I always wanted to be a footballer. I didn’t think being with cerebral palsy was any sort of barrier. You see, I’ve always been na├»ve. My mum, recognising my love of football, bought me an England replica shirt to coincide with Euro ’88. England were rubbish in that tournament, but much better in Italy, two years later, coming within the width of a crossbar of a deserved win over West Germany in the World Cup semi-final. Poor Sir Bobby Robson. By then, I was watching the matches with my neighbours – and devoted Fulham obsessives – and practising finishing like Gary Lineker in my back garden.

My playing career amounted to fiercely competitive games of playground football and the odd kickaround in PE. It was clear by my teenage years that I wouldn’t be anything more than somebody who had a good idea of where everyone else should be on the field. As someone remarked the other day, I was playing walking football years before it was fashionable. A near neighbour at the Hammersmith End reckons I replicated Dimitar Berbatov. I’ll settle for that.

By the time I was at high school, I’d begun writing about sport – something which led to the formation of a weekly sports paper, called Sportscene, that gained something of a following in west London. It indirectly, thanks to the intervention of the much missed Danny Fullbrook, led to this website. One of my teachers suggested, with my abortive cricket career coming to an early end because of my troublesome knees, that I might try coaching. I finished my FA coaching badges at university and ended up looking after the university women’s for a while – but, after entering the world of work, any thoughts of becoming a successor to Roy Hodgson, Slavisa Jokanovic or even Marco Silva had to be put on the backburner.

The point of all this is that the best footballer I ever played alongside was a young woman, who was outstanding technically and a leader you’d definitely follow in the battle with no questions asked. Her talent was lost to the game – because there was no pathway beyond her early teenage years, something which the FA took far too long to rectify. It is a tale as old as time; as Suzanne Wrack’s wonderful A Woman’s Game tells us in depressing detail. This is all very timely as tonight is the start of the women’s European Championship, a tournament held in England, with the potential to be transformative.

We are very proud of our very own Lydia Campbell, who first came across my radar as a reader of this site hailing from Northern Ireland, and quickly became one of HammyEnd’s most perceptive correspondents. She will be covering the championships for BBC Sport, where I am sure she will be entirely impartial in her assessment of the ground-breaking performances of the green and white army. Like many women in a majority male world, Lydia has had to deal with the belittling of her considered opinion on gender grounds – which seems especially unjust as she’s one of the best judges of a game I’ve ever met.

All of this matters because there’s long been a bias against the women’s game in England. It has been mocked, criticised and banned throughout its revolutionary existence. My formal involvement in football these days is exclusively in supporting a couple of sides in London that have sprung up to give women a chance to play at times suitable to them – whether they are still at school, studying at university, balancing the demands of a career or a family. The standard is exceptional even when pitches are scarce and resources are limited. The passion for the game shines through.

We see this close to home in regards to Fulham, who once set the bar in terms of a fully professional women’s side that won everything in sight. That team broke up because Mohamed Al-Fayed, a businessman to his core, grew tired of waiting for the FA to fulfil their promises of bringing professionalism to the women’s game. Fulham have recently reconfigured their approach to women’s football, taking their senior side into the academy set-up, and beginning a quest to climb the pyramid. A wonderful group of role models came very close to promotion last season under Steve Jaye – and, whilst we had the magical moment of lifelong Fulham fan and women’s skipper Mary Southgate walking the Championship trophy out for Tom Cairney to lift in May, it surely won’t be long before the women’s side has silverware of their own to lift aloft.

The team are about to embark on a busy pre-season schedule and I’d thoroughly recommend heading down to Motspur Park on a Sunday afternoon to offer them your support. You might even bump into a few of the Fulham Lillies, who are a new female fans’ group founded earlier this month. We’ll be sharing more about that organisation later this month. We’ve always been proud to cover football and Fulham differently here at Hammyend – and we want to spread the word about the women’s game.

In closing, as we obsess about the transfer window, and whether Marco will have all the tools he needs to take on the apparently impossible job of establishing the Whites in the top flight, it is worth reflecting on just what remarkable progress we’ve made in a few short years in women’s sport. It should be a genuinely equal playing field in 2022 – there’s still some way to go yet – but we are succeeding in eliminating some of the sexist attitudes from the discussion. Fulham’s female footballers – who balance full-time jobs as well as their sporting careers – are trailblazers in their own right. Hopefully, this summer will inspire a few more of us to cheer them on to greater things.