It was only in 1971 that women in England were allowed to play football, when the Football Association (FA) lifted a 50-year ban on the women’s game. Back in 2013, when England winger Lucy Bronze first joined the English Lionesses for the European Championship, she was so excited and surprised to receive a pair of Nike boots that she didn’t even tell them they were too tight. her because she was used to buying her own equipment. It was only in 2018 that the English Women’s Super League turned professional and finally allowed living wages for female footballers. On Sunday, the Lionesses won Women’s Euro 2022 beating Germany 2-1 after extra time at Wembley Stadium, securing England’s first international triumph since World Cup victory in 1966.
There was no riot outside or inside Wembley on Sunday as the Euro 2021 men’s final had witnessed. There were applause instead of boos as players took a knee against racism. As in the rest of this bright tournament, families, women and children attended. The young girls cheered and jumped for joy, as they watched their heroines strut their stuff in the aggressively fought finale. Perhaps some of them will become soccer stars. Tickets were affordable and there were no rumors about the obscene salaries and transfer fees that dominate the men’s game.
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The England team consistently played fast, flowing football throughout the tournament, decimating previous winners like Sweden and Norway. Las Leonas also resiliently crushed tournament favorites Spain in the quarterfinals. In Germany, they were up against the eight-time European Championship winners who beat them 6-2 in the 2009 finals in Helsinki. En route to the final, Germany’s fast and well-trained defense had conceded just one goal. There was frenetic action from the start. Lots of tactical fouls to break up the game. Glances and glares were exchanged, yellow cards were shown; the 22 players ran with adrenaline.
But there was also some fantastic football: Ella Toone’s majestic through ball and perfect lob at the end of a textbook fast break to open the scoring. As England looked for a second goal, the indefatigable Germans equalised, the dangerous Lina Magull deflecting a cross. And it was time for the final in extra time. Chloe Kelly nudged the ball over the line with her toe and waited long enough for the referee to confirm the goal before removing her shirt and beginning a celebratory run. There was plenty of skill to be enjoyed throughout the tournament, including Alessia Russo’s sublime heeled goal against Sweden.
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The fact that the two coaches in charge of England and Germany were also women is evidence enough that women can not only play at the highest level, but are also able to think tactically and strategically, which is a prerequisite of the modern soccer. In fact, Sarina Wiegman became the first woman to win the Women’s Euro Cup with two different teams: the Netherlands in 2017 and now England.
All this excellent football and this great atmosphere would not have been possible if there were no takers, if the fans did not turn out en masse for each and every match. What the Women’s Euro 2022 showed is that there is a huge audience for women’s football. People turned out in record numbers, from the first match at Old Trafford (68,871 fans), the home of Manchester United, to Wembley, the home of football, where 87,192 people packed the stadium on Sunday. The previous record was 43,301 for the 2013 final between Germany and Norway. As a whole, Women’s Euro 2022 saw 574,875 fans in the stands across its 31 matches, compared to 240,055 fans in 2017.
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The match also attracted record television audiences: 17.4 million viewers in the United Kingdom (UK) alone and a further 5.9 million watching online on the BBC. Add to that viewers on UEFA’s free broadcast of the entire tournament. It is this rise in popularity of the women’s game that has attracted investment, sponsors and brands. This is leading to genuine progress in women’s football. This growing popularity of women’s football shows that it is a demanded product, that the only way is up.
As Indian female footballers, as well as fans of the game, point out, the Women’s Euro has shown that women’s football has a market of its own, even in this cricket-mad country. The Indian women’s team is ranked 56th in the FIFA ranking while the men’s team is ranked 104th. This despite the fact that the women’s season lasts just two months in India; and despite the poor structure of exploration, football and facilities for women’s football. This is emblematic of the challenges facing women’s football in India.
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This is a good time to start investing in the Indian women’s team because, as our cricketers and UEFA Women’s Euro heroines have shown, the quality of women’s sports can rise at an even faster rate than the men’s versions. There is will, there are enough takers; all we need is people running the game to show faith and vision and Indian corporations to support them in growing the game. And what better time than 2022, the year India hosts the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup?
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Waya book on functional fitness.