Lucy Manley watched the Lionesses reign in the rain at Ashton Gate and reflects on the great strides made by women's football since the World Cup..
It’s been nearly 5 months since England brought back a triumphant and hard-fought bronze medal from the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. It was an unforgettable display of togetherness and talent from the squad, with some stand out performances from players left, right and centre. The Lionesses wanted a nation behind them, and that is exactly what they got. On return to the UK, players and staff, fans and the media believed this would be a tipping point in the future of women’s football. A clear sign of their successes in Canada were the ever expanding crowds of fans old and new attending the Women’s Super League matches. The WSL reported a 48% rise in match attendance for the 2015 season with a noticeable rise in attendance at matches immediately following the World Cup – and rightly so.
After a couple of friendly matches and a tournament in China, the Lionesses now focus their attention on the future and qualification for Euro 2017, where England will surely be one of the favourites to win the tournament. After finishing the World Cup as the best team in Europe, getting through the group stages is almost a given. With one 8-0 win over Estonia in the bag, it was finally time for a delayed homecoming for the national team with a match against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Bristol – a team ranked 74 places below them.
Characteristic English weather met the teams in Bristol along with a parade of fans ready to welcome their heroes home. As the crowd began to filter in from the rain the atmosphere built and nine players were recognised for their contribution to English football receiving a special award for reaching 100-caps for their country. When the teams were named the loudest cheer went to that of Laura Bassett - who may want to put 2015 and the dreaded own-goal behind her. Yet to her fans that freak mistake has never seemed to matter, she’s a hero all the same.
The busiest player on the pitch was Bosnia- Herzegovina’s keeper and at the other end of the pitch, you could probably count the touches Karen Bardsley made in the game on one hand. Bosnia were playing all within their own half with no desire to even have an attempt on goal. Eni Aluko had a few early chances that went wide of the posts but as a 0-0 half time loomed both players and fans were becoming slightly frustrated with a very stubborn and defensive Bosnian side. Thankfully, when you have a squad bursting with talent, substitutes can add some extra energy (and height) to the game. So finally, in the 68th minute the deadlock was broken by super-sub Jill Scott. The crowd had been vocal throughout yet as the ball hit the back of the net cheers and Mexican waves rippled through the stadium. Patience had paid off.
The final whilst blew, 1-0 to England. Bosnia had been hard to break down but England had managed it – a win and three hard-earned points. As the players applauded the crowd on their victory lap, Canada and the history-making bronze medal seemed like yesterday. To have a 13040-strong crowd in weather that can only be described as a mini hurricane shows just how far the women’s game has come in recent months. The Lionesses reigned in the rain and finally got the win they deserved. They are fast-proving to be an English team the country can rely on to deliver.
When England women put on their jerseys to play, you can tell they want to win. For themselves, for their team, but most importantly, for their country –and that’s how it should be. The team have become household names, their photos have been strung across every newspaper and their third place win at the World Cup and outstanding tournament should, and has become a tipping point in English Women’s football. They’ve broken records, inspired a generation and if they continue to build on the successes of 2015 – they’ll be unstoppable.
For myself, and I’m sure many others, 2015 has been the year women’s football stamped itself firmly into the public’s eye and into the history books as one of the greatest teams in English sport. What a year, what a platform for women’s football and women in sport.
Lucy Manley is a Soccerella Ambassador, MSc Sport and Health Science graduate and enjoys following a range of sports… with a minor obsession for all things ‘Olympics’. In her blog,‘More than just a game’, she looks critically at a range of sporting topics associated with professional athletes and mass participation. Twitter: @Lucy_Manley
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