Sports Take: Why women’s soccer will change forever after 2022 Euros

Japan's players react to beating France during a penalty kick shoot-out in a Women's World Cup U-20 quarterfinal soccer match at Alejandro Morera Soto stadium in Alajuela, Costa Rica, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

By AnnaGrace Hale | Sports Writer

The song of the summer is “Sweet Caroline,” especially for English football fans. The lyrics of Neil Diamond’s song reverberated around London’s Wembley Stadium on July 31 as the Women’s English National team claimed their first piece of hardware at the 2022 UEFA Women’s European Championships.

As Lionesses’ captain Leah Williamson lifted the silver trophy in victory after their 2-1 win against Germany, not only did this signify a win for the English side, it was a win for women’s football. The influence of this success will be felt far beyond the trophy lift and here is why.

Soccer, or football in England, was deemed “unsuitable for females” in 1921 by the Football Association of England. Despite the fervor for the English men’s game, all women were restricted from playing on Football League grounds.

From here, women’s football entered a period where women did not have the opportunity to play professionally in their own country for half a century. In 1951 the ban was finally lifted, giving way to the first National Cup for women, the Mitre Challenge Trophy, later known as the Women’s FA Cup. The current professional league in England, the FA Women’s Super League, was only established twelve years ago.

That being said, professional women’s soccer is young, especially in England.

Not many countries back women’s soccer like the United States does. Arguably the support in the United States was only propelled by the United States women’s national team victory in the 1999 FIFA World Cup where Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey after securing the winning goal in front of 90,000 spectators.

England lacked these kind of monumental victories. In fact, coming into the 2022 UEFA Euros, they were known for falling short. They were eliminated in the 2015 and 2019 FIFA World Cups during the semifinals as well as in the finals of the European Championship in 1984 and 2009.

So, for the Lionesses to raise their first major trophy in front of their home fans in their home country was something special.

Countless numbers of trophies have been claimed in major tournaments, but what makes this England victory unique is the great significance that it holds.

At a sold-out Wembley Stadium, 87,192 spectators witnessed the 120 minutes of play, topping any other men’s or women’s European championship final. Seventeen million fans watched from their TV sets at home making this game the highest viewed women’s game in the history of the sport.

Among these viewers were hundreds of young girls watching on the edge of their seats. They have a dream. One day, they hope to put on a jersey to represent their county, sing their national anthem in the center of the pitch and play in front of fans chanting their name.

Unfortunately, some girls, especially in Europe, can’t turn this dream into a reality. Only 63 percent of schools in England offer girls’ soccer in PE classes. In high school, the number takes a dive, leaving only 44 percent of schools to offer equal opportunity for girls to play soccer.

These numbers will change and the 23 England players have made it their mission to transform the view of the sport in schools. The squad wrote an open letter to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, candidates running for the position of UK Prime Minister, asking for support in ensuring “all girls have access to a minimum of two hours a week PE” and “invest[ing] in female PE teachers.”

These are some changes happening in England, and young girls around Europe are inspired. School groups attended the games cheering on their countries, each decked out in face paint and jerseys with the names of their favorite players. Club teams from around Europe traveled to watch their national team play.

At matches, Visa’s sponsorship slogan could be seen circling the pitch. “When more of us play, all of us win.”

This phrase promotes what the 2022 Euros was all about. Besides winning, it was a push to show the world that women’s soccer is a force to be reckoned with. Its popularity is on the rise, and the game should be taken seriously.

When Lioness Chloe Kelly ripped off her jersey after scoring the game-winning goal in overtime, England had its own Chastain moment. This trophy sparked a women’s soccer movement in England, and around the world.

With the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup on the horizon in Australia and New Zealand in July, the game is gaining momentum. Get ready.