Brandi Chastain

Football's Pioneers: Brandi Chastain

Ellie Alderson, from De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture, looks at Brandi Chastain, a USA international who inspired a generation.
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Born on 21 July, 1968, in San Jose California, Chastain would enter the football history books on multiple occasions. Her first cap for the USA came against Japan in 1988, just a year later she was selected in the USA team which won the first official Women’s World Cup. In 1996, Chastain was selected for the USA team heading to the first women’s football tournament at the Olympic games, with the USA once again victorious.

Next up would be the 1999 World Cup. The USA won all three of their group games and defeated Germany 3-2 in the quarter-finals, before beating Brazil 2-0 in the semi-finals. And so, to the final, where Olympic silver medallists China awaited. After 90 minutes, the game was 0-0 and after golden goal extra-time, the deadlock still couldn’t be broken. And so, to penalties. China scored their first two but missed their third before scoring their final two. The USA had scored all four of their penalties. As Brandi Chastain stepped up, a nation held its breath.

Chastain was originally meant to take the sixth penalty but was changed to fifth at the last moment.  Although she was right footed, after discussions with coach Tony DiCicco, Chastain decided to use her left foot. She stepped up and struck the ball past the outstretched hand of the Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong. The USA had won.

And then came the moment when Brandi Chastain took off her shirt and fell to her knees in celebration. Photographer Robert Beck captured the moment in an iconic photograph. In a tournament attended by an estimated 660,000 people and watched by an estimated 40M in the USA alone, it showed that women played football, and they played it well.

It was a photograph that would inspire generations of young girls, making them believe that they belonged. Fast forward 23 years to 31 July, 2022.  In the UEFA Women’s EURO Final between England and Germany at Wembley, it was 1-1 after 90 minutes. In the 109th minute, from a corner for England, Chloe Kelly connected and poked the ball into the back of the net. As the home crowd went wild, Kelly took off her shirt. Immediately everyone in women’s football knew she was emulating Brandi Chastain and inspiring a new generation of women footballers.

Chastain would go onto play 192 times for the United States and would win gold at the 2004 Olympics. But it is that celebration in 1999 for which she will be remembered.




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