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Euro 2022: how England became a stronghold of women’s football



Whatever the outcome of the first semi-final between England and Sweden, this Tuesday July 26 (9 p.m.) in Sheffield (United Kingdom), the Women’s Football Euro organized this year on English lawns will mark certainly a victory for the host country. From its first matches spent to crush Norway (8-0) or Northern Ireland (5-0), until a possible final in the mythical enclosure of Wembley (90,000 seats), Sunday July 31, the “Lionesses” have always sold out at this European Championship.

A sign that in the country where modern football was born, supporters only ask to live to the rhythm of the round ball, whether it is led on the field by a man or a woman. Never deprived of emotion by the first, in club as in selection, where the players had reached the final of the last men’s Euro a year ago, the fans have long been chomping at the bit when it comes to women’s football.

The fault, in part, of the Football Association (FA), the English football federation, which prohibited women from practicing this sport considered dangerous for their health, from the 1920s until the 1970s. And despite a first Women’s Euro at low resonance organized on English soil in the summer of 2005, the discipline is left in the lurch by the institutions, which regard it above all as an adjustment variable when concluding budgets. Already alerted by the good results of its selection at the 2015 World Cup, finished in third place, the federation changes foot when the award of Euro 2021 looms (finally postponed to 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic) , which she will pocket.

Major reform of the national championship

A major reform was launched five years ago, “which mainly concerns the development of Women’s Super League (WSL), the English national championship, notes sports economist Luc Arrondel, a specialist in women’s football. A championship had been present since the 1990s and had become a little more structured in a semi-professional way from 2011, but it was disputed in the summer period, therefore with very little visibility. » The 2017 growth plan begins the process of professionalisation: independent governance of women’s football is established at the FA and the twelve clubs which are granted a professional license must pay their players at least sixteen hours a week and acquire of a women’s section for their training centre.

The vast majority of clubs rely on the facilities of their men’s section, which most often play in the Premier League, the English first division, although the women have their own stadium. “We have two assistants, a mental coach (…), two physiotherapists, a masseur, a doctor. The staffs are a little wider (just in France) and then, in terms of infrastructure, we are in a huge center. We have three gyms, an indoor synthetic pitch. It’s England, what! », recently enthused French international Kenza Dali, today at Everton after moving to Londoners West Ham, quoted by Agence France-Presse.

The reform also concerned the very form of the championship, where the number of clubs relegated to the lower level at the end of the season was reduced. “The WSL is more closed, which has brought more stability for the clubs and strengthened their competitiveness”, notes Luc Arrondel, especially, he specifies, that “The players of the English national team receive a significant income to remain playing in the English championship” and that foreign players have had more difficulty settling in the United Kingdom since Brexit, thus favoring the emergence of young English talent.

Growing attendance, flooding sponsors

While the level of play has logically progressed, crowds have followed in the stadiums, filled on average with a few thousand supporters before the start of the health crisis. A push that prompted the influx of sponsors and the arrival for three years of broadcasters such as the Sky Sports channel and the BBC, for the record sum of 8.1 million euros since the start of the 2021 school year, three times higher than the rights television stations of the French first division. “Contrary to what is usually practiced, this media coverage and these cash inflows are the consequence of an almost political reform of English football”, emphasizes Luc Arrondel.

With the European Championship, English football intends to strengthen its self-sufficiency for the coming seasons. Our objective is twofold: to organize a record tournament and leave a tangible legacy to develop women’s football.”advanced ahead of the event Sue Campbell, director of women’s football at the English federation, in remarks taken up by the British daily The Guardian. The Euro, like every major competition, could in particular promote an additional jump in vocations, and would make it possible to retain the public across the Channel for good. The condition for the progress of English women’s football to be reflected next season at club level on the European scene, still in difficulty on their side against their French, Spanish or German neighbors.

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