As a diehard football fan, I’m hoping the Euros will be a turning point for the women's game | Bryony Rowan

I know how exclusionary football can be to women and girls. It’s impossible to overstate just how significant tomorrow’s final will be

My first football match was when I was only a day old. My dad was managing a local club, and I was brought along for good luck. My family say I’ve been a fan ever since.

I’ve been to hundreds of matches, and attended 40 of the 92 English league grounds. I’ve been to the Asian Super Cup final in Japan, as well as games in China, Germany and Poland. But there’s something unique about seeing our English Lionesses reach the final of the Euros.

Bryony Rowan as a baby
‘Some of my best childhood memories are of watching my mum play for Bradford City.’ Photograph: Bryony Rowan as a baby

I come from a footballing family, so it’s not surprising I’m such a passionate supporter. My mum and dad have an England flag standing proudly outside their bedroom window for this weekend’s match, and I tried for five hours – ultimately, unsuccessfully – to get a ticket to Wembley.

Some of my best childhood memories are of watching my mum play for Bradford City, a top team at a time when women’s “professional” football didn’t exist. My dad played, too, for Crewe’s developmental team, so all of us always saw football as a sport for everyone. As a 10-year-old, I remember chatting tactics with my dad’s friends, and my opinion counted just as much as anyone else’s.

But I recognise that my experience was at odds with my peers. Growing up, my dad would take me to Huddersfield Town matches. I was completely swept up by the buzz of the crowd and the camaraderie between the fans. But even if there were sometimes other girls in attendance with their dads, I rarely saw mums or groups of women. When we would go to watch my mum play, even though Bradford City were in the Women’s Premier League National Division – the highest level in women’s football at the time – there was no fan culture that you would typically associate with professional sport. Supporters were friends and family. But the men’s games seemed to cultivate the most loyal followings, even the obscure ones. At school, even though I was mad about the game, I never bothered chatting football with the boys; I knew I’d be disrespected despite my encyclopedic knowledge.

I know how exclusionary football can be to women and girls. For that reason alone, it’s impossible to overstate just how significant Sunday’s Euros final will be. It could be the watershed moment female fans and players have waited for, as the UK is finally forced to wake up en masse to the fact that football is for women too.

Millions will be tuning in, including men who have never really acknowledged that women’s teams exist before, let alone supported them. Anecdotally, the reason seems to be simple: the truth is that the Lionesses’ talent is impossible to ignore. The team displays good, old-fashioned sportspersonship at its finest. They have conceded one goal since the group stages; in their game against Norway they scored six goals in one half, which had never been done before at the Euros. These women are smashing records, they have got the skill level, the professionalism, the personalities – what is the excuse to not support them at this point?

Bryony Rowan with her dad
‘Growing up, my dad would take me to Huddersfield Town matches.’ Photograph: Bryony Rowan

Too many girls still grow up believing that football is a sport for boys. But now, regardless of the messaging they may receive, girls will be able to watch women play from the stands or at home. You can’t overstate just how seismic that will be. If girls can see it, they can be it. I’m a diehard Huddersfield supporter, which has always been a family-friendly club, and as a child (and now a young woman), I’ve always felt welcomed as a female supporter. That makes a huge difference, because formative experiences matter.

It’s hard to describe just how good it feels to be swept up in a summer of football frenzy with women at the heart of our national pride. The Euros could be our opportunity to create a lasting legacy that transforms the way women’s sport is received across the board. But to be successful, we need to understand that change is not galvanised on positive feelings alone.

Women’s football urgently needs investment, strategy and planning. We need resources to not only get women into football, but also to keep them there. This is no longer a men’s game, and we need to recognise that there are already excellent female players, coaches and physios who don’t have the recognition they deserve. And I’m not just talking about sponsorship. It’s vital we also make women’s games more accessible and affordable if we want to increase crowd numbers – ticket prices and match locations have to be better considered to have any hope of transforming football into a game for all.

The Lionesses have captured the hearts and imaginations of girls across the country. I’m hopeful that their dedication will set us on an unstoppable path for change that will make everyone see that the women’s game is just as worthy as the men’s in its own right – and worth shouting about from the rooftops.

  • Bryony Rowan is a PhD student and Huddersfield Town supporter. As told to Lucy Pasha-Robinson

Bryony Rowan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Pure joy and a sports bra: the photo that encapsulates England Women’s Euros win | Lucy Ward
The history of women’s sport has been a tale of encumbrance, politically and physically. Chloe Kelly’s cathartic goal celebration marks a new chapter, says author Lucy Ward

Lucy Ward

01, Aug, 2022 @11:44 AM

Article image
The Lionesses have done it. This Euros win will change women’s football for ever | Carrie Dunn
Even before Chloe Kelly’s late winner, Sarina Wiegman’s team captured the country’s imagination and will inspire a generation of girls and boys alike, says Carrie Dunn, the author of The Changing Face of Women’s Football in England

Carrie Dunn

31, Jul, 2022 @6:48 PM

Article image
The Euros prove it: women's football is not like men's – and that's good | Jen Offord
Recognising the women’s game as a different product will help prevent it making the mistakes men’s football has made, says Jen Offord, presenter of the Standard Issue podcast

Jen Offord

27, Jul, 2022 @9:07 AM

Article image
When the Lionesses won, every overlooked and patronised woman triumphed too | Gaby Hinsliff
So many women who couldn’t care less about football were in tears, because they understood what it meant, says Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff

Gaby Hinsliff

02, Aug, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
I was England captain when women’s football struggled for attention: how far we’ve come | Faye White
The team’s brilliant victory shows that years of hard work and investment are finally paying off, says former England captain Faye White

Faye White

01, Aug, 2022 @3:27 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on women’s football: a breakthrough year | Editorial
Editorial: This week’s competition reveals how far the women’s game has come – and hopefully how far it can go


03, Jul, 2022 @5:25 PM

Article image
‘We’re buzzing’: grassroots women’s football teams look forward to Euros
Clubs hope to boost sport’s profile further after World Cup surge in popularity as tournament opens in England this week

Rachel Hall

03, Jul, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on the Lionesses’ triumph: a midsummer night’s dream | Editorial
Editorial: A victory against Germany in the Euros final can transform the future of women’s sport


01, Aug, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on the Lionesses: blazing a trail for women’s football | Editorial
Editorial: A thrilling tournament and a fine group of England players will leave a vibrant legacy for a generation of girls


29, Jul, 2022 @5:25 PM

Article image
Boys love these Lionesses too. A football revolution is coming | Sam Haddad
My sons are just thrilled England are in a World Cup semi-final. That enthusiasm means a threshold has been crossed, says Guardian travel writer Sam Haddad

Sam Haddad

02, Jul, 2019 @5:00 AM