England’s women won the European Championship for the first time in their history – but what does their victory mean for the future of the game, and what needs to be done to ensure the legacy isn’t lost?
Woman: Oh, it’s absolutely fantastic. It’s brilliant. Yeah. And Kelly was just amazing. She’s like Gascoigne. She is Gascoigne.”
Girl: I was screaming I was so happy and all my cousins were like, we were hugging each other and we were so happy.”
Man: You dunno how many times you’re gonna see this as an Englishman and, you know, families, young kids, young girls who will probably be inspired by the next generation, what they’ve seen here.
When England’s Women beat Germany 2-1 in the final of the European Championship they made history and ended 56 years of hurt for English fans.
There were jubilant scenes across the country after goals from Ella Toone and Chloe Kelly sealed the victory in front of a record crowd of more than 87,000 fans at Wembley.
The England manager, Sarina Wiegman from the Netherlands, won the title with her home team in 2017, and is now the first manager to win the Women’s European Championship with two different countries.
Her record as England manager since taking charge last September is pretty remarkable – she’s managed 20 games, seen her side win 18, draw two, lose none, and score 106 goals while conceding just five.
And now they’re European champions for the first time, which is why her celebrating players couldn’t help but gatecrash her post-final press conference.
“Interviewer: Isn’t it about more than that?Sky News
Team, singing: Football’s coming home, it’s coming home, It’s coming!”
There’s a sense that those players and this team have finally brought women’s football to the mainstream.
But it hasn’t always been like this.
“Women’s football dates back to the 1890s, but it was discouraged and then banned by the football association in 1921 from football league grounds.
The head of the FA Sir Frederick Wall called football ‘not suitable for the eternal feminine.’ The ban stayed in place for 50 years.”Paul Hayward
Paul Hayward is a sports journalist and contributing editor here at Tortoise, and he’s written a book about the history of English football.
“For the first official international between Scotland and England as an outpost in Greenock in 1972 England’s captain Sheila Parker was described in the program as a housewife with a young son. It was a long struggle from there to arrive at what we saw in the Euro 2022 final at Wembley.”Paul Hayward
Although there has been a women’s national division for 30 years, a major turning point came with the formation of the Women’s Super League, the WSL, in 2011.
That league turned fully professional in 2018 – 130 years after the first professional men’s league was founded.
And it currently attracts an average crowd of just under 2,000 people to each game.
But there’s no doubt that there’s now an appetite for women’s football in England.
You only need to look at the numbers attending this year’s Euros compared to the last women’s tournament in the Netherlands in 2017.
They’ve doubled, and more than 17 and a half million people tuned in to watch Sunday night’s final. It’s a record for a women’s game and the biggest TV audience of the year so far.
The question now is whether that can be turned into a longer term legacy for women’s football. And one that puts its players on the same footing as men.
Each England player will get a £55,000 bonus for winning the tournament. Add to that a £2,000 appearance bonus for each match they played, and some will have earned £72,000 from the competition – far more than the average salary in the WSL, which is £30,000 a year.
But given that the top earning men in the Premier League get paid £350,000 a week, there’s still a long way to go.
And there’s also plenty of work to be done to improve access to the game for women across the country.
Here’s Paul Hayward again.
“Mass participation, big Women’s Super League attendances, continued success for the England team and a huge rising commercial income, are the dream outcomes.
But currently less than half of schools offer extracurricular football to girls and only 63% provide it through physical education lessons. Obstacles remain, but the potential for change is exciting analysts.
UEFA says 47% of spectators at Euro 2022 games leading up to the final were female. Nearly a hundred thousand children have attended matches.
WSL games are often played away from the cathedrals where men’s fixtures are played, but Chelsea and Spurs will open their campaigns at Stamford Bridge and the Tottenham Hotspur stadium. The Merseyside and Manchester derbies will be played at Anfield and the Etihad stadium. A concern around England’s campaign is that an all white team started all six of their matches, an imbalance that has been explained in socioeconomic terms, but ought to concern the games administrators.”Paul Hayward
Players and pundits agree that for women’s football to take advantage of Sunday’s victory, attendance at WSL matches needs to rise.
The Football Association wants an average of six thousand by 2024. An increase of more than four thousand in the space of two years.
For now though, fans are basking in the afterglow of a first title for a senior England team in 56 years.
But it will be up to the clubs, fans, and governing bodies to ensure the legacy of this proud win isn’t lost.
This episode was written by Andrew Butler and Paul Hayward. It was mixed by Ella Hill.