It used to be every two years or so when England football fans get giddy with a mixture of excitement, fear and extreme anticipation for the chance to lift long-awaited international silverware. The men hit the post last summer, narrowly missing out in their Euro final.
In case you’ve been living under a rock since the 31st July, England’s elite women footballers won the 2022 UEFA Women’s European Championships.
Shout out to Nike for kitting out the ladies with a pair of suave kits, avoiding the status quo of using the same designs as the men’s kit in women’s sizes. The crest and Swoosh tick get a subtle, iridescent makeover on a diamond-detailed home shirt, while the away kit colour is bright orange and maroon rather than red.
From now on, expect to feel the buzz every summer, because the intense nationwide support formerly reserved for the men’s team will finally apply to England’s women’s team.
At last, the nation from which the beautiful game was born gets to proudly proclaim themselves as victors. Talismanic captain Leah Williamson lifted the hefty trophy with glee, her winners medal around her neck and rainbow-coloured skippers’ band proudly on her arm. Moments in an athlete’s career don’t get much sweeter than that.
The Arsenal midfielder led the line, but there were so many stars in the squad throughout the Euro campaign who played their part. This was much more than a football tournament.
This was (inadvertently or not) about making a statement from the sporting world to the wider societal one; women cannot and will not be marginalised – no matter what kind of political tyranny, religious ideology or pure ignorance exists.
Now we’re not here for a sociology lecture. Let’s discuss just how the Lionesses managed such to conquer European football and inspire a nation.
First up, Austria. The game’s only goal came from Beth Mead, who’s lobbed first-half effort just about crossed the goal line. The defender’s clearance smashed the crossbar and went back into play but the referee’s watch buzzed and the goal stood. A sold out Old Trafford erupted and the ball was officially rolling.
Then came Norway. Ranked 11th in the world, this was certainly a step up. England raised their game to produce a sensational, record breaking performance and stunned their rivals 8-0. Twelve cagey minutes into the game and Georgia Stanway‘s penalty settled the nerves and opened the floodgates. Goals from Lauren Hemp and Ellen White came in the next half an hour as they entered the interval three to the good. What came after was a ruthless onslaught on Norway’s goal – Beth Mead bagged a hat-trick, Alessia Russo came off the bench to score and White got her second of the night. The Amex Stadium was rocking as England made a huge statement to the rest of the draw.
Wrapping up the group stage saw the Lionesses beat Northern Ireland, comfortably dispatching them 5-0. It was another frustrating start with the without Wiegman in the dugout due to Covid. But the gaffer’s absence didn’t stop her team imposing their dominance. Chelsea’s Fran Kirby curled a beauty into the top bin before Mead drilled a precise low strike to make it 2-0 in the first half. Super-sub Russo netted twice after coming on while Northern Irish defender Burrows‘ desperate attempt to clear a Kirby cross only helped the ball on into her own net.
A fearsome Spanish side awaited in the quarters. It took 54 minutes for an opener, which eventually came courtesy of Esther Gonzalez. The tension was palpable in the closing stages, cue an Ella Toone volley to level the match with six minutes of the ninety to go. Stanway then sent the supporters into delirium with a thumping extra-time winner.
Then there was the small matter of beating Sweden, ranked third in the world. Bramall Lane played host to England’s fourth consecutive women’s major tournament semi-final. Goals from Lucy Bronze and Mead gave the girls a nice cushion.
And then, in the 68th minute, came a moment of brilliance from Alessia Russo. The 23-year-old Manchester United winger became England’s back-heel hero, scoring a sensationally cheeky goal, one fit for a Puskas Award nomination.
Having missed a sitter (by her own admission) following brilliant build up involving Lauren Hemp, Rachel Daly, Leah Williamson, Kiera Walsh and Fran Kirby, Russo was facing away from goal as she swung her boot backwards onto the ball. It rolled past Swedish defenders and through the legs of the bemused goalkeeper. Nuts! The outrageous and filthy piece of individual ingenious defined England’s collective will to perform under pressure on the biggest stage. Kirby rounded off the match, ending 4-0.
In the final, the all-time highest attendance of any UEFA match both was set. A total of 87,192 packed into Wembley to witness a monumental sporting moment. Who else but Germany? This is England after all, winning the whole thing was never destined to be straightforward, regardless of how easy the team made it look in their previous matches.
The game was tight. Whatever Wiegman said in the dressing room though, spurred her team on to grab a goal just after an hour, through Toone again. Angst filled the stadium as Germany’s Lina Megull equalised late on. Extra-time and the dreaded p-word was in the air. Spot kicks in the final were looming, but for Chloe Kelly. The 24-year-old Manchester City forward poked home a loose ball from a corner in the 110th minute, sending a stadium and a country into jubilation.
There were iconic scenes as Kelly‘s shirt-swinging celebration honoured Brandi Chastain, sent Nike sales through the roof and empowered many.
Mead won both the Golden Boot and the best player award, with Russo of course scoring the goal of the tournament. The Lionesses won the 2022 Euros by scoring 22 goals and conceding only 2. Having the backing of a nation goes a long way, not that it detracts anything away from their seismic success.
So the fans – how could we forget them. The twelfth (wo)man must’ve played a part for the home nation’s success. Prior to the tournament’s kick off there was already a buzz around the women’s game not felt before. Flags flapped on cars, dangled from windows and were painted on faithful faces.
In crashing the manager’s post-match press conference with a rendition of the Three Lions anthem, the players garnered plenty of social media views and even more admiration. It was also a clear precursor to a heavy night out on the lash, which inevitably followed.
For Sarina Wiegman, a night spent in the uncharacteristic company of Prosecco left her less than her usual unruffled self. Several of the players engaged in some early-morning Deliveroo action to soak away the excesses while Bronze’s attempts to revive the England manager with a “hair of the dog” beer by way of a breakfast were politely but forcibly declined.
Congratulations ladies, from On the Line(ess). *tumbleweed*. How good it feels to write this: England – European Champions! Football’s come home. Now over to you in Qatar, gents…