England’s history-making team captain has joked that “we’ve partied more than we actually played football in the last 24 hours”, as thousands of fans marked their Euros triumph.
The Lionesses beat Germany 2-1 after extra time in front of 87,000 supporters at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, securing the first major tournament title for the country since 1966 and setting a television viewing record.
The team has been credited with inspiring the nation and being “fantastic role models” for young girls.
Supporters hailed the victory as a “massive” moment, while the Football Association’s director of women’s football, Baroness Sue Campbell, said England’s win will make a “phenomenal difference”.
Crowds descended on central London to join the team at an event hosted by ex-player and TV presenter Alex Scott.
Cheers rang out as confetti cannons and giant sparklers greeted England once again lifting the trophy.
Sally Butler, 43, the chairwoman of Stafford Soccer Mums FC, was among those in Trafalgar Square, and said that the Lionesses’ victory was a significant moment for her personally.
“I wasn’t allowed to play (football) at school, I’m from that generation where it wasn’t accepted, because I was a girl,” she said.
Ms Butler, who was nine at the time, recalled how she staged her own protest.
Her daughters, Connie and Faye, aged 14 and 17, joined her to celebrate with the team on Monday and are keen footballers themselves.
They travelled from their home in Staffordshire to attend the match at Wembley on Sunday and Ms Butler said that the atmosphere was “indescribable”.
“Even talking about it now is really spine-tingling. It was a real moment in history,” she told the PA news agency.
Both Connie and Faye play football and Ms Butler says it is quite possible that they might one day become Lionesses themselves.
Connie, who plays football for a local club, said that a boy she was playing against recently told her to “go back to the kitchen” during the match.
“This is a massive turning point (for women’s football),” she said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely a turning point.”
Ryan Grumbridge, 40, and Gemma Grumbridge, 43, travelled from Oldham to the capital to watch the final with their two daughters.
Mr Grumbridge, who is a coach for the 250-strong girls’ football club Crompton FC, said this is a “massive” moment for women’s football.
“It’s good for them to get some recognition – I hope it keeps growing and growing, and we’ll carry on getting decent-sized crowds.”
He said the Lionesses are “fantastic role models” for his daughters Ruby and Amelia, aged 11 and 13.
The final attracted a peak TV audience of 17.4 million, a record for a women’s football match in the UK, according to overnight ratings released by the BBC.
The previous record was set during England’s 2019 World Cup semi-final defeat by the United States, which enjoyed a peak audience of 11.7 million.
Earlier, Baroness Campbell told BBC News: “I think it’ll really take it to another level. But I think what happened yesterday was much broader than football.
“I think it will change the perception of women in sport generally, and I hope give women and girls real optimism that if they want to do something in life, whatever it is, if they work at it, they’re going to achieve it.”
She said she is not surprised at the TV viewing figures, adding: “I think we’ve inspired a nation here.
“It’s not just people who are interested in football before. We’ve got lots of new people who’ve watched the women’s game, and lots of people who I hope will continue to support and watch the women’s game.
“But we’ve also inspired lots of youngsters to realise that sport, football, is for them.”
The Queen praised the team, saying their “success goes far beyond the trophy”.
She said in a statement: “You have all set an example that will be an inspiration for girls and women today, and for future generations.”
The Duke of Cambridge was among those supporting from the sidelines, and after the match he said it had been “wonderful to see history in the making”, while Williamson dubbed it “the proudest moment of my life”.
Meanwhile, Williamson is to be given the Freedom of the New City of Milton Keynes.
Leader of Milton Keynes Council, Pete Marland, said: “Bobby Moore and Leah Williamson, that is good company as the only two England football captains ever to lift a major international trophy.
“Obviously, we are immensely proud that Leah is from Milton Keynes, and I think it would be totally appropriate that the very first person to be given the Freedom of the New City of Milton Keynes is the first woman to lead a national side to international honours and is from MK.
“I have asked that the council start the process of bestowing the honour on her.”