The H+K Sport team reflects on The Lionesses’ historic Euros win.
My phone started pinging as soon as Gabby re-immortalised Kenneth Wolstenholme’s ominously tired line and the BBC bought the Euros to a poignant close with a piece of film that had me explaining to my family that I just had something in my eye.
Before that it was all too much to hope for and our team banter on socials was as nervous and intermittent as the wait for a penalty shoot-out – just the odd piece of reaction or commentary on the group WhatsApp as we cheered…watched…waited….
Then around 7.30pm on Sunday night, just after Wrighty could be heard shouting ‘Love it Gabs’ at the anchor’s perfect sign-off, it really kicked off…ping…ping…ping… my phone on fire (like Beth Mead obvs) as the trickle of reaction became a current then an outpouring – Ash, Tasha and Laura in tears, Lizzie shaking, Manners screaming in CAPITALS, Hughesy’s baby girl chanting “Tooone” at us from Newcastle, Oli asking if we all had Monday off (#nicetry) and more…
Emojis and emotion in rapid-fire reaction to a huge night in English football. Near disbelief as we all let it sink in.
For 31 matches we (the Sport team at H+K) have been glued to our screens like the rest of the country; in the days and weeks since kick-off it has been wild speculation, fevered imaginings, pure hope. But last night we did it, or rather, they did, for each of us. The Lionesses, a team who no longer need a collective noun, writing their names into football folklore. And, in opposition to the BBC’s on-point coverage, I’m not going to mention homecomings or bygone glory because this team deserve their own moment, their own anthem, a clean slate for the next chapter of football in this country.
Long before a ball had even been kicked, Laura, a director in our team, pointed to The Women’s Sport Trust report on record viewing figures for sport played by women. The figures a strong validation of the long-standing argument that if women’s sport is more visible, the audience will follow. Would this tournament deliver as hoped?
With records smashed, minds-changed, claims made and inspiration served up like never before, the Euros exceeded all expectations and it would be criminal not to capitalise and maintain the momentum of this historic win.
There is plenty still to play for when it comes to equity and equality in the game. We’re nowhere near the knock-out stages of that effort. But as they danced from the pitch last night, through the press conference and into our hearts, we all got to know this team’s unique take on success and opportunity. Not an interview cliché or pat response in sight. Chloe Kelly wasn’t interested in a post-match interview with Sweet Caroline echoing around Wembley in honour of her and her mates, she was off and we all loved her more for it.
And so to the cooler light of Monday morning as our team start to think about the future of the women’s game (hell, the game itself) and the narrative from today onwards…holding brands and clients to account in making sure we all drive authentic and meaningful stories and partnerships in the aftermath of a tournament which has delivered so much more than football. As Gabby reminded us in her acute summing-up, the legacy of this tournament is in the hands of us all, and she asked the nation a simple question:
“Is this a game-changing moment?”
When we saw England play Spain in Brighton in the quarterfinals, we sat next to two little boys, aged about eight and ten and their dad. They were so excited – waving their GOAL signs, soaking up the atmosphere, and sharing their own commentary… “Just think, if we win today, then in only ten days we can be singing It’s Coming Home!” as if counting down to Christmas and the official moment when it’s ok to be playing Jingle Bells.
It really made me think about what this tournament means for kids in England and across Europe, as for them, they’ve never known any different. They’ve only known women’s football as a big moment, in proper stadiums, with thousands of proud and engaged fans. They’ve never known football played by women as anything other than something that captures our attention and passion.
Equality means lots of things – financial equality, equal opportunity, equal access to resources, equal airtime – all of which have been touched on in wider analysis of this tournament. But I think what equality really means is being seen and being taken seriously, without caveats. What equality really means is being given the attention you rightly deserve, and being seen as suitable for that role you have worked so hard for.
I hope that the legacy of this tournament is one which changes our perspective – of what a team looks like, who can be a tournament-winning footballer, and who deserves our respect and attention for playing the beautiful game.
The Lionesses have thrown down the gauntlet. Not only throughout the tournament but now to us as a nation.
