THERE were many firsts yesterday in England’s historic and breathtaking Euro 2022 final victory over Germany. It was, of course, the first time the Lionesses had won the Euros but it was also accomplished before the biggest crowd ever at Wembley for the finals, for either sex. And then there were the extraordinary UK viewing figures, 17.4 million, which of itself says everything about the extent to which the team captured the nation’s hearts and how the women’s game is now mainstream.
And we should of course pay tribute to the non-English element of the women’s victory, the Dutch coach, Sarina Wiegman, whose calm confidence was all-important in securing this outcome. We should also acknowledge that the Germans were worthy opponents and they put up a spirited performance.
This is, of course, a game which rights an historic injusice. Just over a century ago, women’s football attracted huge crowds, especially during the Great War. But a conservative football establishment took a dim view of the women’s success and the then-equivalent of the Football Association ridiculously declared that football was a game that was “quite unsuitable” for women.
There are real changes that have accompanied this victory, one of which is the level of sponsorship and advertising that the women’s game has attracted. This is a crucial indicator of success.
And with this victory, we can expect even greater financial backing, which will translate into larger salaries and investment in the women’s game.
The prizes go beyond the trophy. There are plans to name pitches at the players’ home grounds after them, and there must be many other honours to follow. But the worthiest tribute to the Lionesses will be if more girls play, not just football, but team sports generally at school. As we report today, fewer than two-thirds of schools offer football for girls — it is difficult to make progress in any game if you have to put in all the work in clubs outside school.
What is needed is for schools to offer team sports for both sexes, in the state as well as the private sector. This raises the usual problems about access to grounds but it is something that should now be a priority. Girls now have role models in the Lionesses as they aspire to great things in football. What they now deserve are the facilities to acquire the experience and skill to emulate them.
Success breeds success, and yesterday’s victory has not just cheered up the nation but has changed the way women’s football is regarded by fans and by commercial backers. Just as importantly, sports lovers of both sexes have witnessed the skill, the expertise and the passion that goes with the women’s game. This is just the start. Football came home yesterday; let’s nurture it.
Over to Tory members
THE ballot papers have gone out. Now the decision on who is to be the next prime minister lies with members of the Conservative Party, some 160,000 people, a small number to bear such a responsibility.
But they should have in mind, before casting their vote, that the larger electorate will have its say eventually. If they are prudent, they will consider how the outcome will play with the nation as a whole. They must consider in choosing between the candidates that it will be the country at large that has the final say on their choice, at the next general election. This is not just about the Conservative Party; this ballot affects us all.