“It’s going to happen again, isn’t it?”
This was the prevalent thought in my mind as I sat back in my seat at Wembley after Germany had equalised in the final of Euro 2022. Germany don’t lose finals and England don’t win them. This’ll be another brave, but ultimately futile, effort from the women in white.
We’ll come back to why I should have had more faith in this England team but let me go back ten years to another women’s match at Wembley which had a greater impact on my life than most of the other games I’ve been to.
Team GB v Brazil at the 2012 London Olympics. My friend and his dad had gone Games crazy and bought tickets for loads of sports and I was lucky enough to tag along to a few. Despite being football mad since I could walk I had never been to a women’s game and to be honest I held the ignorant view that it couldn’t stand up to the men’s game in terms of entertainment or quality.
Well the subsequent 90 minutes flipped that opinion on it’s head. Team GB played brilliant football and took the group stage points with a well deserved 1-0 win. Having watched the England men’s team crash out of Euro 2012 with some of the worst football ever seen (Joe Hart to Andy Carroll was the most attempted pass in the loss to Italy) this was a refreshing and welcome change. Playing out from the back, intricate triangles and one-touch passing moves were on display for the whole game. Roared on by a record-breaking 70,000 crowd it was the perfect exhibit for the women’s game and the coaching capabilities of Hope Powell. We even got to see a young Jill Scott and Ellen White!
Perhaps I’m overstating the impact of this match. Through my work with KickStart Ghana I was already fundraising for women’s football and it was another five years until I coached a women’s team but I think this game set me a journey to where I am now, both in my beliefs and my subsequent coaching roles.
Back to Wembley in 2022! Chloe Kelly has scored the winner, and created one of the iconic celebrations in Wembley history, adding to the superb Ella Toone lobbed-finish after latching on to that pass from Keira Walsh. Sweet Caroline and Three Lions are blasting across Wembley and both me and my dad are trying our best to stop the tears rolling. I never dreamt I would be at an international final at Wembley and seeing England win. It’s birthdays and Christmas’ rolled in to one for any football fan. I’ll never bore of watching the highlights and thinking back to the incredible atmosphere before, during and after the match.
Obviously I should have had more faith in this England generation, superbly marshalled by Sarina Wiegman. They had world-class quality and fighting spirit from back to front. The wins against Norway, Sweden and Spain will live long in the memory. Thank you Lionesses for an incredible summer; you wholly deserve all of the subsequent gongs, SPOTYs and jungle wins.
As I alluded to this was a high point of a decade-long journey for me and it’s been a privilege to play a teeny-tiny role in the development of opportunities in women’s game. However, for many of the women I’ve coached and worked with through KickStart Ghana, LSE WFC, South London Laces and elsewhere this has been a life-long battle. Not to see England win a tournament but having women’s football accepted as a legitimate sport in it’s own right. From fighting to get pitch space, funding, equipment, medical expertise and respect. These challenges are far from over, both in the UK and across the world. Every time a women, or non-binary player, crosses the white line on a match day it’s a small political statement, something that would never be said for the men’s game. You only have to look at the replies to any tweet from BBC Sport or Sky Sports about women’s football to recognise this. In short, it’s unfair, and none of us should accept that.
However, moments like those seen at Wembley on 31st July (with over 17 million people tuning in), and others throughout the summer (see Tess below), will hopefully give everyone optimism for the future. I’m in no doubt that people will have watched their first women’s game this summer and would have been hooked like I was in 2012. Join the party, I promise you won’t regret it.
So what’s next? Well I’ve learnt my lesson from the summer and I’ve put a fiver on England to win the 2023 World Cup, which kicks off in Australia and New Zealand in July. Here’s to an era of England dominating the world stage, further incredible memories and many, many more opportunities for people to enjoy the women’s game.
What can you do to support the women’s game?
1. Go out and watch a WSL match. The tickets are cheap as chips and you’re guaranteed a great day out. If you aren’t sure who to support then the answer is Spurs.
2. Make a donation to South London Laces. We’re always look to expand and improve what we do but pitch hire and other costs are so high in London. I’m totally biased but the club is the absolute blueprint for how a community football club should be run.
3. Read and listen more. Check out the Guardian and Telegraph sports sections and podcasts such as The Women’s Football Podcast.