Congratulations to the Lionesses for grabbing their unique moment with the most inspirational of wins.
Alongside millions, I have been absolutely hooked by the Women’s Euro Championship and England’s progress. Watched by an unprecedented TV audience the Lionesses have set a record for tournament goals and won in a Wembley Stadium with the biggest ever attendance for a Euro match (men’s or women’s).
For me it has been a breakthrough. I watched the 2017 semi-final and have occasionally watched televised women’s matches since. But, over the last 4 weeks I feel have been emphatically educated to fully appreciate it as a distinctive and exciting flavour of the beautiful game.
The Lionesses gave me no choice in my belated discovery. Winning against Germany at Wembley is a landmark with powerful symbolism for all English fans (and an achievement the men’s team haven’t managed since 1966). Across the entire high-scoring tournament the Lionesses have captured the nation’s imagination with their goals and creativity. Alessia Russo’s audacious back-heeled goal will endure as an iconic football moment. Then add to that an exuberant goal celebration and post-match team interviews warmly given with their German competitors. They have been brilliant and different.
Off the pitch, I must highlight the BBC’s contribution to the showcasing of the women’s game and my education. Having televised the modestly attended 2005 tournament they have capitalised on the momentum that has built since. Their coverage connects to the BBC campaign “We Know Our Place” which is committed to increasing television coverage of “phenomenal female talent” across major sports.
On this occasion for the first time all of Lionesses matches were given prime time on BBC1 and so widest possible access. The commentating team was led by a highly popular Gabby Logan, and packed with past female internationals. The analysis has been excellent, and in turn has shone a light on the tactical approaches of some highly experienced female managers. Cumulative coverage of the team’s journey has built familiarity and a recognition of their professionalism. With programmes featuring young female fans there has been no mistaking the excitement and passion the team’s progress has created.
With prime TV coverage, cheered by full stadiums and without a glut of attention-sapping men’s football the Lionesses have shown 10 million viewers the potential of the women’s game when given equality of support and opportunity. Young girls have new heroes, have witnessed a national joy in the team’s achievement and can see an exciting destination for their football interest.
The Football Association and government now have a ‘roar’ for faster action. Already committed to “transformational change” the Lionesses have fast-tracked progress on the FA’s communication goal of addressing the barrier of ‘if you can’t see her, you can’t be her.’ The growth potential of the female football brand of UK football also needs revisiting. Alongside participation, this tournament suggested stadium atmosphere benefits from more gender equal attendance at any match.
Established FA sponsors such as Weetabix and Barclays have been vindicated and will deservedly share some halo benefits. Now is the time for more commercial partners to extend projects and accelerate speed. All schools will surely have young girls keen to try football when they return from summer holidays. Less than 100% of schools able to support this in 2022 would be a big missed opportunity.
An immediate demonstration of greater brand power is the UK government swiftly promising additional investment for grassroots women’s and girls’ football. Ministers might also want to reflect on the BBC’s contribution too.
Again, well done Lionesses.