Women’s World Cup: England and Argentina players reunited in chance encounter – 48 years on

The last time their paths crossed, it was on the pitch of the Azteca Stadium in Mexico in front of thousands of people back in 1971.

Forty-eight years later, in a chance encounter at a train station in northern France, some of the trailblazing women from England and Argentina’s unofficial World Cup squads have been reunited.

“Fate was involved in this,” said Gill Sayell, who was 14 years old when she travelled to Mexico.

“It felt absolutely amazing. I’ve got goosebumps thinking about it now.”

The unofficial World Cup first took place in 1970. The FA had banned women’s football in 1921, and Uefa and Fifa were not interested in investing in the game, so a group of Italian businessmen decided to stage international tournaments as the Federation of Independent European Female Football (FIEFF).

A year after its inception, England were accepted into the competition and played against Argentina before meeting hosts Mexico in front of a record attendance which still stands to this day. There is no official figure, but the attendance for England’s game with Mexico was estimated to be around 90,000.

Around 25,000 were in the stands for England’s opener against Argentina, which the South Americans won 4-1.

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Former team-mates Sayell and Leah Caleb decided to travel to Le Havre on Friday to watch England’s Lionesses take on a modern-day Argentina in their second match at the Women’s World Cup.

After a mix-up over a meeting point, they were both walking out of the station when they spotted a film crew.

“We saw these other ladies – older ladies in white T-shirts. I said, ‘They look like the Argentinean women. I think I can remember playing against them’,” continued Sayell.

“We went over to them and asked them if they were the Argentineans from 1971 and they said yes.

“And we said, ‘We played against you’.”

“I’m not sure they believed us at first,” added Caleb. “It was just so surreal and an amazing thing to happen. It was difficult as we couldn’t speak the same language but they just kept hugging us.”

The former Argentina players were flown over for the match by their football association, while Sayell and Caleb sat in the stands to watch Phil Neville’s England progress to the knockout stage with a 1-0 win in front of 20,294 people.

“It was absolutely brilliant,” said Sayell. “This is where we wanted it to be all those years ago.

“To see it finally happening for the women’s team is what we played towards – even though it’s taken longer to get to this point than we hoped.”

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women’s sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women’s sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

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