KATHRYN BATTE: The Lionesses Euro 2022 success has captured the nation. Women’s football is not going anywhere. These players will not disappear from your TV screens. So drink it in!
- England will face Germany in the Euro 2022 final at Wembley on Sunday evening
- Over the last decade and a half there has been huge growth in women’s game
- The Lionesses last reached a major final when they lost 6-2 to Germany in 2009
I was eight years old when England hosted the women’s European Championship in 2005.
I had spent my childhood idolising David Beckham, Michael Owen and various Hull City players (I won’t mention them all).
I knew England had a women’s team but I also knew that many of them were not paid well and after watching Bend it Like Beckham I had deduced that the only way to become a professional footballer was to go to America.
England will face Germany in the Euro 2022 final at Wembley on Sunday evening
The truth is, though Euro 2005 caught my interest, when England went out in the group stage my enthusiasm faded. The women who had briefly appeared on my TV screen were nowhere to be found.
But two years later they were back for the World Cup in China. Where had they been? They had improved since the last time I had watched them. I don’t remember every game from that tournament or every result.
But what I do remember is Kelly Smith taking off her boot, lifting it in the air and giving it a kiss after every goal she scored. That, for me, was the moment it changed.
I had never looked up to a female player before but suddenly I wanted to go down to the park and copy that celebration. When people asked me who my favourite player was, I would say ‘Kelly Smith.’
There may have been other girls around the country who were taking their shoes off in parks but nobody at my school seemed to have the same enthusiasm.
So 15 years later, to see girls and boys wanting to copy Alessia Russo’s back-heel against Sweden feels surreal.
Over the last decade and a half there has been huge growth in the women’s domestic game and there is no longer a lull between international tournaments.
Over the last decade and a half there has been huge growth in the women’s domestic game
But there has always been a burden on England’s players about what winning a trophy would do for the Women’s Super League and the grassroots game in this country.
It is a pressure that the men have never had. They do not need to ‘grow’ the Premier League.
After making the final of this home tournament, I hope Sarina Wiegman’s players do not have to carry that burden anymore. I hope that, now, they can focus on football.
I watched every game of Euro 2009 as England made the final, where they were beaten 6-2 by Germany.
Thirteen years on, they face the same opponents at a sold-out Wembley. How times have changed. As the home nation, England will go into this as favourites but the Germans will be desperate to spoil the party.
This tournament has captured the nation and whatever happens on Sunday, whether England win or lose, the women’s game will be stronger.
This tournament has captured the nation and whatever happens, the game has grown stronger
In Alex Scott’s BBC documentary England captain Leah Williamson was asked about the people who say women’s football doesn’t deserve coverage.
‘If you don’t like it, it means it can’t exist. Why? Because it’s women? Because if it was a men’s sport it wouldn’t be spoken about in the same way. But if it’s women, then it means we need to remove it. Alright, well we’re not going anywhere.’
This England team is not going anywhere. Women’s football is not going anywhere. These players will not disappear from your TV screens. So drink it in.