As the dust begins to settle on England’s Lionesses thrilling and historic victory over Germany in the final of Euro 2022, I feel that it is high time that we reflect on the enormity of their achievements both on and off the pitch. As with each stride to ending 56 years of hurt without a major trophy for this country, they have turned public perception of women’s football on its head.
The women’s game has spent many years as an afterthought which held neither the allure, skill, and excitement of the men’s game, which has long had a stranglehold as the world’s number one sport.
However, with such an exciting and highly skilled women’s European Championship now etched in the record books it is maybe time for the ladies to finally force their way alongside their male counterparts at the head of the table.
It cannot be ignored how the Lionesses captured this country’s imagination, as despite a nervy start to their campaign with a 1-0 victory over Austria, they eventually swept aside every single obstacle placed in their pathway, as no matter the quandary presented to them, these girls alongside their manager Sarina Wiegman found the solution time and time again.
The knockout stages saw this team as one of the lowest ranked left in the competition, yet it mattered not, as despite heading for defeat against a talented Spanish team it was Ella Toone who snatched a late equaliser sending the match into extra time.
Georgia Stanway would then take the mantle and drill home a spectacular winner in the 96th minute, a stirring fightback from the brink which embodied their sense of self belief to overcome adversity, handing England an eventual 2-1 victory.
The accompanying passion that exuded from stands at the Brighton community stadium, along with the skill set and standard of play between both teams made it a truly thrilling advertisement for the women’s game.
Sweden, a team ranked 2nd in the world, awaited in the next round and were expected to use their vast experience to outmaneuver an England side that was somewhat lacking in experience.
What unfolded was totally on the contrary, as despite a slow start, England slowly began to tighten their stranglehold on proceedings with a 1-0 lead at half time. Lucy Bronze added a second at the beginning of the second half and in the 68th minute came a stroke of pure genius from substitute Alessia Russo.
With her back to goal and seemingly on a road to nowhere, she conjured up an audacious backheel from out of nothing, which found its way through the Swedish goalkeepers legs and into the back of the net, it was a moment that belonged on the world stage of Elite football regardless of gender, as England eventually ran out 4-0 victors.
As if by fate we would face yet another meeting with old foes Germany in a Wembley showpiece final, 56 years on from the last time England have lifted a major trophy in Football, whilst the German team have won this championship an astonishing eight times.
With history against them the lionesses would fight against convention once again, yet this time it would be on the pitch against a fearsome foe.
With an atmosphere at fever pitch we witnessed a fiery and passionate final in front of a record 87,000 crowd, and in the 62nd minute it truly sprung into life as Ella Toone’s beautiful lob gave England a 1-0 lead. Yet as ever we were pegged back to 1-1 by German Striker Lina Magull’s cool near post finish with only 10 minutes left on the clock. It would be extra time once more, and as ever these women simply would not lie down in the face of adversity, as they pushed for a late winner.
In the 110th minute euphoria finally arrived in the shape of Chloe Kelly’s right boot as she emerged victorious in a fraught goalmouth scramble, poking home the winner, sending Wembley into pandemonium as the entirety of the England bench spilled onto the pitch to join her in a celebration that has since become iconic, as she tore off her shirt and waved it around her head in scenes in pure elation and joy.
When the celebrations began in earnest at the final whistle it was a monumental moment as the ladies had finally delivered where the men have agonisingly came up short on so many occasions.
For that alone they must receive huge plaudits as the enormity and pressure of big time sporting events has been known to eat up both teams and individuals alike, so to demonstrate such mental fortitude in the pressure cooker of a major final deserves special acclaim.
It can only serve to inspire a new generation of young girls and boys to follow their dreams and look to carve out a path into our national sport which sadly has been inaccessible for far too long for young girls.
In comparison boys have always been provided with every facet possible to enjoy and participate in the sport, which is unjust as this competition has served as a reminder of the talent that we possess in the female game in this country. Thus, we need to continue to nurture it as such by providing young girls the tools to play the game itself.
In my mind this tournament has served as a wake up call to anyone who believes that women’s sport as a whole is somehow inferior, as there is so many inspirational female figure’s across the world of sport and beyond, with it high time that Football holds itself accountable and regards these achievements in as much high esteem as its male counterpart.
The World Cup in 2023 is next on the agenda for this group of fearless and courageous players, who have emerged from this summers exhilarating European Championships as household names in their own right. Which is deservedly so, as attendance and television viewing figures reached an all time high for the women’s game and it would be a real pity if this momentum and enthusiasm ends here.
How these women have battled their way into this country’s hearts, minds, and affections must now draw a line in the sand, as this momentous victory has resonated with so many people across the country regardless of gender.
Alas, I believe that it is our duty as a nation to put any prejudice and any false impressions in the past and to embrace this new found appetite for women’s Football that these heroic Lionesses have rightly earned.
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