September 30, 2022

Burton-on-Trent, England – Just 13 years ago, England defender Lucy Bronze was reminiscent of when she needed to pack bags at a supermarket to earn the money she needed for bus fare to the Derby, where she and her Sunderland teammates would play in the FA Cup Final. English for women. It was only a few years since that when she was still juggling her budding career at Everton with a job at Domino’s Pizza.

Fast forward to 2022. The rapid rise of women’s football in England, and in much of Western Europe, is to the point that bronze and almost every other big professional called those kinds of side jobs long ago. Today, the bronze is widely recognized as one of the best players in the world: a three-time European Champions League winner, The summer signature of the Barcelona star And a key member of the England squad that aims to win the European Women’s Championship this month.

“Here we are in 2022, and the players are getting like helicopters for the games,” said Bronze, 30, after a training session in England in June. “Do you know what I mean? It has gone so far, so fast, and I don’t think anyone could have predicted how big it would be.”

That makes the start of this summer’s Women’s Euro, a three-and-a-half-week tournament that begins with hosts England’s match against Austria on Wednesday night, another pivotal moment for the game that is seeing a surge of interest and investment.

At least six nations will arrive in England believing they can lift the trophy after the final on July 31. But the pressure to do so could be higher on the host nation, which continues to pour millions of dollars into the sport but has yet to win the Women’s Grand Prix.

The stakes for England are high: they will enter the tournament with new lopsided victories over three other participants – Belgium (3-0), the Netherlands (5-1) and Switzerland (4-0) – and they are eager to build on them. A semi-final round at the last World Cup, just a year away. The Lionesses, as the England team is known, have not lost a game since Sarina Weigman took over as their coach in September.

This means that there is no hidden expectation. The faces of England players now adorn billboards in shopping malls and packaging on store shelves. BBC Each of the tournament matches will be broadcast on its own channels or (for a few simultaneous kickoffs) its own broadcasting platform. All three of England’s group matches have already been sold out.

More than 500,000 tickets were sold for the tournament, ensuring attendance for the tournament more than double that of the last iteration, in 2017 in the Netherlands. The bulk of those who rejoice for England will expect the host country to set a new standard.

This may be why Weigman made an effort to temper expectations. “I think there are many candidates for this tournament,” she said recently. “We are one of them.”

However, its players know that the sudden growth of the game, as well as the chance to play a major tournament on their home soil, has put them at a pivotal moment.

“I didn’t have a role model in football, so I think that’s great,” said England midfielder Keira Walsh, 25, who plays for Manchester City, of having the Euros on home soil. “But not just for the little girls – I think for the little boys, they can see the women playing in the big courts with losing crowds in a home tournament. I think it would increase respect for the game in that way as well.”

The tournament comes at an exciting time for women’s football in Europe. The 16-team lineup includes some of the most talented teams in the world, including Sweden, which is currently number two in the world; Holland, reached the finals of the World Cup three years ago; Germany, eight-time European champion; And Spain, which is proud of Alexia Putillas, Best player in the world this year. Norway is bolstered by the return of Ada Hegerberg, and France is the heart of that country’s dominant club teams, Olympique Lyonnais and Paris Saint-Germain.

Despite this, England may face the highest expectations.

Historic investments by the biggest clubs in the Women’s Premier League, England’s biggest domestic competition, have attracted some of the world’s best players, generated new revenue streams and raised the bar for a new generation of England stars. All England members except for one 23 players The Euro team played in the WSL last season, including veterans Bronze and Elaine White and rising talents such as Walsh and Lauren Hemp.

“We’ve seen, over the years, how much the women’s game has grown,” said Hemp, 21, who was honored this year as England. Best Young Player For the fourth time, a record. “I think that holding this tournament on her home soil will help her grow even more.”

Despite all the upside, players, even the best of them, know there is still a long way to go. Investments in the WSL League remain a small portion of the money poured into the men’s game in Europe, and salaries, TV deals and prize money – while significantly improved – still qualify as a rounding error when compared to the men’s paydays.

UEFA, the governing body for European football, has faced criticism over its choice of stadiums in the group stage, along with Iceland’s national team. Sarah Bjork Gunnarsdottir He described the use of Manchester City’s academy stadium, which has a capacity of 4,700 tournaments, as “disrespectful”. and exploratory study Of the 2,000 British football fans posted earlier this year, two-thirds found that they had “overtly anti-women attitudes” toward women’s sport, regardless of age.

However, for veterans like Bronze, the tournament shows how far the women’s game has come and offers an opportunity to raise its profile even further. She said the new batch of young players you see in training every day, they show courage that was not there at their age and symbolize a future – for themselves and for England – that could be even brighter.

“I look at some of the guys now, who might not have been to the tournament, and I think, ‘Oh, my God, when I was you, I would panic a little bit more,’” Bronze said. “But they all look a little calmer.”

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