“We’re buzzing”: women’s football teams for popular sports are looking forward to the Euro | Women’s European Championship 2022
NAomi Short has been playing football on and off for almost 30 years and can’t wait for England to host the Euros this week, but she’s even happier that her 13-year-old daughter will be witness to the greatest women’s sporting event of all time. “It’s brilliant – they have the future that I probably would have wished for,” she says.
Short, 45, plays for Manchester’s Longford Park Ladies FC, a grassroots team set up five years ago by mothers to train with their children when there were few teams for women to play just for fun.
Now the team, along with thousands of other grassroots and amateur teams, look forward to a summer of women’s football. Many of these were established or massively expanded after a successful 2019 Women’s World Cup catapulted England’s Lionesses into the spotlight.
Short says “lots” of people have secured tickets for Euro games at Longford Park Ladies FC, although she laments the number of tickets has not been able to meet the unprecedented demand. Still, she is encouraged that more than half a million have been sold and sees this as a sign of the sport’s meteoric rise. “It’s good that people want more seats to be available and bigger stadiums to be played.”
Other women footballers who spoke to the Guardian shared their excitement that England are hosting the tournament this July. Many secured tickets to games and reserved tables in pubs for sold-out games, organized tournaments and taster events, hosted film screenings and threw parties.
The aim is to celebrate beyond the FA’s official fan festivals while continuing to raise the profile of the sport in hopes of replicating the explosion in registrations that followed the Women’s World Cup.
Some do this in imaginative ways. AFC Leyton, one of the largest women’s only football clubs in the UK with over 600 players, has worked with local brewery Signature Brew to create a bespoke beer.
“We’ll be having a pint of our own red IPA in the brewery to start the Euros in a couple of weeks,” says AFC Leyton’s Louise McGing.
Many players have tickets for multiple games and some plan day trips. “The girls rave about what players play in their own positions and where their own footballing journey could take them,” says McGing.
She says the club always sees a surge in interest at any major event and this has been fueled by games increasingly appearing on mainstream television and teams securing high-profile global brand sponsorships.
“[It’s] To raise the profile of elite women footballers, which in turn will inspire the next generation of women footballers. It’s long overdue and long may it continue like this,” she says.
Teams in the Northeast have also found ways to access games, although the region doesn’t host any. Gary Sykes, who runs Washington AFC in Tyne and Wear, is taking 150 players to Sheffield to watch Sweden v the Netherlands that evening and has organized a tournament involving local sides during the day.
“When word got out there would be no football locally there was a lot of disappointment,” he says, adding that his side are now “very excited” to see a game, even if they have to travel to see it.
Sport England said it was hard to say how much of a boost the Euros had given grassroots football as numbers were still recovering after the outbreak of the Covid pandemic but 460,000 more women started playing football after the 2019 World Cup and the body has tried to “get ahead of the game” by announcing £1million to fund adult recreational football last year.
Another important goal is to reach out to the diverse communities of Great Britain. This is shared by Queen’s Roar, an arts and community initiative in Newham, the most ethnically diverse borough in the UK, bringing together local grassroots teams, fans and artists to create a local strip, football anthem and opportunities for more women to play. “It’s about making it visible so that other girls and women in the area feel like they can be a part of the future,” said creative producer Beki Bateson.
Leytonstone FC chairman Munaf Abrham agrees things have changed dramatically in recent months; His club, which is rooted in the local South Asian community, launched girls’ and women’s teams 18 months ago and the growth is “absolutely insane”. He’s excited because “not many girls from the South Asian community have played soccer over the years,” and this year there were more applications for female teams than for male teams.
He plans to get tickets for the team members to the quarter-finals and semi-finals in London and to host a big community event where the matches will be shown on a screen.
“Everyone is looking forward to the Euros; The girls look forward to it. Every weekend at practice they say to me, ‘Coach, have we sorted our tickets?’”