Even before a ball was kicked in front of a record attendance Wembley crowd on Sunday for the Women’s EURO 2022 final – this Lioness side were winners.
They’d won, and wiped the floor with the laughable #WhoCares brigade. They’d won over the doubters that believed that a final, on home soil, against the Germans would be a step too far for a nation that hadn’t reached the summit for 56 years. But above all – they’d won the hearts of the entire nation.
Amidst all the tension from the final, one thing kept capturing my attention whilst sat, full to the brim with nerves inside a tense, but joyous Wembley Stadium.
The sporadic, yet poignant advertising hoarding pitchside. #NotWomensFootball. A clever marketing ploy? Maybe. Those three words meant so much more though.
The best thing about this Women’s EURO 2022, and trust me when I say – there’s been a lot – is that for the most part, it hasn’t been treated like women’s football. It’s been treated like football. Of course, once the dust (or ticker tape) has settled – we need to have some serious conversations about how the Lionesses victory must be used as a catapult instead of a cushion.
We need greater diversity across the game. We need better investment at grassroots level. We need to see brands continue their investment long after the Euros hype has died down.
For now though, it’s important to discuss how much the discourse surrounding this tournament has been a welcomed change.
Whether it’s the media coverage, or just general conversation in my group chat. The genuine enthusiasm for the game has been palpable and infectious in equal measure.
Tasteless comments replaced by tactical analysis. Redundant comparisons replaced by real interest. And while it’s been a breath of fresh air – we have to make sure the welcomed, new wave of interest isn’t just gone with the wind. The ultimate triumph might have come at the end of the tournament, but the most important thing is that it signals the start of even better days to come.
Sustaining a change
Not only do we want more iconic scenes of match winner Chloe Kelly, whipping off her top as she clinched the Women’s EURO 2022 trophy at the death. But more pitches for the next Chloe Kelly to be able to nurture her game on. Or, more than the current 63% of schools that offer equal football coaching for girls and boys. Striking while the iron’s hot is key, but it’s even more important that we make sure the temperature is kept up.
Last summer, I asked if it was time to stop calling football ‘the beautiful game’. Twelve months later – I was witnessing the most cathartic, heart-warming event, live in the flesh. Talk about full circle.
This incredible win marks an amazing point in the journey, as opposed to the final destination. The likes of Williamson, Toone, Russo, Hemp, Mead and co. are beacons of hope for future generations. Argue it. Dismiss it. Fight it. It really doesn’t matter. This is the start of an exciting new chapter.
The Lionesses have answered all of their critics and doubters. There is still one question that remains though. Sarina Wiegman and Leah Williamson – where do you want your statues?