How women’s football can capitalise on England triumph – in six steps

It will be a failure if Euro 2022 does not leave a lasting impact and our plan goes from schools to the very top

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As the Lionesses placed their hands on the European Championship trophy on Sunday, one eye was already on ‘what next’? For as special and historic as this moment is, it will be a failure if women’s football does not capitalise.

Victory on the international stage has the power to change the sport. Much like when the USA 99ers’ World Cup success led to women’s football exploding in the States or the legacy of the Netherlands’ 2017 win that has helped participation and attendances increase, alongside the introduction of the first professional Vrouwen Eredivisie, England will need to find its own way to make sure this achievement has a long-lasting effect.

How do we make sure of that? Here are six areas that need to be focused on.

Equal early years access

As Ian Wright said so passionately after the Lionesses’ semi-final win over Sweden: “If girls are not allowed to play football in their PE, just like the boys can, what are we doing?”

He is not wrong. According to the Football Association’s figures, 63% of schools offer equal access through girls’ football in PE, including only 44% of secondary schools. These barriers are established at key stages in children’s development that will colour their view for years.

There is work being done, with one of the headline goals for the FA’s Women’s and Girls’ Football in England strategy being “every primary school-aged girl to have equal access in school and clubs” by 2024.

Pathway for participation and diversification

A rise in interest always follows tournament success and the infrastructure must be ready to meet demand. More resources need to be committed at grassroots level and at the lower end of the football pyramid to ensure the focus is not just on elite competitive sport.

A strong club pathway is integral, as are increased efforts to reach a more diverse range of communities. This is where the stars of the future will be discovered, while also giving girls and women an outlet to play and enjoy a sport they have been traditionally excluded from.

Building on WSL’s success

Strong domestic leagues are key to international success. A watershed broadcast deal between Sky Sports and the BBC in 2021 has been crucial to getting eyes on the game. However, there is a cost to attendance. The regular Sunday night big-match kick-off time does not suit the average match-going fan.

Equally, several stadiums across the league are inadequate. I have a slightly more radical view on this. I believe every team should be playing at their club’s home. Seats may not fill instantly, but if you build it properly, they will come.

Beth Mead takes a shot during Arsenal’s WSL game against Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium in May.
Beth Mead takes a shot during Arsenal’s WSL game against Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium in May. Photograph: Bradley Collyer/PA

Clubs’ marketing + community outreach

I have said in a previous piece that we must use this moment to “market the hell” out of the game. This requires the input of everyone involved and maybe a glance towards other models to see what can be learned.

Clubs must up their marketing budgets and community outreach. There is a tendency for complacency in thinking that being a big brand on the men’s side, spectators will automatically come. Casey Stoney emphasised how effective NWSL clubs are at getting into their communities and building the foundations. More of this must be done in England.

Media attention

It has so often been the case that after media attention booms for a tournament, it drops off within a few months. Surely the demand that Euro 2022 has created – 17.4 million tuned into the BBC for the final – shows this cannot happen again. Coverage has to be on the game 365 days a year, bringing all of its wonders and troubles to life, so that it can continue to be at the forefront of people’s minds.

How English papers covered the Euro 2022 final.
How English papers covered the Euro 2022 final. Continued media attention is vital. Composite: Daily Mirror / The Daily Telegraph / The Daily Mail / The Sun / Metro

Continued national team success

England should not rest on their laurels. After a short break, eyes will be fully focused on the World Cup, the showpiece event of the sport next July and August. However, success must also be achieved at youth level and the continuation of a strong talent pathway. Youth football was one of the heaviest-affected by the pandemic and there needs to be work done to ensure that it recovers.

Talking points

Copa América champions 2022 Brazil sealed the Copa América with a 1-0 victory over Colombia. A first-half penalty from Debinha meant Pia Sundhage’s side lift the trophy for the eighth time. They will face England in the inaugural women’s Finalissima next year.

Crowds celebrate England and Germany teams Seven thousand spectators packed into Trafalgar Square on Monday to celebrate England’s Euro success with their Lionesses. Germany returned home to celebrate their second place with thousands of their fans on the streets of Frankfurt.

Fans gather in Frankfurt to show their appreciation for the Germany team after their second place at the Euros.
Fans gather in Frankfurt to show their appreciation for the Germany team after their second place at the Euros. Photograph: Thomas Boecker/DFB/Getty Images

World Cup intercontinental play-offs almost complete Nine spots for the first intercontinental play-offs have been decided. Cameroon, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Haiti, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Senegal and Thailand have booked their place. The Uefa allocation will be decided later this year. The competition will be held in New Zealand in February to decide the remaining three qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup.

Quote of the week

“The legacy of this tournament is a change in society. It’s everything we’ve done. We’ve bought everyone together. We’ve got people to come to games and we want them to come to WSL games. But the legacy of this team is winners and this is the start of the journey.” Leah Williamson, England captain

Recommended viewing

Scoring the winner at Wembley for your country win Euro 2022: it does not get much better than that. Chloe Kelly’s extra-time goal was certainly not the prettiest but the celebration quickly became famous.

The goal that saw the Lionesses wait for a major trophy come to an end...

More ⤵️ #BBCEuros #BBCFootball

— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 1, 2022

• Moving the Goalposts really is taking a short summer break this time – the newsletter will return on 17 August


Sophie Downey

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