Ella Toone has appealed to the half a million fans who have cheered the Lionesses on to European Championship glory this summer to come and support them at Women’s Super League games.
The Manchester United playmaker, who scored England’s first goal in the 2-1 victory against Germany at Wembley on Sunday, is grateful to the trailblazers who have lifted the women’s game to a new level but she also believes this generation have “left the shirt in a better place”.
A record crowd of 87,192 witnessed Sarina Wiegman’s team secure England’s first major trophy since the men won the 1966 World Cup on the same turf – but many of the greater challenges the women’s game has had to overcome were wiped away over the past month.
Toone is conscious, even in her moment of glory, that the next victory for the game will be achieved if the engorged crowds at this thrilling international tournament spill over on to domestic terraces when the WSL kicks off in mid-September.
The 22-year-old said: “I think a lot of people have fallen in love with women’s football this summer. That’s what we set out to do. So hopefully the crowds that we’ve had this summer we can get into our grounds at club level and some more fans at the stadium to be on the journey with us.”
Toone started playing for United at the age of eight and returned to the club she supports when the senior team were formed in 2018. Although they have embedded themselves in the top half of the WSL, average crowds in the division stand at about 2,000. The Football Association has set a target of 6,000 by 2024 and, with the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next July, the game has never had such a high profile.
“It’s massive now, absolutely massive,” Toone said. “We can’t forget everyone who came before us, but we’ve left the shirt in a better place for all the little girls growing up and we’re so proud.
“All we wanted to do was inspire the next generation and we have done and women’s football is getting bigger and bigger.”
Toone has played a vital part in the dramatic evolution that has culminated in England’s triumph. Her impact as a second-half substitute in this tournament can be measured in crucial opening goals against Spain in the quarter-final, when England were six minutes from elimination, and a beautiful finish to put England ahead in the final after she latched on to Keira Walsh’s pass to sandwedge a shot over the goalkeeper into the top corner.
“I’ve seen her coming out and I thought that would be the best shot to do,” she said. “I started celebrating even before it had gone in the net, so I was confident that it was going in and then the whole stadium erupted. Honestly [it’s the] best feeling of my life.
“You can see that the subs have made a massive impact in every game that we’ve come on for. Me and Chloe [Kelly] both scored [on Sunday] and both of us [were] starting as subs, but Sarina has said that it’s a squad of 23, so we know our roles.
“We know that when we come on we have to change the game and that’s what we did.”