The perfect storm peaked at 7:20 pm in northwest London, 101 years after England first suppressed it.
Chloe Kelly pounced on scraps at Wembley Stadium, the “home of football,” as 87,192 fans shook to their feet.
Pushing England to a 2-1 lead in the 110th minute of the Women’s European Championship final on Sunday, it tore its shirt and rolled it in the air.
As the limbs flew around, in front of the largest crowd in European Championship history, she sped away in ecstasy, and into the future.
England, which claims to be the inventor of the sport, has won only one major international tournament, the 1966 men’s World Cup. That changed on Sunday, a turning day at the end of a transformative month for women’s football. The lionesses, ignored by their nation for decades, defeated Germany and won their first European title.
They also captured it.
They have attracted selling crowds and tens of millions of viewers all over the world.
They drew fans – men and women, young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight – to Wembley Way and Trafalgar Square hours before kick-off on Sunday.
They put tears in the eyes of the female soccer pioneers, and even before they dance to the tune of “Sweet Caroline” and dip into the shimmering confetti, before they dance Their manager’s press conference crashed They sang “Football Come Home”, providing a glimpse into what the sport could become.
Emma Hayes, Chelsea coach and ESPN analyst, saw Wembley full like never before and thought to herself: “I’ve waited my whole life for this.”
Others waited longer. Some of them were born in a country that did not even allow them to play the game. Back in 1921, when top women’s teams were attracting five-figure crowds, the FA banned women because football, as the FA said, was “completely unsuitable for females”.
The sport, which was relegated to parks and rugby pitches, has been working hard to recover ever since. The FA reversed the ban in 1971, but, like most football associations around the world, it didn’t really invest in the women’s game until recently. Management delegated to the separate “Women’s Football Association” until 1993. When England met Germany in the final of Euro 2009, only 13 years ago, most of their players were semi-professionals. Their annual salary was a small part of the roughly $67,000 that every England player will receive in 2022 to win Sunday’s final. Their matches, before the semi-finals and finals of 2009, were not shown on television.
They were and still symbolize a sport stifled by sexism and neglect.
“Obviously,” Martin Glenn, the former chief executive of the FA, admitted in 2017, “over the years, the FA has failed women’s football.”
However, there was Sunday, where they put on a show that only matches the World Cup finals, proving once again that if you build it, women’s soccer fans will come.
This axiom has run its course on three different continents this month, even in unconventional markets. some 45 thousand fans watched Morocco Qualify for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Watch a yellow sea shoulder-to-shoulder Colombia crush Argentina in the Copa América Femenina semi-final, and give Brazil a stinging panic in the final.
But the Euro, which broke attendance records before the knockout rounds began, has discovered a new stratosphere.
The all-sold Old Trafford was christened on July 6, and Blore and Wembley climbed on Sunday. With bars and public places filled with flags and face-drawn fans, Twitter timelines are filled with testimonies of past players, journalistsAnyone who has spent years in the trenches of women’s soccer, how far has the sport come. On TV, on sofas, commentators and supporters suffocate with passion.
England’s players, many of whom started their careers on sparsely populated stadiums, also recognized the importance. But they wanted to make sure this was more than just a perfect storm – talent and spotlight on home ground. They wanted this great leap forward to be the first of many.
“The final is not the end of the journey, but the beginning of the journey,” Captain Leah Williamson said a day earlier.
The baseline is still low, or rather it has fallen due to decades of underinvestment. England’s first goal 22-year-old Ella Tone scored an impressive goal on Sunday, which plays for Manchester United, who have won more men’s titles than any other English club – but, until 2018, were not sponsoring a women’s team. Her peers made similar omissions. The women of Liverpool remain chronically underfunded. Barcelona, just a decade ago, was not professionalized.
Barcelona and others increasingly realized that relatively small amounts of money could attract huge audiences. At a cost equivalent to that of a single player on the men’s team, Barcelona built a women’s soccer machine that has become a phenomenon. It drew multiple crowds of over 90,000 this past season on its way to an undefeated domestic season and Champions League final. All over Europe, and in almost all areas, attendance and viewership numbers are growing.
But nevertheless, England drew the bulk of their squad for Euro 2022 from just four clubs. Germany derived most of the three. Even the Germans, eight-time European champions, are underfunded. Many Bundesliga clubs still do not employ full-time players.
“We want more equality of talent, a better stadium, we want more spectators, we want more TV watching, different kick-off times, a more attractive league,” Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said Saturday. “We want to take the next steps and I hope that sport in general will have more importance in schools, education and politics.”
And so, a day before the final, I echoed calls for sustainability. She said the euro shouldn’t just be “one event”, it should remain “something that stays the same”.
Euro 2022 was proof that a century of sexism and neglect can – be a century Can, Someday, They are undone – but not that will happen. There are fears among some in Europe that the 2023 World Cup may interrupt the sport’s momentum. Australia and New Zealand, the hosts, will likely present infernal time differences to the West. L’Equipe, France’s leading sports newspaper, reported this week that European broadcasters were not as interested in TV rights as FIFA had hoped.
But there is also a feeling that Euro 2022 may change my paradigm in the long run. Football brokers and stakeholders descended on London this week in unprecedented numbers for a women’s continental event. UEFA will use its success in auctioning the rights to host Euro 2025 – with bids due over the coming months. FIFA will, sometime during the next year, open the door for bids to host the 2027 World Cup, which should break viewing records, and should be the most profitable edition ever.
There are still barriers, of course – patriarchal attitudes and systemic disparities that may never be overcome – but there seem to be no limits. As Megan Rapinoe told US lawmakers last year: “With the lack of proper investment, we don’t know the true potential of women’s sports.” All we know, she said, is “how successful women’s sport is in the face of discrimination”.
What everyone hopes in women’s football is that Williamson’s words sound right.
“When we look back at this tournament as a whole, we will have already started something,” she said on Saturday. “I Wanna [the final] To be the beginning, to be the maker of the future.”