The legacy of the Lionesses: A game-changer for Women’s football
Former England player and WLV Sport ambassador, Kerys Harrop, blogs about witnessing the incredible performance of England’s Lionesses as they’re crowned winners of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 Championships.
Well, what a day it was yesterday! I have hardly slept and this morning, I have woken up to continue to read and watch all of the content about the Lionesses winning the Women’s European Championships! I have sat for the last hour simply smiling at my phone and loving every single piece of information on social media about the success of the girls last night.
I was very fortunate to have been at the game yesterday – an experience I will always treasure. The atmosphere was electric, and it certainly gave the Lionesses the push they needed to win the match. A home Euros, with England vs Germany in the final at Wembley Stadium is simply what dreams are made of.
As a former England player myself, who has played alongside some of the older (or should I say ‘more experienced’) players such as Ellen White, Mary Earps and Lucy Bronze, I know it will have been their ultimate dream to play in a home Euros final. And then to go on and win it in front of a record crowd for any European Championships game, men’s, or women’s, of over 87,000 people is just phenomenal.
I was sat in the crowd yesterday and I was quite emotional, as I am a player who has been playing at the top level of women’s football now for 15 years, and I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined that an England game would attract an audience to sell out Wembley. I played for England when we won the U19 European Championships in 2009 and there wasn’t much of a crowd watching us or any significant publicity after the match, even though we were the first England team to win a major tournament since the men won the World Cup in 1966. But fast forward to 2022, and the publicity and media attention that the Lionesses have received is just incredible! That is testament to all of the Lionesses who have played so brilliantly across the whole tournament. If the product on the pitch is good, then the fans will come in their thousands - long may that continue in women’s football.
There have been numerous times in the past where the England Women’s team have come so close to winning a major tournament but have never quite done it. There is a key reason as to why the Lionesses have been successful this time round, and that is purely and simply investment. Since the Women’s Super League turned fully professional around 2017, it is very clear to see the improvement in the product on the pitch. The girls have been able to train full time as professional footballers, instead of also having to hold down a part time job too. It is simple, the more you practice, the better you become at something, hence why now the quality of women’s football is much better than in previous years.
When I turned fully professional at Birmingham City Women in 2017, I was still holding down a role as a visiting lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton. I did this, firstly because I enjoyed my teaching and liked the fact that I had a dual identity. But I also chose to do it to earn some extra income, as my wage wasn’t satisfactory to allow me to save money for a house and all the other important things in life. In 2020, I moved to Tottenham Hotspur, and this wage allowed me to fully concentrate on my football, though I did still choose to carry on my lecturing one day a week because I enjoy it so much. Many, if not all of the girls in the Women’s Super League, can now also choose to focus fully on football and have it as their main form of employment. This is due to significantly higher levels of investment, not just from the men’s clubs who support their women’s teams, but also from the Football Association. The women’s game now also attracts more sponsors and commercial investors, such as Barclays, who are the main sponsor of the top two women’s leagues in England. I’m sure that after the success of the Lionesses last night, the interest from big investors will increase significantly. It is an exciting time for women’s football in this country and I can’t wait to see what the game will be like in 10 years’ time.
The win last night will not only positively affect the women’s game at the elite level, but also at a grassroots level too. With the visibility and exposure that a home Euros has had, young girls across the country will now have role models that they look up to and who they want to emulate.
The broadcasting of the Euros on the BBC has been fantastic, and I read this morning that the final last night was the most viewed TV programme of 2022, even higher than the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – now, that is HUGE! Over 17 million viewers on BBC One, with a further 6 million viewers streaming the game on BBC iPlayer; just brilliant! I really hope the viewing figures will transfer to more people going down to support their local women’s team, whether it is in the Women’s Super League or Women’s Championship, or all the way down to Tier 6 in the women’s football pyramid. I also hope and believe these figures will transfer to a grassroots level too, with greater participation of young girls playing football across the country.
A legacy must be created now after the success of the Lionesses and like Ian Wright said, if girls’ football isn’t available at every single school across the country after the success of this tournament, then we are doing something wrong.
I could write all day about England winning the Euros, but I would like to dedicate my final words to the England players of the past who have paved the way for the current Lionesses to achieve their success. The likes of Kelly Smith, Faye White, Rachel Yankey, Hope Powell, Fara Williams, Mary Phillip, Laura Bassett…too many names to mention. These are some of the women who are the pioneers in the women’s game. They have been through the struggles when the basic needs for women’s footballers weren’t met, and they had to break down many barriers to achieve the successes that they did. These women have been through some heartache when wearing an England shirt, so for them to finally experience the highs of an England team winning the Euros must have meant so much to them - that win last night was for you, ladies. IT FINALLY CAME HOME!
Alumna Kerys studied Sports and Exercise Science at the University of Wolverhampton. To find out more about studying Sport and courses on offer click here.
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