Is Euro 2022 a payback for England women’s football?

BURTON ON TRENT, England. Just 13 years ago, England defender Lucy Bronze recalls having to pack bags at the supermarket to earn the money she needed to take the bus to Derby, where she and her Sunderland teammates were due to play in the FA Cup Final. women. It was only a couple of years after that, when she was still combining her nascent career at Everton with a job at Domino Pizza.

Fast forward to 2022. The rapid growth of women’s football in England and most of Western Europe is such that the Bronze and almost all other top professionals have long said goodbye to such part-time jobs. Today, Bronze is widely recognized as one of the best female players in the world: a three-time Champions League winner, Signing a stellar summer at Barcelona and a key member of the England squad, which harbors ambitions to win the European Women’s Championship this month.

“Here we are in 2022 and players are getting the opportunity to act like helicopters,” the 30-year-old Bronze said after training in England in June. “You know what I mean? It’s gone so far, so fast, and I don’t think anyone could have predicted how huge it would be.”

This marked the start of the Women’s Euro this summer, a three-and-a-half-week tournament that opens with host England against Austria on Wednesday night, another turning point for a game that has seen a surge in interest and investment.

At least half a dozen countries will arrive at England’s stadiums thinking they can lift the trophy after the July 31st final. But the pressure to do so may be greatest on the host nation, which continues to pour millions of dollars into the sport. but has yet to win a major women’s trophy.

The stakes are high for England to enter the tournament with fresh lopsided victories over three others – Belgium (3-0), the Netherlands (5-1) and Switzerland (4-0) – and aim to build on the semi-final run at the last World Cup and the next one is only a year away. The Lionesses, as the English team is known, have not lost a match since Sarina Wigman took over as their coach in September.

This means that there is no hiding from expectations. The faces of England footballers now adorn billboards in malls and packaging on store shelves. BBC will broadcast each game of the tournament on its channels or (for multiple simultaneous starts) on its streaming platform. Tickets for three of England’s group stage matches have already been sold out.

More than 500,000 tickets have been sold for the tournament, ensuring attendance for the tournament will more than double from its last iteration in 2017 in the Netherlands. Most of those who come to support England will expect the host country to set a new standard.

Perhaps that is why Wigman tried to temper expectations. “I think there are many favorites in this tournament. she recently said. “We are one of them.”

However, its players know that the sudden growth of the game, as well as the opportunity to play a major tournament on home soil, put them at a crucial moment.

“I didn’t really have a female role model in terms of football so I think it’s very important,” England midfielder Kira Walsh, 25, who plays for Manchester City, said of won the Euro on home soil. “But not just for the young girls – I think for the young guys they can see women playing on big stages with sold out houses at home. I think this will only increase respect for the game.”

The tournament comes at an exciting time for women’s football in Europe. Its 16-team roster includes some of the world’s most talented teams, including Sweden, currently ranked second in the world; the Netherlands, three years ago a World Cup finalist; Germany, eight-time European champion; and Spain, which boasts Alexia Putellas, current world player of the year (or not; Putellas got a knee injury on Tuesday). Norway is supported by the return of Ada Hegerberg, while France is backed by the core of the country’s top club teams Olympique Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain.

However, it is England that may face the highest expectations.

The historic investment by the country’s biggest clubs in the Women’s Super League, England’s premier domestic competition, has attracted some of the world’s best players, generated new revenue streams and raised the standard of play for a new generation of English stars. All but one member of England 23 players The Euroteam played in the WSL last season, including veterans Bronze and Ellen White, as well as rising talent such as Walsh and Lauren Hemp.

“Over the years we’ve seen how much women’s football has grown,” said Hemp, 21, who was named England’s best team this year. best young female player for a record fourth time. “I think this home tournament will only help him grow even more.”

However, despite all the achievements, players, even the best ones, know that there is still a long way to go. Investment in WSL is still a small fraction of the money put into men’s sports in Europe, and salaries, television contracts and prize money, although greatly improved, are still considered a rounding error when compared to men’s salaries.

UEFA, the governing body of European football, has faced criticism over its choice of stadiums in the group stages with Iceland. Sara Björk Gunnarsdottir brand the use of Manchester City’s 4,700-seat Academy Stadium as “disrespectful”. And interview of 2,000 UK male football fans published earlier this year found that two-thirds had an “overtly misogynistic attitude” towards women’s sport, regardless of age.

However, for veterans like the Bronze, the tournament shows how far the women’s game has come and provides an opportunity to raise their profile even further. She says the new young players she sees in training every day show a fearlessness she didn’t have at their age and symbolize a future – for them and for England – that could be even brighter.

“Now I look at some of the players who may not have been to tournaments and I think, ‘Oh my God, when I was in your shoes, I panicked a little more,’” Bronze said. “But they all seem a little more calm.”