As England’s manager, Phil Neville, punched the air in glee on the touchline after his side went 3-0 up against Norway to secure their passage to the World Cup semi-finals, he wasn’t the only one celebrating.
A record-breaking 7.6 million people tuned in to BBC One back home to cheer on the Lionesses as they trounced their Scandinavian opposition. The figures, based on people watching for five minutes or more, made it the UK’s most-watched women’s football game ever.
The number tuning in on Thursday to watch England’s passage to the next stage beat the previous best for a women’s game of 6.9 million for Sunday’s victory over Cameroon. On 9 June a peak of 6.1 million saw England beat Scotland 2-0.
The Lionesses will face either France or the USA in the semi-finals on Tuesday. The final is on Sunday 7 July at 4pm UK time.
Support for the team has grown as momentum has built. The former England men’s captain David Beckham was among the crowd watching Thursday’s game, along with his daughter Harper.
The BBC sports presenter Clare Balding tweeted: “What a great result. A top performance from a team to inspire pride and love.”
Prince William also sent a personal message of support. The FA president said: “What a performance Lionesses, a superb display! The whole country is behind you going into Tuesday’s semi-final, bring it on!”
The BBC said the 2019 tournament had extended its record for TV reach to 22.2 million, well in excess of the 12.4 million set in 2015 during the Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Bronze , the Lyon full-back who scored the third goal against Norway with a strike from outside the box, has established herself as one of the stars of the tournament. She also set up Scott’s opener and was involved in the build-up to the Lionesses’ second goal, scored by White.
Sue Campbell, the head of women’s football at the FA, said the players had battled their way to the top. “It’s not like male footballers … these are women who when they first started playing, people were not always positive about them playing football. They have overcome every barrier.
“They are wonderful role models for all girls no matter what they want to do. These girls tell you whatever you want to do you can do it if you work hard and are prepared to make sacrifices. They are terrific role models.”
Campbell said it was important to make sure those inspired by the Lionesses had a chance to play. “We need to make sure the inspiration they get from watching this World Cup turns into participation by thousands of young girls,” she added.
The excitement generated by the players was felt across the UK, with festivalgoers at Glastonbury watching the match in their thousands.
The decision to show the game on the West Holt stage came came after a plea from the Lionesses midfielder Georgia Stanway, who tweeted at organisers to ask them to show it.
“It’s been such a good tournament so far and I was sad when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to watch the game because of being at Glastonbury,” said 31-year-old Simon Bradley, from Manchester. “There was a party atmosphere. England scored within a few minutes and from then on it was a really good performance.”
Scott Mundy, 25, from north London, said watching the women’s football in one of the festival’s biggest spaces was a far cry from his previous experience of watching Wimbledon in a bar on the site. “The audience [for women’s football] is way more tolerant and accepting. That was reflected in the crowd – it wasn’t laddy. And if that’s the culture across women’s football as a whole then hopefully it’s something that could start to influence men’s football too.”
Meanwhile, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said England’s success could increase beer sales by 3m pints.
Samuel Dewey, the landlord at Saint John’s Yard in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said interest in the matches this year had been far higher than that of previous tournaments.
“It is important that we show just as much interest in this as the men’s side of the game,” he said. “We don’t allow children in the evenings normally, but we have done with the Women’s World Cup so they can watch it too.
“People are really excited about it. There will be chanting, and there was a nice atmosphere for last night’s game – everyone was enjoying it.”
Julie Neville, the wife of Phil Neville, said on BBC Radio Manchester’s Breakfast Show with Chelsea Norris that she had seen how much her husband had put into the job.
“When he was offered the job, he was really interested in it, but a big criticism at the time was that he didn’t know a lot about women’s football. He said he was going to fully immerse himself in it … I have seen him do that.”
She added: “I have seen how committed he is and what it means to him. He said in an interview that it was one of the best things he has done in his life and I can see that.”
The former England player Claire Rafferty said the team had a real chance of winning the tournament. “A great deal of it goes down to luck and sometimes, unfortunately, you’re unlucky like we were last time around. I feel like you need that on your side but you can create your own luck and the girls get through on hard work.”
She added: “Every single one in our starting 11 would be playing in anyone’s starting 11 around the world.”