England’s women write a new chapter in Sheffield’s relationship with football

Euro 2022 has attracted a different type of fan that puts aside local tribalism and it made the semi-final extra special

I decided to walk to the semi-final at Bramall Lane on Tuesday night, mainly because I could. It was almost impossible to believe my luck, an England Euros semi-final just a short walk down the road from my house. This just doesn’t happen in Sheffield.

The city has hosted tournaments before. Denmark and Portugal came for the Euros in 1996 and reportedly drank the city dry, forcing the local breweries to put on extra shifts to satisfy their thirst. It was a magical time and is still fondly remembered by those old enough to have been around.

Even before Tuesday, the tournament had been a success for the city. The centre was taken over by Dutch and Swedish fans for the best attended group stage match that didn’t include England. You get an idea of excitement from viral videos of the Swedish fans dancing to Abba on Division Street and the Dutch fans walking to the stadium.

There was a huge take up of tickets locally. Many of my friends used the group stages as an opportunity to take their daughters and sons to their first match. It briefly united both sides of the city, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United fans sitting side by side enjoying football without the local tribalism. It felt like there was a space for a different kind of fan in Sheffield for the first time, and I liked that.

Tuesday felt different still. It was England, in a semi-final of a major tournament, in Sheffield. The 28,000+ crowd was full of local families, children on their first week of school holidays, being allowed to stay up late on a Tuesday. Groups of women, drinking but not drunk, wearing retro 90s England shirts and bucket hats. Men were outnumbered. We were optimistic and infectiously excited. We sang the national anthem, out of time and out of tune.

The first 30 minutes were terrifying, England looked nervous and Sweden had the majority of the chances. I looked around at the families next to me and feared the worst, bracing myself for crying children and another hard life lesson in being an England fan.

England supporters make their way to Bramall Lane for the semi-final.
England supporters make their way to Bramall Lane for the semi-final. Photograph: Emma Simpson/Uefa/Getty Images

By the time Alessia Russo scored the third with a potential goal of the tournament I finally relaxed. England were stronger, faster and dominated Sweden. It felt completely magical, strangers hugged each other, flags were waved and “It’s coming home” was sung unironically.

Between the third and the fourth goal a young girl behind me took it upon herself to tell her brother that there wasn’t “women’s football” or “men’s football”. It was all just “football”.

It genuinely felt like witnessing history, another new chapter in Sheffield’s long relationship with professional football, memories to be recalled fondly to anyone that will listen for the next few decades. Until we get to host another major tournament and do it all over again.

• Christian Bennett is head of audio and video at the Guardian


Christian Bennett

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
England’s gritty win against Spain bodes well for Euro 2022 chances | Karen Carney
Having dug deep for their quarter-final victory, the Lionesses are better equipped to win the tournament

Karen Carney

22, Jul, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
England Women will have to be at their best without the ball against Spain | Karen Carney
Spain will be a different challenge in the Euro 2022 quarter-final but England have the attacking talent to beat Jorge Vilda’s side

Karen Carney

17, Jul, 2022 @9:00 PM

Article image
If she is ready, Steph Houghton deserves her place in England’s Euro 2022 squad | Suzanne Wrack
The Manchester City defender’s inclusion in the provisional squad has caused debate but big match experience could prove vital

Suzanne Wrack

11, Jun, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
England offer record crowd glimpse of new dawn for women’s football | Jonathan Liew
Old Trafford was a bracing, stunning sight before kick-off amid the belief this could genuinely be the start of something

Jonathan Liew at Old Trafford

06, Jul, 2022 @10:32 PM

Article image
High-profile drubbings are rare but they happen – in men’s football too | Anita Asante
England’s 8-0 defeat of Norway led to criticism of the women’s game but why should it be treated differently to Germany 7-1 Brazil?

Anita Asante

14, Jul, 2022 @12:39 PM

Article image
Lack of diversity in England Women squad will stop many girls from dreaming | Anita Asante
Set-up of elite women’s football in England needs to change – and saying so is not a criticism of this squad or manager

Anita Asante

18, Jul, 2022 @8:00 PM

Article image
I cried when England won. It’s been a long journey for women’s football – and for me | Suzanne Wrack
The Euro 2022 triumph means the world to me and all the writers who have witnessed this team’s incredible rise

Suzanne Wrack

02, Aug, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
Alessia Russo banished all fear with the cheeky backheel that foxed Sweden | Jonathan Liew
Moments of inspiration are so rare at this level that the England striker’s semi-final goal was the last thing anyone expected

Jonathan Liew

27, Jul, 2022 @11:48 AM

Article image
England’s Steph Houghton in race to be fit for European Championship
The England head coach Sarina Wiegman, who has brought in Beth England for April World Cup qualifiers, said of Steph Houghton’s fitness for this summer’s Euros: ‘It’s going to be very tight’

Louise Taylor

29, Mar, 2022 @5:40 PM

Article image
Alexandra Popp’s warmup woes rob her of fairytale finish with Germany | Nick Ames
Injury shortly before kick-off denied the tournament’s best finisher the ending she had craved for an entire career

Nick Ames at Wembley

31, Jul, 2022 @8:45 PM