England’s Women’s Euro final run must leave a lasting legacy
The Lionesses are ‘ready to write history’ – but will the impact be for the long term?
Sarina Wiegman’s England squad are “ready to write history” after they thrashed Sweden 4-0 to reach the final of the Uefa Women’s Euro 2022. At Bramall Lane in Sheffield the Lionesses turned on the style as they powered past the world’s second-highest ranked team with goals from Beth Mead, Lucy Bronze, Alessia Russo and Fran Kirby.
The victory over Sweden ended England’s semi-final hoodoo after losses at the 2017 Women’s Euros and the 2019 and 2015 World Cups. They will now play Germany in Sunday’s showpiece at Wembley Stadium in London (5pm kick-off, live on BBC One).
Sunday will represent England’s third appearance in the competition’s final, said Sky Sports. At the inaugural Women’s Euros in 1984 they were beaten on penalties by Sweden after the two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate. Then in 2009 they lost 6-2 to Germany.
Should England triumph at Wembley it would also see Wiegman win the tournament for the second time in succession. She led her native Netherlands to victory in 2017.
Legacy programme goals
Before and throughout the tournament Wiegman has spoken about how the Lionesses had aimed to “inspire the nation” at their home Euros. When asked in the post-match press conference if the win over Sweden was a statement to their rivals, she said: “Yes, I think so. We said we’re ready to write history and this is it.”
When England won the bid to host this year’s tournament, the Football Association (FA) said it hoped that the major event would “inspire positive change” and develop the women’s and girls’ game in Sheffield, Rotherham, Manchester, Trafford, Wigan and Leigh, Milton Keynes, London, Southampton and Brighton & Hove.
As part of the FA and Uefa’s Women’s Euro 2022 legacy programme, the three main goals were to “give access for all girls to play football in school and clubs”; create a diverse workforce of coaches, referees and local leaders “delivering and organising football for their communities”; and provide inclusive, safe and welcoming environments for “every woman and girl to play competitive or recreational grassroots football, irrespective of ability, disability, age or ambition”.
Head coach Wiegman believes that the team’s performances are “making a difference” and that the “whole country is proud” of the progress. “Even more girls and boys will want to play football.”
End the ‘eyebrow-raising disparities’
Watching the semi-final from the gantry at Bramall Lane, BBC pundit Ian Wright said he felt “as proud as I’ve ever felt of any England side”. However, the former Arsenal and England striker did send a warning to the authorities who run the game. “Whatever happens in the final now, if girls are not allowed to play football in their PE, just like the boys can, what are we doing?” he said. “We have got to make sure they are able to play and get the opportunity to do so. If there’s no legacy to this – like with the Olympics – then what are we doing.”
This year’s European Championship has “caught the imagination of football fans and the wider public” and the women’s game is “undoubtedly, having a moment”, said Marie-Christine Bouchier, the Professional Footballers’ Association’s director of women’s football, writing in The Guardian. England’s performances have led the newspaper back pages and “even more of the players are becoming household names”.
The real legacy, however, “must be true parity” for female footballers in England, Bouchier added. In April the government endorsed ten key strategic recommendations set out in a fan-led review of football in England. Published in November 2021 by former sports minister Tracey Crouch, a number of “detailed recommendations” were made, including that women’s football “should be treated with parity and given its own dedicated review”.
“Now is the perfect time” to launch the promised review and “end eyebrow-raising disparities”, Bouchier said. “It’s an opportunity that we need to make sure we don’t miss.”