There’s a video of a young girl doing the rounds on social media, probably no older than five or six-years-old, dancing and singing arms up in the air to ‘Sweet Caroline’ after England Women’s comprehensive victory over Sweden in the semi-finals of the European Championships at Bramall Lane last night.
Not the furthest England have ‘ever’ gone in a major international football tournament, because in 1984 and in 2009, the country reached the Euros finals only to be beaten by Sweden & Germany respectively, but this occasion feels different, better, wider-acclaimed, with global TV audiences and sell out crowds, largely of female audience but with real sense of family feeling, men, women, kids all together, as one, cheering and chanting every kick that England make… A feel-good factor has gripped a nation and it’s how a tournament should feel, bringing a country together to back ones collective sporting success.
England have been brilliant, at a time when women’s football is really starting to gain traction on these isles, England have led the way in showcasing Euro 2022 to the world, the best crowds on record, the best performances by a team in a competition, a ridiculous amount of goals scored by England (20 in five matches), and there’s still one more to play.
It started with a sell out at Old Trafford, over 70,000 fans witnessed a nervy beginning for England in the rain, but they managed to get across the line, just, Beth Mead’s tournament opening goal against Austria creeping over the line to put England ahead. Thereafter they would keep their opponents at arms length.
Norway were next, seen as a real test, the two time winners and finalists in 2013 were put to the sword, Sarina Wiegman’s side hitting them for an eight count with six of those goals scored before half time. Two of those came from Ellen White, the former Notts County striker now with Manchester City. Whilst a hat-trick by Beth Mead topped a stunning night which took the whole of women’s international football by storm.
Star of the show Mead who now plays for Arsenal, calls Nottingham Forest Head Coach Andy Cook one of her ‘biggest influencers’ having played under him at Middlesbrough Academy before joining Sunderland Ladies where she scored 31 goals in 45 games, Cook stating himself that Mead is ‘if not the best naturally gifted footballer I’ve ever worked with’.
That emphatic win, a tournament finals record, ensured England’s path to the knockout stages, but they still had the ‘formality’ of beating part-timers Northern Ireland in their last group game at Southampton.
In fairness to Northern Ireland, they themselves, were plucky and gritty, but a couple of goals late in the first half by England had their defensive structure last breached. Enter Alessio Russo after the break, the Manchester United forward is getting a name for herself as an Ole Solskjaer like ‘super sub’ and followed up a goal against Norway with two verses Northern Ireland, her second an unbelievable turn likened to a ‘deliberate’ Dennis Bergkamp when he twizzled against Newcastle United, certainly a contender for the Puskas Award this year.
England finished their group with a 5-0 win, in their three games they scored 14 goals without conceding, and by the time it was announced they would be taking on Spain in the last eight, the fans that were growing in numbers, had already decided that football is coming home.
Spain, ranked a spot higher in the FIFA list than eighth placed England, included several of the Barcelona players that featured in their recent Champions League final defeat to Lyon, and after getting the first goal of the match, continued to pass England off the park showing some unbelievable technique in the process.
But Wiegman’s team have steel, grit and believe in themselves too, and when Ella Toone levelled late on, it left Georgia Stanway to become a nations heroine as she smashed home a bullet from the edge of the area to take the game from Spain in extra time.
The celebrations which proceeded were a joy to behold, England players dancing to ‘freed from desire’ on the pitch with fans reluctant to leave the stadium despite it being well past many a bedtime… ‘Football’s coming home’ being belted out by the near 29,000 crowd late into the night in Brighton, the party-like celebrations after each England win becoming iconic with this tournament, days that children, and parents, and all those in attendance, and watching at home, will remember for as long as they live.
If the Quarter Final’s were a step up in quality, enter Sweden, number two ranked in the world, would be favourites, had England not been in such good form.
And from the off it shown, England took the match to their opponents and again destroyed a very good footballing nation with pace, power, athleticism, structure and clinical finishing ability.
Beth Mead again on the scoresheet, Lucy Bronze with a header, before Russo came on and strutted her stuff, doing what she does best again. This time, a back heel, through the palms and legs of Swedish keeper Falk. Fran Kirby rounded things off nicely, before pictures & videos of that young girl in the crowd having the time of her life appeared. Not just her, from fans in Boxpark, Croydon and many pubs in the country to celebrations in Trafalgar Square. It feels this team has captured a nation and with every game is gained another fan for life.
England will now wait to find out their destiny later tonight, whether it be Germany or France in the final? Either will pose more tough test for the host nation, but win or lose, personally I don’t think it matters too much? Because going beyond the result of Sunday night at Wembley Stadium, what this team and these girls have already done for the future of women’s football in England, no team previously has ever-achieved… In inspiring the next generation of Mead’s, White’s and Russo’s, this England side are already considered as winners, innovators, and pioneers, for the many girls (and boys), who dare dream that one day, it could be them.
*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).
*Main image @Lionesses the England team celebrate reaching the Euro 22 final.