Why the women’s Euros win last night is significant in so many ways

Last night, England’s Lionesses brought the nation its first major trophy in 56 years with their 2-1 win against Germany in the Women’s Euros 2022 final. But I probably don’t need to tell you that, as you were likely one of the over 23.3 million people who watched the historic game.

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If you’d told me when I was a kid that one day millions of people would be watching and cheering on a women’s football team with the same fervour they have for the men’s  games, I don’t think I’d have believed you.

Because we only have to go back a few years – heck, even a few months – to see a time when women’s sport was treated as a joke, an afterthought. I distinctly remember seeing a (very rare) women’s football match being played on TV and all the men in my family could do was joke about whether the players also take their tops off when they score a goal.

Even at the beginning of this tournament, when I asked football-loving family members if they would be watching the games and supporting our girls, the general response I got (from men and women) was that ‘it’s just not as good as the men’s football.’ Opinions they have formed from having never properly watched women’s football in their lives – it’s just a general consensus that we’ve accepted for years.

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Well, the Lionesses changed that last night with their historic win, not just beating Germany but going one step further than the England men’s team managed at the 2020 Euros played last summer.

The win marks a game-changing moment in women’s sport, not least for all the young girls who will have watched the Lionesses playing their hearts out last night, being cheered on by the record-breaking 87,192 people at Wembley Stadium. They’ll never know any different – to them, women in sport are celebrated as equally as the men and that is a huge deal.

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If I had seen female footballers being celebrated rather than jeered at when I was younger, perhaps I would not have been so averse to the sport, something I actually quite enjoy watching these days. I’m not saying I would have definitely taken up football, but perhaps I would have participated in sports more in school and I wouldn’t have feigned illness/forgot my kit/used any other excuse to get out of PE throughout the entirety of my schooling years.

It’s well documented that girls’ participation in sport drops off a cliff in early teenage years. Women in Sport found that just 34 per cent of girls in years 9-11 enjoy taking part in sport and exercise compared to 55 per cent of boys. This was found to be down to girls feeling less confident when playing sport and not wanting to be watched. Only 23 per cent of girls aged 12-14 years old say they ‘really enjoy PE’.

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Another study by Women in Sport found that 43 per cent of girls felt they were sporty as primary school pupils but no longer saw themselves that way – equating to 1.3 million girls across the UK feeling this way. Additionally, teenage girls were much more likely to say they used to be sporty but no longer were than boys.

And yet, the transferable skills earned from playing sport are undeniable. Resilience, confidence, teamwork, belief in yourself, learning how to lose – these are all key life skills boys are learning from a young age that girls are missing out on, which is then reflected in the adult world. It’s why men apply for jobs when they meet just 60 per cent of the qualifications compared to women who only apply if they meet 100 per cent of them.

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This is why I’m excited about last night. Already, we’ve seen a spike in searches for ‘Girls football training’ by 614 per cent straight after last night’s match as a new generation of potential Lionesses were inspired to learn to play. Searches for ‘Girls football kits’ also shot up by 3,233 per cent over the same time period.

This will only have a snowball effect from here. More viewers means more money will be poured into women’s and girls’ professional and grassroots football teams, which means the quality of the sport will get better, which will in turn encourage more to watch and play.

I loved watching Williamson, Kelly, Toone, Bright, Bronze et al play last night, but I think I enjoyed watching the girls celebrate afterwards even more. With tears in my eyes, I watched a team of incredible women loudly, proudly and unapologetically celebrate themselves – the antithesis of how women are historically supposed to act.

Thank you, Lionesses.