Four days to go to the start of the Premier League. Normally we can’t wait, after a few desultory summer weeks; but as I write, a day after the England Women won Euro 2022, beating Germany 2-1, do we care? Well, yes we do, but what an achievement by the England team! In front of almost 90,000 people at Wembley they beat Germany – yes, Germany! When it went into extra time at 1-1, I think we all feared penalties, and the usual outcome of those against Germany. But not this time, after Chloe Kelly poked the ball into the net, at the second time of asking, from a corner. And then the celebration – as memorable as the goal!
This England team has been impressive throughout the tournament, playing with a real verve – and discipline. They’ve scrapped when they had to: against Spain, the first half hour against Sweden and most of the game against Germany. But they have been devastating in attack too – as Norway, 8-0 losers, can attest. And 4-0 against Sweden in the semis – when they get their chances they take them. They have played with real pace down the flanks, and their midfielders have always been on the look-out for the defence-splitting pass. One of those came last night, when Kiera Walsh found Ella Toone, who then chipped the keeper brilliantly to take the inital lead. Their sense of adventure, making the best use of their substitutes, is something that Gareth Southgate might take note of, in advance of this year’s men’s World Cup.
So congratulations and respect to the Lionesses, who have inspired the nation, given us something to feel good about. My household is three women, two men. It’s fair to say that football is not normally high on the agenda for my wife and daughters, but they, like so many, have really taken to this England team. The question, inevitably, is what happens next. At the elite level, I would expect further progress – England have to be one of the favourites for the next World Cup, in 2023. But what about at the grass roots? It was notable that the England team, brilliant though they were, were not an advert for diversity. That contrasts, at the moment, with the men’s team. What’s the answer? Money: money for schools, for local clubs, for academies, for wages below the very best teams. It’s always money – put it in, with good plans, and over time the results will follow. This will depend on the government, the professional clubs, the TV companies. Will they build on this tremendous achievement? We shall see, but right now, I’m optimistic. This magnificent England team has shown what is achievable – those with the power and the purse strings now need to build on it.