Rachel Gould and her friends have been watching women’s football together for five years, including travelling abroad to watch England in the 2019 World Cup. But they always found that in pubs across the UK, the atmosphere had “never been as exciting as we thought it could be”.
So when the Euros arrived on home turf, they decided to take matters into their own hands and create “a mini festival of football”.
Under the name Baller FC, Gould and her friends have organised lively viewing parties in London for every single match, with big screens and the sound turned up high, and DJs and dancing after Friday and Saturday fixtures. This contrasts with many local pubs that, Gould said, would only show England matches – and often in silence.
“We’ve had such a great time meeting people from different countries and teams, and we’ve loved partying with them and celebrating football,” said Gould, 42, a freelance events producer.
At the Stag’s Head pub in Hoxton, east London, for Baller FC’s viewing party for England’s thrilling 4-0 semi-final win against Sweden, the atmosphere was electric as enthusiastic fans – packed to the rafters – loudly cheered on the home team.
Charlotte Thompson, the head of women’s football at the media firm Copa90, was thrilled that she had worn her Beth Mead shirt: “For her to score was amazing.”
She said her favourite part had been observing the four men behind her who had come for a drink in their local rather than to watch women’s football, but ended up “jumping around us when we scored”.
She added: “These are scenes you would expect at a men’s semi-final. It shows we’re here, we’ve arrived, let’s start celebrating women’s football for what it is.”
Her colleague James Lewis felt Sweden had missed several opportunities. “This is the theme of the Euros, any team can score and the winners are the ones who take their chances. Sweden didn’t take their dinner.”
Lewis said the match was the “best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced at a football match”, with “an amazing result”.
His woman of the match was Millie Bright for her “defensive masterclass”, though only “a lot of expletives” would suffice to describe Alessia Russo’s goal. Describing her as a “one of a kind striker”, he said she was “exactly what women’s football epitomises”.
Although Germany will prove challenging opponents if they beat France in the other semi-final, Lewis was sanguine about England’s prospects. “This is why we believe it’s coming home. Why not be confident when you have the best players in the world?”
Thompson said the game was “amazing, insane”. She said the anticipated Alessia Russo-Ella Toone link-up proved that England have a “gameplan, we stuck to it and it worked”.
She is nervous about Sunday’s final but conceded: “Sweden were a hard team and we tore them apart in that second half.
“We’re obviously a team that runs on confidence. The goals come in, the home fans were there. You could feel the atmosphere coming from the stadium, the atmosphere in here was electric. What you felt tonight was pure football fandom, just pure unrivalled passion.”
She added: “Another England final at Wembley, you can’t get more special than that.”
Paul, a 35-year-old office worker, said the game had been “a little bit tense” but the atmosphere was one of “friendly fun”.
“I watch a lot of football and if you go to watch the men’s game by the time it starts people are quite drunk and it boils over but I think this has been really good,” he said.
At the same pub for England’s quarter-final match last week, he had easily been able to get a seat, but by 6.30pm on Tuesday night, 90 minutes before the match started, the pub was already full.
“You can feel that momentum is getting behind the team, people are getting more and more excited,” he said before the match.
He added: “If England got to the final, it would be a big deal nationwide. It would mean a lot.”
Thousands of spectators gathered across the UK on Tuesday night at official fan zones in host cities, including in Trafalgar Square in London, and packed out pubs and community centres to watch the biggest women’s sporting event in European history.
Viewing figures at home are likely to surpass the 9 million who tuned in to watch England defeat Spain in the quarter-final last Tuesday.
Part of the draw is women’s football’s unique atmosphere, which Gould said was more welcoming and inclusive than the tribalism and machoism of the men’s game.
Her nights have a welfare officer to assist with emotional issues, and aim to create connections, with many fans arriving solo and hoping to make friends.
“It’s very different to men’s football. The rivalry is different because for us it’s a celebration, we appreciate all the other teams and skills and players, that’s the joy of it for us,” said Gould.
“The people coming down here are extremely approachable and friendly, as well as knowledgable about what’s going on and passionate about the game.”
Several fans at the Stag’s Head shared their elation that England had made it so far in a groundbreaking tournament on home turf.
Steph Griffith, a 35-year-old barber and hair and makeup artist, said she worked with lots of straight men who were fans of the men’s game and had been heartened by their interest in the women’s Euros.
“The more people are seeing the quality, that England are doing amazingly and having incredible matches, it will have a really positive impact for sure,” she said. “I do think this tournament has helped that.”
Stella Ameny, a 49-year-old charity worker, agreed: “It’s the most amazing thing ever, coming here and everyone’s here for football. It’s always very homely seeing who is around, it’s such a joy. It’s an experience of freedom, so much freedom of expression.”
In the Euros, she has felt that there is no substantive difference between men and women’s football. “They just matched the men’s energy,” she said.
An England win of the overall tournament, she said, “would mean lot. England is so good but I don’t see why we never get to get the trophies. They go so far, so close but it has to come home this time.”