Euro 2022: What will be lasting impact of European Women’s Championship?
Euro 2022 has been a huge success for England – both on and off the pitch.
The Lionesses have captivated the nation with their swashbuckling run to Sunday’s final against Germany at Wembley, while the tournament has attracted record crowds, carnival atmospheres and unprecedented media coverage for the sport.
Women’s football has already enjoyed a dramatic increase in popularity and publicity in recent years, but what impact will this tournament have? We asked for your opinions.
Larry Dickens, from Shropshire, is among those who never had any interest in women’s football before this summer’s Euros.
“To be honest, I was in danger of misogyny. OK that’s extreme, but you see, it is a man’s game,” he quips.
“I never bothered with women’s football before, now I am hooked. It has been a fresh of breath air – tough, resilient and honest, superb footballers with excellent skills.”
He says previously he wasn’t sure he could support two teams, but now sees he can follow the men’s and women’s teams for the same club.
“I haven’t noticed much change in male friends as yet, but my wife likes the footy too now. Our team is Newcastle, howay the lasses!”
He is not the only recent male convert.
Tim Williamson, a 67-year-old Arsenal fan from north London, said that he first got into watching football in 1966, when he, along with the rest of the country, was gripped by England’s World Cup-winning journey, and now the same is happening for him and the women’s team.
“I never took women’s football seriously until the Euros competition.”
The Lionesses’ quarter-final with Spain was the first time he had watched a women’s game in full. “To my wife’s anger I found myself screaming and swearing at the set just like I do when Arsenal are playing,” he says.
He has also noticed “an extraordinary difference” among his friends. “I’d say about half my male mates into football are suddenly talking about the women’s game. They even know the names of the players!”
Before the tournament there was a debate about the size and profile of some of the grounds chosen to host the Euros, and while Leigh and Rotherham may have seemed unlikely footballing arenas for some of the world’s best players, it has opened up the sport to new fans.
Coach driver Barry Critchley, 52, from Leigh, says he has always had a soft spot for the Netherlands so the Euros gave him the perfect chance to watch them in person when they came to town.
“Whilst watching the games I really only saw football being played, not women’s football. I am no activist or anything but to me it was just good quality football and a safe, pleasant atmosphere.”
He says he has already booked tickets for England’s World Cup qualifier at Stoke in September and intends to get tickets for Manchester United’s women. And will he persuade his mates to join him?
“I was waxing lyrical about Daphne van Domselaar after her performance against France. One driver listened but they are all staunch Everton or Liverpool fans and as far as they are concerned there is only one team.”
‘The best night ever’
Helen, from Sheffield, went to her first women’s match when the reigning champions, the Netherlands, took on the highest-ranked team in the competition, Sweden, in her city.
“I had the best night ever! I just loved my first experience, the atmosphere was incredible, I felt safe at the ground, and travelling to and from.”
She says she has signed up to the mailing list to get tickets for Manchester City and United as they are her nearest Women’s Super League sides – adding: “I’m currently deciding which team to follow! After Alessia Russo’s backheel wonder goal I think it has to be Man Utd.”
WSL clubs will be hoping to boost their attendances off the back of the Euros. Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City are among the clubs which have recently announced fixtures for their women’s teams at their men’s home ground.
Andrew, from Nottingham, says: “WSL matches must start selling out every game for the game to grow.”
But with the start of the men’s Premier League season just around the corner, David, from Wigan, says that will mean that even if England win the title, in a few weeks it will all be forgotten about – “that’s the way it is”.
For some of those enjoying this summer’s Euros, it is the impact on their children they are relishing.
Mark Reid, from Derby, says the amount of coverage has brought “an importance to women’s football” which has been really beneficial to his two daughters, who both play for grassroots teams.
“I love the shift from talking about the players in men’s teams, and instead now talking about names from women’s teams. It feels like a genuine change of role models that I hope inspires my daughters.”
Ian Baker, a teacher from Brighton, says the Euros have allowed him to share his lifelong passion for football with his daughter Daisy, 24, who has special needs, and wasn’t interested until she watched her first women’s game at Brighton in the WSL in 2019.
“The Euros have really deepened her love of women’s football. Daisy knows all the players’ names – her understanding of the game has increased hugely and it’s been a joy to share it with her.”
When it comes to the legacy of the tournament, it will take time to see how much effect it has had on the numbers of girls playing football.
Sophie, the club secretary of a grassroots team in Brixton, south London, says more women have been messaging them after the Lionesses’ win, wanting to join the team.
Mark Grinter, who runs a girls’ section of a football club in Bristol, says the number of girls getting involved has grown rapidly since he started offering them coaching in 2018, and he expects the Euros to boost numbers further.
“We have gone from a few girls to six teams and over 100 girls every week.” He says they had a boost in numbers after Covid and “this has gone from strength to strength – we are now getting around three to five girls a week joining”.
“We are lucky that the facilities we have will allow us to expand and we would like to have a girls team in all age groups in the next three years, with a women’s team as well.
“The only stumbling block is finding enough coaches, and we would love more female coaches.”
Baz Moffat, from London, says: “Inspiring moments in sport can be an incredible catalyst for change. But they only do this if backed up by a strategy to support girls and women.”
The question of resources is one that concerns Rachel, from Windsor, who asks “will the infrastructure be in place to cope with the increase in demand?”
She says her five-year-old daughter has always enjoyed football and “having seen the Euros she has certainly had this interest further ignited”.
“It seems there is such a shift in televised sport towards more equality between the sexes, and it’s a really exciting time to be bringing up a little girl.”
However, Rachel says they have struggled to find clubs offering sessions “exclusively for girls”, which she favours, in their local area.
“You can tell a lot by club websites, where the main photos are all of boys playing, or where there is no reference to girls’ teams. This is what I mean by lack of infrastructure and opportunity. Are the local clubs ready to ride on the coat tails of the Lionesses’ success?”