Just over half a century ago, women in England were still banned from playing on football pitches.
But today the Lionesses made history by clinching the Euro 2022 title at the nation’s biggest football stage, Wembley, in front of more than 87,000 spectators – with thousands more cheering them on in Trafalgar Square.
7,000 people gathered in front of the London landmark on Sunday to watch the final between England and Germany on big screens. At the end of a thrilling extra time, a cheer erupted in Trafalgar Square, with some fans waving St George’s flags and others hugging.
Four friends from Devon – who all play for the same football team, Juventus Academy Devon – made their way to London at 6am to cheer on England from Trafalgar Square.
After Chloe Kelly’s extra-time goal gave England a historic 2-1 victory, the friends celebrated. Hannah Healey, 18, from Torquay, who works at a water park, shared The Independent: “Women’s football is on the rise in the world and men will notice it more, it will simply be more equal.”
Girlfriend Rachel Fleming explained: “Younger girls are going to think I can play football now.” The 24-year-old, who works at a trailer park, added: “I think it’s going to give the girls the confidence to do it too. When they think about it… and they’re told, ‘Only boys can play,’ that’s going to change.”
Elsewhere in Trafalgar Square, Grace Power, sporting a St George’s flag with ‘2022’ written in eyeliner on her face, was joined by two friends to watch the finale. The 29-year-old from London said: “Even though they didn’t win we’re so proud of what they achieved here today… what they did for women’s sport… it’s going to be great, I feel.”
She added: “I think it’s just inspirational. Also, if you make it the norm and get it on mainstream television… it’s like boys can aspire to be footballers, girls can now aspire to be footballers.”
Before kick-off, the crowd was optimistic about the impact of England’s tournament success. Becca Stewart, 24, was planning to travel to Trafalgar Square alone until her friend Emma Hoskins, 23, who is not usually a football fan, stepped in to join her.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen the whole country paying attention and not just those interested in women’s football,” said Ms Stewart, who is wearing an England shirt and has a St George’s flag painted on her cheek Has The Independent before kick-off. “To see men who don’t care about football actually get involved in women’s football was so nice and also shows that we are taking a step in the right direction for equality in every aspect, not just football.”
Ms Stewart, who is originally from Guernsey but now lives in London and works as a terrorism threat analyst, added: “I think the fact that we did well on the men’s Euros has gotten us close, and post Covid everyone wants something to celebrate and get together and enjoy together and this is just the continuation of that. And the fact that we’ve reached the final again is kind of a boost for England in general.”
Hoskins, 23, a security assistant, said: “When it comes to big tournaments, I’m only here for the atmosphere. I’m a supportive friend. She would have come alone, but I didn’t want her to spend the weekend alone.”
Women’s football has come a long way since the FA Council said in 1921 that football was “quite unsuitable for women and should not be encouraged”. Extraordinarily, the ban on women playing at affiliated clubs’ facilities lasted until 1971, when it was finally lifted.
Ms Stewart added: “I’ve been to the last two women’s FA Cup finals and the fact of the matter is we break the attendance record every year.
“This year it was … 68,000 or something like that at Wembley and it’s going up and up and up. It seems that people are finally taking women’s football as seriously as men’s football and it shows the leap we’ve made from the days of the ban to today.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/euro-2022-final-fans-london-b2135131.html EURO 2022 finals: “For the first time I see that the whole country is paying attention and not just those interested in women’s football”