England will be on them like never before on Sunday to play Germany, who have won the competition a record eight times.
The Lions’ run to the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup in Canada was unexpected and caught the eye of many at home. A run to the final four at Euro 2017 and the 2019 Women’s World Cup has raised the profile of women’s football and the women’s national team alike. Although something else is happening this time, the tournament has penetrated the public consciousness like never before and the conversation is changing. People don’t talk about women’s football; they talk about football.
“What is a legacy?” asks Ian Wright, who has a passion for the women’s game. “It normalizes the conversation. I hear people talking about football. It’s normal, it’s just football. That’s why I love it, I love women’s football because I love football.
“We don’t have to worry about the dinosaurs,” he said. “I saw someone say something about dinosaurs yelling at a meteorite, I love that, that’s negative people. Look how many millions of people watch these women play, there are people for this game.
Former England international Rachel Yankey has been to the BoxPark fans’ hall at Wembley for every game, watching the team grow in support with every game, every amazing performance.
“We’ve always known, every England team I’ve played for has always known that if you get to a final, if you can win, you have the opportunity to change people’s minds. That’s what this group did.”
Striker Kelly Smith, who reached the final of a major tournament last time England women’s team lost 6-2 to Germany, was included in the starting line-up.
“When I played, nobody knew there was a Euro 2009 final because it wasn’t televised until the semi-final and then they saw us lose in the final. Now we know the players journey from the opening game. The nation fell in love with the Lions, which is something I never thought would happen,” he says.
“The wider public knows that this tournament is going on. He just captivated the whole country. We saw it last year in the men’s euro cup, they reached the final and made people fall in love with the men’s team again.
“I’m not Mystic Meg about what will happen in the final, but if they can do it, it’s really scary to think they’ll win their first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup. where the team and the game could potentially go. Now the sky is the limit.”
Sue Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football and chair of UK Sport for the 2012 Olympics, never thought she would feel the same again 10 years ago.
“I never thought I would feel so much happiness, joy and pride in our country in our team,” said Lady Campbell. “On Tuesday, I felt it very deeply. I stood there for almost an hour after the game was over and the players were still on the field and the crowd was still rocking. It was just an extraordinary evening, an extraordinary moment. Am I surprised? I think this country loves sport and loves success in sport and yes, it surprised me to some extent, but the momentum has been incredible as we have started to win.”
The impact of a country in love with the Lions is where their journey differs from that of the men’s team last summer, as it has the potential to change the narrative around the involvement of women and girls in sport at all levels. relations in the society went far beyond the development of the women’s game.
Broadcaster Clare Balding said: “To see women being confident and assertive, all positive things, being willing to take risks and fail, to play fearlessly and play for each other – it’s a very powerful and massive message. playing field. And of course the playing field is important, so they all do that and that’s about it, but you can’t underestimate the bigger impact.”
In terms of the development of women’s football, the Euros are becoming a tournament that will “turbocharge” its growth, according to Campbell.
“It will move the agenda much faster than we could without it. He’s just going to run it at a different pace,” Campbell says.
What is important is that the FA and the clubs can take advantage of this moment, package it and live it up.
“It sounds weird,” Yankey says. “Of course, football comes first, but in my opinion it comes second. As much as I want to watch the game, I want to embrace the atmosphere and the crowd more. I don’t remember much about the football at the 2012 Olympics, but I do remember looking out the window at Wembley and watching the people queuing to get the train home and just thinking, “I can’t believe it.” Nothing really happened after that. So if nothing happens this time, then there’s a big problem with how we run women’s football, how we view women’s football, and it’s all wrong. It has to change. After that, there should be a legacy.”
There are already signs of demand. Manchester United defender Aoife Mannion is helping a club looking to build a girls’ team for the new season in a village near her village. Before England’s quarter-final loss to Spain, he went to a primary school and spoke to the children about the game and his ambitions for the local team.
He wasn’t sure of the impact, he didn’t know how to gauge the children’s reaction, but his reception was overwhelming. “The chairman of a small village football team was absolutely shocked at how many parents were inundated with registration forms to let their daughters know they wanted to play,” he says.
“When I first tweeted about it, it looked like we were going to start with three teams, but now we’re talking about six teams. When I was their age, there wasn’t a local girls’ team that I knew when I started. I did not live in the village, but in the city. The immediate effect of this tournament is that a small, small village, one of several surrounding a small town in Cheshire, can field several teams, which is higher than anyone can imagine.
Contributing to the huge changes in the pace of the tournament and the support for the team has been the BBC’s impressive coverage. “When I walk into that school and I say ‘watch it on the BBC tonight’, everyone knows what that means and there’s no barrier to entry. This accessibility is really important. We’re trying to sell football as something that’s really inclusive, and that’s why this tournament, shown on the BBC, really comes true for everyone.”
Campbell adds, “It’s priceless. You couldn’t put a number on it.”
Hope Powell, the pioneering England coach for 15 years until 2013, says: “Even in the few weeks since the tournament started, we have seen the positive impact it has had on women’s football in this country. Making sure we keep it up to driving standards in the WSL [Women’s Super League] and giving more girls and women the opportunity to play the game is the best legacy from these Euros and I feel the momentum is building now. I’m proud of the part I’ve played as a player and as a coach, but now it’s time for Sarina and her team and I can’t wait to be at Wembley on Sunday and hopefully see us lift the trophy.
Building mass access to the game is key. Wright’s At the end of Sweden’s semi-final defeat, he gave an exuberant speech it went viral.
“Ian Wright’s point is right,” Balding said. “If we don’t get girls playing football in schools, we don’t have the legacy we need. But the problem is that to do this, we need to invest in sports in more schools.
“Sports in schools is consistently underinvested. You just have to look at the level of obesity, the level of mental health problems, there are so many factors, I’m not saying if they exercise they’re all going to be cured, but oh my gosh, it’s going to help. The association of sports with academic work with school work is really harmful. Because if you can actually focus, make quick decisions, and work with team members, those are life skills you’ve gained. It’s not just about playing football. I think that it is necessary to make a difference here.”
“We have a very clear strategy for what we’re trying to do,” says Campbell. Much of what we want to see and what we have expressed in this strategy is coming to fruition.”