When England won their last major trophy at the 1966 FIFA World Cup, women were still banned from playing football in the UK. The English Football Association banned women from playing football in 1921. The Lionesses played their first international game against Scotland in 1972, back when they were still part of the Women’s Football Association, and became a part of the English Football Association in 1993.
With over 87,000 people attending this year's Euros final at Wembley, Ella Toone opened the scoring with a delightful chip over the keeper following a deep pass from Keira Walsh. The lead didn’t last long, however, with Lina Magull scoring the equalizer less than 20 minutes later, which eventually took the game into added extra time. It looked almost certain that the game would go to penalties before a scramble in the box lead to a Chloe Kelly goal in the 112th minute, propelling the Lionesses to a first major tournament win for England since 1966.
“Back in 2018, we were begging people to host in their stadiums a women's game for this Euro's. So many people said no, I hope you are all looking at yourselves right now because you weren't brave enough to see what it could have been.” Alex Scott pulled no punches following England’s 2-1 win over Germany in the final of this year's Euros. She shot out at Premier League clubs that turned down the opportunity to host games for this tournament. “If you’re not involved, you’ve missed the boat, you’ve missed the train," the former Lionesses defender continued. "Because look at this… it has finally left the station and it is gathering speed.” Throughout the tournament, questions were raised about the use of smaller-sized stadiums. Despite the opening game being held at Old Trafford, a stadium with a capacity of almost 75,000, four of the other host venues had capacities of less than 20,000. However, it was proven through the final game that if the opportunity is there, tickets will be sold. The 87,000 attendance at the final is the highest of any European Championship, men or women’s, in the history of the tournament. In fact, the tournament outsold previous Women’s Euros way back in the group stages, when almost 250,000 people had attended before even reaching knockout rounds.
Throughout the tournament, Volkswagen ran an advertisement campaign: #NotWomensFootball. The campaign aims to rid the distinctions between “football” and “women’s football” as “adding “women’s” gives the impression that this is not “real” football – while men’s teams simply play “football”, without any additional specifications.” As we already knew, Barclays will have their name on the Women’s Super League for years to come, but the hope is that more major companies will begin sponsorships with and relating to women’s football teams.
The main question raised following the tournament is: What's Next?
The FA have stated its aims for 75% of schools to provide access to girls’ football and 75% of grassroots clubs to have at least one girls’ team by 2024. On top of this, they have announced 60 emerging talent centers across the UK, something that will also address the discussion about the need to draw from a more diverse talent pool. The FA hopes that the Euros will create over half a million extra opportunities for women and girls to play the game. There are aspects of the game that will not be as easy to as tackles - increasing attendance, pay differences, game coverages etc. But the opportunities that arise following this summer’s tournament are ones that the government will be hoping to seize. Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA's head of women's football, says that growing the sport must be managed "with great care". This needs to be something that will last, not just a cash grab based on a successful tournament - it needs to be managed growth.
Former Arsenal player turned pundit Ian Wright urged the Premier League to invest in and support women’s teams. “It's absolutely about what happens now and grassroots. What we want to do is continue to produce the quality that we've seen today,” he said. "This generation of ladies have had to fight and scrap for everything. It's up to the FA, I think the FA should take over grassroots and get rid of all those barriers to get more people into the grounds.” The support for the Lionesses at the tournament proved that there is an appetite for women’s football in England, with public figures, politicians and brands jumping on the success of the team. But the support cannot stop with the conclusion of this tournament.
This must be the starting point in making progress in the women’s game - as the Lionesses themselves said: This is only the beginning.