How the Lionesses win could change women’s football forever
The Lionesses have done it. After 56 years of hurt, football has finally come home and it is the women who made it happen. Last night, millions were glued to their TV screens to watch England beat Germany 2-1 after extra time, securing the first major tournament title for the country since 1966.
“Let’s go and make history” was the message from the organisers of the Women’s Euros and make history they certainly did.
The thrilling win attracted a peak TV audience of 17.4 million, a record for a women’s football match in the UK, according to overnight ratings released by the BBC. Also, the 87,192 in-person fans at Wembley on Sunday meant that England v Germany had the highest attendance of any European Championship final –that’s men’s or women’s.
The Lionesses celebrated by gatecrashing their manager Sarina Wiegman’s press conference to sing Three Lions and jump on the tables.
The win is set to have a lasting impact way beyond the first night’s celebrations – this is the game-changing moment women’s football has been crying out for.
Former England International, Alex Scott, told BBC Breakfast the Lionesses “have changed the way women’s football is viewed in this country”. Meanwhile, Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham said England’s success will “turbo charge” the women’s game in this country.
Inspired by a growth in popularity of the female game, there has been a drive recently to try to level the playing field with the men’s game.
From tackling female players’ rights to ensuring up-and-coming players have the same access to kit and facilities as their male peers, there’s no better time to build on the wins we’ve witnessed in the women’s game recently.
Better access to football for girls
In recent years there has been real progress in encouraging more girls to participate in the game at a grassroots level.
Before the final, the FA also announced plans to enable 120,000 more girls to play football at school.
“Perhaps the biggest legacy the Lionesses can leave is an uplift in grassroots football,” James Corcoran, account lead at sport and entertainment agency, Fuse, told Yahoo UK. “Sport, especially football, has such an important role to play in local communities – it contributes to physical and mental wellbeing as well as teaching life skills such as teamwork and discipline.
“We need to see an integrated approach from marketing, commercial and communications from a range of football stakeholders and commercial partners.”
But there is still work to do.
As commentator Ian Wright said after the final: “If girls aren’t allowed to play football, just like the boys in PE after this, what are we doing? We’ve got to make sure that they are able to play.”
Watch: England fans celebrate with Lionesses in Trafalgar Square
Improved maternal rights
Until recently, professional female footballers did not have many rights when it came to taking parental leave.
In January this year, however, it was announced that female players in England would be entitled to maternity cover for the first time” class=”link “>female players in England would be entitled to maternity cover for the first time.
Previously, players at the 24 clubs in the Women’s Super League (WSL) and Women’s Championship did not have maternity leave written into their standard contracts. Instead maternity cover was at the discretion of individual clubs.
While this is encouraging, Flo Lloyd Hughes, women’s football expert, journalist and broadcaster, says the industry can still be difficult for parents.
“The maternity leave update has improved things, but the norms within the industry around parenthood make it really unsustainable,” she explains. “Football is a very demanding industry and it is not really set up to support parents – that’s why we don’t see a lot of women in football becoming parents.”
However, Lloyd Hughes cites the case of football coach, Emma Hayes, who often speaks out on combining parenting and her footballing career.
“Emma Hayes tries to showcase how you can do all of that and prove that it can work – while also showing how it is not necessarily sustainable because the demands of being a football manager are so intense it makes it really difficult.”
While social media feeds have been awash with praise for the players and indeed the tournament as a whole, that doesn’t mean they have escaped the wrath of the keyboard warriors.
A FIFA report last month revealed that more than half the Euros players have been abused online, and Lioness Rachel Daly recently called it “a tough place”.
In response to England’s win, Women’s Hour presenter Emma Barnett shared a message on social media she was sent during the 2015 World Cup from a man saying: “No one wants to watch women’s sport… [with] ponytails swaying [and tits] bouncing.”
That followed a survey by YouGov revealing that one in five men in the UK are still opposed to equal coverage of men’s and women’s sport on television, which seems to highlight that there is still a way to go in tackling prejudice in the female sport.
However, the success of the Lionesses team is set to help change this.
“I think there’s been a massive change in attitude towards the women’s game,” Gabby Logan, who led the BBC’s TV coverage of the tournament, told Radio Times. “You only need to look at ticket sales: the final at Wembley sold out in record time and all England’s group games sold out soon afterwards.”
Logan credits the 2019 Women’s World Cup with helping to kickstart the change and believes this year’s Euros will change perceptions further.
