, member of the England Women's deaf team. "I was like: 'Oh my God, I really want to play for an amazing squad and be running in line in our sports bras in the hot weather'."

"I used to watch that film seven times in a row, I'd drive people mad with it," added teammate Claire Stancliffe. "It's probably the first time I'd seen women's football properly. Just seeing females playing football gave me hope that I could do that in the future."

Jess Bhamra's last-gasp free kick against QPR was Lucy Bronze's screamer against Norway for noughties kids. The Hounslow Harriers' choreographed shoe shining celebration was Ellen White's Anthony Modeste goggles.

When Steph Houghton heartbreakingly saw her penalty at the 2019 World Cup saved, it was the same familiar, sinking feeling for noughties girls who, 17 years earlier, had watched Jess miss from 12 yards as the Hounslow Harriers crashed out of an invitational friendly tournament in Germany via spot-kicks.

At least Houghton didn't return home from France to a set of angry parents ready to ban her from playing football and hellbent on teaching her how to cook daal.

"I love that film," said Manchester City defender Alex Greenwood. "I wanted to go out and train like she and the girls did on that film. It was a really powerful film at the time.

"It’s fantastic now that we can look back and be in a place where it’s more normal to have a football film about females. We’ve come along way in 20 years and we should celebrate all the hard work that people have done before us."

Here's to 20 more years of Bend It Like Beckham, and maybe even a sequel exhibiting the progress of the women's game. Because anyone can cook aloo gobi, but who can spray a 30-yard cross field diagonal like Keira Walsh?