The Lionesses were astounding in a tournament that had the wow factor
What a journey it has been. There have been many bumps along the way to this historic victory that has created a group of European Championship-winning England legends. The journey does not stop because England have won. Now we have everyone’s attention we need to keep it going.
I was overwhelmed by emotions after the final whistle. I did not anticipate that – it was unprecedented for me – but it shows how much it means to those who have been a part of England’s women’s football down the years.
I woke at 6am on the day of the match because I was so excited. I was anxious but hyped. I was working at Wembley, which helped keep me distracted because I was always talking to people. When you are a player you can influence things but watching on from the stands, when you are so invested and want them to do well, is horrible.
When Germany’s best player gets injured in the warmup and there is a first-minute goalmouth scramble but Mary Earps claims it, you think: “This is our time.” I never thought we were going to lose; I just did not want it to go to penalties because it’s 50-50 then. We were all so deflated when the equaliser went in but once we weathered the storm I felt really confident. I said before the game that England would win 2-1 in extra time. I probably should have said that louder.
I got there at 1pm and it was packed; Olympic Way was full of people, the atmosphere was so joyous. I got into the ground really early and I was quite high up, so I got to hear people’s reaction when they walked in. Quite a lot of this audience had not been to Wembley or a women’s game before. I sat back and listened to everyone coming in and saying: “Wow!” This tournament has had the wow factor, it has gripped the nation. It was a nice environment, safe and inclusive – everything that you want for a major event.
It is brilliant that we had a victory parade on Monday because that is not a given. It gives women’s sport visibility and legacy. Those players deserve that celebratory moment and it is great for them to see that. It is fantastic that people have come out but it is right they do. England have just won a European Championship and the team are legends and will continue to have that status for the rest of their lives. The Lionesses were absolutely astounding, the best team in the competition. They have gone from strength to strength. It is their time.
My good friend Jill Scott enjoyed herself, from the moment she came on to entertain the lip readers to being on stage in Trafalgar Square and beyond. We had a video call while she was at the victory party and everyone was, unsurprisingly, having a good time. She recognises big moments, knows when to celebrate and knows how to make everyone around her feel special and have a great time. She is a fantastic role model. I am so proud of them but most of all for Jill: she has bronze and silver but now she has gold, and no one deserves it more.
There was no shortage of sunglasses among the squad the morning after the night before. The adrenaline for the players means they do not usually go to bed until 4am after a game, so after winning a European Championship an all-nighter and getting some food on the way to the victory parade is the bare minimum. It is how it should be done by those who have made history.
Football needs to build on the momentum and capitalise on the opportunity. It starts over again. This tournament has provided packed stadiums and record-breaking television audiences but there is plenty of work to be done. It should be every girl’s right to play. Only 63% of schools offer girls the opportunity to play football in PE. We have to aim high from grassroots to international football; we need consistent attendances in the Women’s Super League and England games to keep the momentum going. The final was the hottest ticket around. It would have been easier for me to get a ticket to the final of the men’s European Championship last summer than Wembley on Sunday – that is the potential of the women’s game.
It will be exciting to see how the team go from here under Sarina Wiegman, especially with a World Cup less than 12 months away. She has done an incredible job in a relatively short space of time since taking over. Nothing negative has come out of the camp about her. You only usually hear the bad stuff but she has the respect of everyone. It seems like the players adore her.
It is a credit to her that all the players knew what they were doing. There was never any stress or anxiety; they constantly played with calmness and belief. The attitude of a team reflects its leadership, and this England side are the mirror of their manager. Everyone has the ability to give instructions, to try to have a gameplan but the best coaches simplify it and make it look easy. She has done that. Everyone knew their roles and responsibilities, and it has all come together. That is what good leadership does.
I want to say a massive congratulations to this England squad and staff. They have inspired the nation and future generations. They deserve everything they receive. It has been a joy to witness.