“I do think that tournament was a game-changer,” she adds. “I came back from covering it for the BBC and everyone seemed to be talking about it, even my builder.
“Since then, Barclays re-signed their deal with the Women’s Super League and last year a joint deal was done with the BBC and Sky to show all WSL games. It feels as though the women’s game has been pushed forward in the past few years as much as it had in the previous three decades.
“Now that women can actually earn a living from playing football, it won’t feel as though they are sacrificing everything to play.”
Female-friendly football kit
The 2019 Women’s World Cup marked the first time that teams were wearing kits designed specifically for women, instead of “inheriting” shirts and shorts designed for men.
Research and design teams took into account women’s different needs, such as ease of removal over long hair and shorts that are neither too revealing nor too restrictive.
Flo Lloyd Hughes recalls an anecdote from a female player about being handed a bag full of hand-me-down kit when she joined a WSL club and told to grab what size she could.
So the fact that women’s bodies are now being considered in the design process is a key step in the right direction.
“It’s the care, the energy and the effort they are putting in which shows they respect the players as athletes, and that they’re going to go to the basic minimum of designing and consulting with them, rather than just saying, ‘Oh, here you go. You can just have the things that the men’s team don’t want.'”
But things could be taken a step further.
The Lionesses previously expressed concerns about the impracticality of wearing their all-white kit while on their period. The issue was raised by England striker Beth Mead and Georgia Stanway during the team’s opening Euro 2022 win against Austria.
Arsenal forward Mead said white is “not practical when it’s the time of the month”.
The FA responded by telling players their concerns “will be taken in taken into consideration for future designs” but they were unable to incorporate them into this tournament.
Lloyd Hughes says it’s important the issue is revisited in the future to challenge the clothing rules created by men over the years.
“It does alienate so many people,” she explains. “It’s about updating things and realising that you have to organically grow and evolve. It’s an important conversation.”
The football pay gap
It wasn’t until last year that UEFA doubled the fund for the Women’s European Championship, meaning 16 teams in this year’s competition will share €16 million (£13.7 million), an increase from the 2017 tournament that saw women’s teams share €8 million (£6.86 million).
The Lionesses were also previously reported to be set for a £55,000 bonus per player if they win the tournament, which of course they did.
Although a life-changing amount of money for some players, that £1.3m handout to the squad would be much lower than the bonus of £5m that England’s men would reportedly have got, if they’d won last summer’s Euros.
“Don’t forget that many of the players in the Women’s Super League (WSL) still earn less than £50,000 a year and can be as low as £20,000. For London-based players that’s not a living wage,” explains Victoria Rush, Director of No Woman No Try and founder of #IAmEnough.
“The increased audience viewership and streaming means the game is making rapid progress and the women will definitely see an increase from the average wage of £30,000 a year to many top players such as Sam Kerr earning £400,000 a year.”
Lloyd Hughes says there is still a big discrepancy in earnings between players at the smaller and bigger clubs.
“There is still a massive issue when it comes to minimum salary and working conditions because there’s a big gap between players at the bigger clubs like Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal and those at the smaller clubs,” she explains.
“There are lots of players who are still on around £26,000 to £35,000, which is not an awful lot for a full time salary.”
The future of female football looks bright
According to Women in Football CEO Yvonne Harrison, the Lionesses’ amazing triumph could mark the start of the next phase for women’s football.
“With a combined TV and online audience of more than 23 million enjoying an atmosphere of dreams, this result will help to change perceptions for years to come,” she tells Yahoo UK.
“The legacy of the WEUROs was planned from the outset, and with that comes a move for girls to have equal access to football in school, and for more women to qualify as coaches and officials.
“Role models on and off the pitch are so important, and that includes roles in football leadership and administration – which is why we at Women in Football strive for gender equality right across the football industry.”
Today is no doubt a day to celebrate, to reflect on how the Lionesses win could help to inspire a new generation. But we must run with the momentum.
As Gabby Logan pointed out as she brought the Euros to a close last night: “The Lionesses have brought football home. Now it’s down to the rest of us to make sure it stays here. You think it’s all over? It’s only just begun.”
To encourage all fans to show their passion for women’s football, Heineken have launched an ‘I am the 12th Woman’ T-shirt, which is being sold through Amazon for £12 with proceeds going to Women in Football, a not-for-profit that supports the growth of women’s football.
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