LONDON — For more than 50 years, English football fans have been hoping, praying and singing that a major trophy would “come home”. Now it finally does. And they can hardly contain themselves.
On Monday, photos of the Lionesses, as the team is known, then dominated the front pages of British newspapers. their 2-1 victory against Germany at Wembley Stadium in London, with headlines touting Europe’s new champions as ‘game changers’ or ‘history makers’ and declaring ‘No more injury years’.
Trafalgar Square, the site of a huge viewing party the day before, was the scene of more jubilation as thousands turned out for an trophy presentation ceremony with the team.
Many fans arrived in team shirts, carried English flags and sang “Three Lions” – the song whose refrain “football’s coming home” came to express the England fans’ desire for a trophy – by heart as the team took to the stage.
“We said we wanted to build on our legacy of victory and we did,” said team captain Leah Williamson to thunderous applause from the crowd.
“We have been a game-changer in this country and hopefully in all of the Europe of the world,” she said.
The crowd included families and dozens of young girls wearing stickers with the hashtag #LetGirlsPlaytrumpeting aspirations for their future in a sport that for decades banned their participation, and which still does not offer equal opportunities despite recent improvements.
“It’s so exciting for a young woman who grew up playing football to see them fly so high,” said Savannah Xanthe. 18, who came to the ceremony wrapped in an English flag with her two sisters.
“Women aren’t lucky enough to be taken seriously in football,” said Amy Symonds, 33, who plays football at Bristol. She said she was shaking with excitement watching the game yesterday. “It shows what we can do and it should be taken seriously.”
She added that she hoped the victory would bring the sport the attention it deserved.
“It’s a beginning, not an end,” she said.
Politicians and members of the royal family sent messages and congratulations to the team on their victory – a dramatic conclusion which had parallels with England’s last major championship, in 1966, when the country hosted the Cup men’s world championship and that his team beat Germany in the final.
But the success had the potential to go beyond national pride and euphoria, with women’s football occupying the public consciousness in Britain like never before.
Over 600,000 tickets were sold for the European Championship, more than double the total for any previous edition of the women’s tournament, and the final was the most-watched TV program in Britain this year, according to the BBC. The broadcaster said the match was seen by a peak audience of 17.4 million people, almost a third of England’s population, and added that there were 5.9 million additional streams on line.
“I think we’ve really changed,” the team’s Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman told a press conference after Sunday’s match. The team did a lot for the sport but also for the role of women in society, she added, a sentiment that was echoed by others.
“It was an amazing month and an amazing day yesterday,” said Mark Bullingham, chief executive of the Football Association, England’s football governing body.
“I think it’s going to really energize everything we’ve done in women’s football,” he said in a statement. interview on “BBC Breakfast” on Monday, adding that the organization had invested heavily in women’s football over the past few years.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have the same number of girls as boys and we believe this will create a whole new generation of heroes that girls aspire to be like,” he said.
The recent change, while significant, is long overdue for a sport that has a long tradition of discriminating against women. Top English clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have invested millions of dollars in their women’s programs in recent years, part of a wider investment trend across Europe that has seen the continent fill the gap. gap with the United States, the longtime world leader. in women’s football. This kind of broad structural support is seen as essential to giving women a system in which to thrive.
But as things have evolved over the past decade, experts say there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
“This is at a time when public attitudes towards sexism and misogyny are changing, and football needs to change too,” said Stacey Pope, who leads ‘Fair Game’, a collective of 34 English football clubs which has published a report in March which found evidence a gaping gender divide at football clubs in England and Wales was keeping the sport ‘in the dark ages’.
Only 11.1% of Premier League club board members are women, and two-thirds of league teams have all-male boards, according to the report. Far fewer women attended matches in England compared to other countries.
But a new optimism took hold over the weekend as the Lionesses emerged victorious on Sunday from a game attended by a record number of fans – the crowd of more than 87,000 was the largest of any final in the league. European championship, men or women.
Queen Elizabeth sent a message of congratulations to the team, writing that while the athletes’ performances deserved praise, “your success goes far beyond the trophy you so deserved”.
“You all set an example that will inspire girls and women today and generations to come,” she wrote.
Kevin Windsor, a graphic designer in London, watched the game with his 3-year-old daughter, who wore a princess dress. “My daughter doesn’t have to be interested in football. She just needs to know it’s an option,” he said. wrote on Twitter. “That she can become anything she cares about. From a princess to a lioness. And everything in between.
Andre Das contributed report.