Vanessa Tomaszewski is a blogger and influencer whose passion is the promotion of women's football. Having savoured the sights and sounds of France 2019 last year, she wrote about her experiences...
To all those who said it was impossible,
That people could ever care about women's football,
That female players could fill stadiums,
That women's football could be, above all, just football,
I would like to tell you a story.
About a world where impossible doesn't exist.
About a turning point that brought women's football from out of the shadows and into the light.
About the year 2019 and how so many dreams came true,
Including mine: to cover a football World Cup and see women's football take off across the globe.
But this story began a long time before all that…
When I was little – and still to this very day – people often asked me why I like football. I doubt anyone asks young boys the same question. As far back as I can remember, I played in competitions worthy of the World Cup in the living room with my twin sister. After all, what child never had fun with a ball?
In 1998, while the eyes of French fans were focused on the World Cup and their hearts filled with joy after that first title, my father signed me up for my first football club. He never missed a single one of my games or training sessions over eight years. I was the only girl who played football on the playground. Whenever boys told me I couldn't play because I was a girl, I simply found them stupid and carried on.
I promised myself I'd make a career out of football. When people asked me what I wanted to do when I was older, I told them "footballer" – even if I didn't have the talent for it. In 2012, I started an internship at the press office of FC Girondins de Bordeaux. I was in the best possible place I could be. I even had the privilege of interviewing Zinedine Zidane.
That same year, I wrote my dissertation on the strategic opportunities offered by investing in women's football, and then in 2015 I voluntarily set up the press office for AS Monaco's women's team.
Keen to join a professional club, in 2017 I launched "Champions du digital", a blog focused on sports marketing, to share my advice on marketing in sport and to develop women's football.
And then 2019 rolled around.
On 7 June last year, my eyes lit up as I heard the Marseillaise played at the Parc des Princes. And I doubt I was the only one!
I came away from the tournament with hundreds of memories. I watched 11 games. I shared behind-the-scenes content from the World Cup on social media and ran several "takeovers" of the @fifawomensworldcup Instagram account.
I could tell you about…
All the wonderful people from around the world that I was lucky enough to meet,
My encounter with the Chile team,
The American family who created an incredible atmosphere on a bus in Le Havre,
Getting to take part in the world's longest match in Lyon,
The Scottish fan I saw playing bagpipes in Paris,
Running into the entire United States team on a train to Lyon, when I was supposed to be creating content for tournament partners SNCF,
All the shirts I saw on the streets of France with the names Le Sommer, Henry, Bronze, Morgan, Rapinoe and Heath on the back,
My 87-year-old grandmother who called me the day after France-Brazil to tell me Les Bleues had won, even though she has never watched a game of football,
The emotional speech delivered by Marta,
The leadership of Megan Rapinoe and her team-mates, who are such great mouthpieces for women's football off the pitch,
Getting to experience the final at the stadium with my twin sister.
This World Cup showed that anything is possible.
It's now 2020.
The world is facing an invisible opponent which managed to stop the ball rolling – but the Earth mustn't stop turning. We have to keep moving forward and retain hope.
A year has passed since France welcomed the football world. There are now more than 200,000 licensed players across the country, but stadiums are still sparsely attended for championship games – aside from at Lyon, whose president Jean-Michel Aulas was the first to invest with real vision.
And yet it is undeniable that the national team won the hearts of the French public!
I'm convinced that the key to reaching the next level is spreading the message.
Thanks to social networks, female footballers have become their own media outlets and as individuals are able to raise interest in women's football.
If professional clubs and federations all developed a marketing and communications strategy for their women's sections, they could make people identify with their teams, create a genuine fan community, attract sponsors and media companies, and start a virtuous circle which would have an impact on the game. I hope one day to again be able to join a professional club or football body and help develop women's football because I know that everything still remains to be done.
FIFA has done an incredible job to raise awareness of women's football. Over the course of a month, this World Cup proved to the whole world that people are interested in women's football and that supporters showed up in great numbers, along with the media and sponsors. It's now up to the clubs to play their part.
So to everyone who said it was impossible, never forget: nothing is impossible to those who believe it's possible.