Sarina Wiegman and her Lionesses have won England's first major trophy since 1966 and have been crowned European Champions after a nerve-wracking match on July 31.
England scoring the most goals in a tournament, a record number of womens and mens European finalists, and many more? So, how do we ensure that this tournament did not become just another flop in our quest for mainstream recognition for women's football?
The Football Association (FTA) reacted angrily to the fact that women's football was actually more popular than mens football, yet somehow the game remained unsuitable for women. By 1971, the FA came to their senses, developing the Women's Premier League, which has since evolved into the Women's Super League. However, the sport has remained a shambles due to insufficient funding and inadequate grassroots involvement. England's WSL only became fully professional in 2018.
For a while, supporters of the sport have been hoping for a change, although efforts to increase the sport's profile have been largely unsuccessful and, frankly, disappointing. In 2012, the 70,584 people who gathered to watch Team GB women win Rio 2016 indicated that the game would turn around. But a lack of consistency (there was no team at Rio 2016, for instance), combined with persistent problems in domestic leagues (such as clubs collapsing and a lack of professionalism) prevented this from happening.
With the proper funding, encouragement, and visibility, a women's tournament can be as successful as any men's tournament. Now, the success of the Lionesses and the inspiration they have given girls across the UK must be capitalized on in order to preserve the legacy of these Euros.
The focus has been on England and their victories, and rightfully so, but there has been progress across the rest of the UK as well. While Northern Ireland may not have qualified for the group stage in Euro 2022, qualifying for a major tournament for the first time is a tremendous accomplishment.
Scotland was unfortunate to decline to feature this year, but they have previously qualified for the Euros and a World Cup; and though Wales is yet to qualify for a major tournament, there is no doubt that there is potential there. All three nations have domestic leagues, so the support that the Lionesses and English football clubs are receiving needs to be shared.
The powers that be must take the lead in the coming season of England's WSL and the World Cup next summer. We must also see an ongoing interest in the game, which is fortunate.
The FA announced that England would play against the United States at Wembley in October, leading to a FA website collapse and fans being held in lines of more than 45,000 people waiting online. In the same region, Brighton Hove and Albion Football Club have reported a 249% increase in the number of womens football season tickets sold compared to the same stage last season.
The addition of more players to domestic matches is critical to maintain the sport's profile high, but how does this work in practice? The likes of Manchester City versus Arsenal, which will feature Euro 2022 stars such as Leah Williamson, Beth Mead, Kiera Walsh, and Chloe Kelly, have a kick-off time of 7 p.m., while most women's games are still scheduled for the afternoons.
Then there's the discussion of stadiums. The fact that Wembley and Old Trafford were pretty much filled to capacity for games during the Euros shows that it's possible to attract supporters. However, only two clubs have played all of their WSL games at the same stadium as the men. At Meadow Park, it's the second smallest capacity in England's women's football history.
There are already plans to improve this. Arsenal is scheduled to play several of their most important matches, such as their Champions League matches, at the Emirates Stadium. Manchester City has already announced that they will play the Manchester Derby at the Etihad. However, we are optimistic that more games will be available next season.
The next generation of Lionesses will have a greater interest in football among young girls, according to the FA, 75 percent of schools will allow girls to play and 75 percent of all grassroots clubs will have a girls team. If this is achieved, it would mean that for the next era of Lionesses, the opportunities would be greater than for any of the girls who followed them.
This weekend's victory is more than just football returning home. It's a virtual pat on the back for every single female footballer who worked a full-time job and then drove for hours to train, that played under poor conditions, that suffered abuse for wanting to play. It's a pat on the back for the EURO 2009 England team who lost the final (to Germany, of all teams) that their efforts were not forgotten.
Womens football has so much potential, potential that has been waiting in the wings, biding its time. Seeing tens of thousands of young girls chanting for female footballers and seeing women respected in such a huge arena has had an impact that extends beyond the sport itself. I am looking at the game with real optimism and hope that some real change will happen.