History was made on Sunday 31 July 2022 as English football celebrated victory for the first time in 56 years as the Lionesses pulled off the unimaginable.
After a tournament in which England scored the most goals and conceded the fewest goals, and a tournament with record attendances, the England women’s football team won the UEFA Women’s EURO trophy.
Not only was this the first major trophy ever won by England’s women, it was also the first silver cutlery won by England since that legendary day in 1966.
Now the question arises: How will women’s football continue?
It was far too depressing a reality to bother on a day when the history books were being written and the lionesses were becoming world-class heroines when I asked to see the game on one of the many available screens at a local pub to see, I heard a local say “this is not football”.
Well, I’m not entirely sure what else it would be, but my earlier question has been clearly answered.
Although the Lionesses have been able to achieve what their male counterparts have not over the past fifty years, we still find ourselves in an environment where there is a widespread assumption that it’s just not the same game.
As devastatingly predictable, Twitter too enjoyed its own misogynistic and bigoted storm, but while it’s easy to ignore those notorious keyboard warriors hiding behind fake accounts, it’s much harder to ignore those who speak out publicly (and what used to be were safer places). like someone’s local watering hole.
However, this will no longer be the main focus of the Lionesses. You don’t have to prove if you’re playing a real sport or not.
What they can focus on, however, is to show how big this game has become and how much further they can push it.
As England beat Sweden in the semi-finals, former lioness turned pundit Alex Scott explained how many stadiums turned down the opportunity to host the Women’s Euro when it was organized in 2018.
The former Arsenal defender said: “So many people said no, I hope you’re all looking at yourself now because you weren’t brave enough to see what it could have been.”
The FA have been criticized for not having larger capacity stadiums for the Women’s Championship games and if anyone was in doubt that these larger seating stadiums were needed, let’s just remember that Wembley are the biggest turnout at a European Championship tournament ever had, with both men’s and women’s play.
Over 87,000 spectators turned out to watch England defeat Germany 2-1 and now we see the stadiums of Anfield, Stamford Bridge and Tottenham queuing up to host Women’s Super League games instead of the secondary, smaller venues to leave, as is usually the case.
When we talk about progress in women’s football and what we want to see as a result of such a triumphant tournament, this is what we mean: equal opportunities, for example WSL teams being able to use the same rooms and facilities as their male counterparts.
Currently it looks like few of these larger stadiums will be made available for WSL, but as a starting point for expansion and development it’s not a bad starting point.
However, the far more pressing and separating gap is paid for.
According to the PFSA, the average salary in the Premier League is £60,000 a week, while the WSL average is currently £30,000 a year.
Given the historical and long-standing lack of openness, this is hardly surprising. Many male footballers will get quick buzz from brands like Nike, Reebok and Adidas, while that may not be the same (at least not yet) for the women who don’t enjoy the same publicity and exposure.
However, when 87,000 people descended on Wembley on Sunday afternoon and a further 17.4 million tuned in to BBC One to see it, that argument is quickly fading and a new breed of sporting superstars has emerged.
The Lionesses not only celebrated winning a tournament, they celebrated what that victory represents and what their triumphs will lead to throughout the competition, not only in women’s football but also in representing women in sport.
As England captain Leah Williamson pointed out: “This was not just a change for women’s football, but for society in general. Tomorrow is not the end of a journey, but the beginning of one.”