I personally don’t fanatically follow one club team, but like many can’t help but become insanely engrossed when it comes to the nation playing the beautiful game. But this hit different. The tears, the shaking, the screaming (sorry Bruce the Vizsla), pure and utter adrenalin running through the body. Has time ever gone slower than the second half of extra time? Watching the team relentlessly fight for victory throughout the competition left me in utter awe.
As the BBC gave its climatic close, I left with one thought and one thought only. What can I do to make a change? What local team can I go and watch (Southampton F.C. Women, in case you’re interested), how many younger relations can I take, and who else can I speak to and encourage to not let this be the end? When I can sincerely say I am doing my bit, I know it’ll feel all the sweeter when we win again.
Feeling emotional on the tube on my way to Wembley Stadium on Sunday afternoon for the final, I was welling up seeing so many different people wearing England shirts in support of the Lionesses. But, I also couldn’t help but think of the lost generations, of all the girls who never got a chance to play football. Still, the scene was a delight to see.
The final whistle blew, and surrounded by my fellow football team pals at the back row – just one voice of 87,191 others crying out Freed from Desire – I knew this win meant so much more than a trophy.
Equity and recognition in women’s football has been an uphill climb for 100 years, but the determination of players old and new has totally transformed the game. There’s still a long way to go, more to fight for, but for now this is the best start the women’s game could ask for. Bring on the WSL. If you care about football… Go. And. Watch. It.
I won’t attest to being a great lover of playing football or the game, as I was never the sporty type and have always been disillusioned with football and its fan culture which is permeated by racism. But I have a younger sister who loves sport and was an incredible athlete. When I was growing up, I watched and cheered her on at gymnastics competitions, on the track during athletics and whilst she played football at school. Her dream was to become a footballer – a Lioness. So, watching the Lionesses victory with my sister was bittersweet, as I couldn’t help but be frustrated that hers and millions of Black women’s dreams have been deferred due to the socio-economic and geographical barriers that disproportionately impact ethnic minorities. This was demonstrated by the lack of diversity of players on pitch during Sunday’s EURO Final, indicating there is a long way to go for young Black and Brown girls to access the sport at an elite level.
We were ecstatic that The Lionesses were victorious, they deserve the trophy and the public’s adulation – but they equally deserve the same player bonuses their male counterparts receive (£55k Vs £461k), brand sponsorship deals that aren’t performative box-ticking exercises and, most importantly, a level playing field at a grass-roots level.
Surely, we can only truly celebrate when everyone across all intersections of society can equally and equitably bring the trophy home.
As a sports fan and father of a daughter, I hope this next-level profile and outpouring of positivity can be harnessed to usher in a new normal – not just in women’s football but female sport at large, most importantly at grassroots as well as elite level.
The highlight of the tournament for me has been the feel-good factor that naturally emanates from the women’s game on and off the pitch – a complete antidote to the ugly reality of what so many, so-called ‘fans’ of men’s football display when following the ‘beautiful game’.
Having grown up playing and watching football, and only really having Bend It Like Beckham as the common subject matter with my peers when it came to women’s football, an overwhelming sense of ‘FINALLY’ took over on the final whistle yesterday (as well as plenty of tears!). Finally; women’s football is being recognised, celebrated and talked about in such high regard.
Despite so many records being broken across a tournament with so many stand out moments, I really hope this is going to kickstart a brighter future and even more opportunities for women’s football. I hope the investment and buzz continues and the women’s game becomes something that the majority look up to, rather than look down on.
As a Scot, it is almost unthinkable to get on board with cheering England in football. But I have no issues admitting I cheered on the Lionesses on Sunday.
What they have achieved transcends sport – it’s not just about the trophy and medals. It’s about the smiles that have been put on young girls’ faces who now see football as an option, the role models for a generation to look up to and the cheers coming from young boys’ mouths who will grow up without the outdated views on girls playing football, that have blighted society.
The difference that this could make to football not just in England, but also across the UK, is immeasurable.
What a moment. What a night. What a team.
The real joy of the Lionesses’ success hasn’t just been the remarkable success on the pitch, but for a wider sporting audience at least, learning to love the personalities of this brilliant team.
The FA have focused particularly effectively on social media, with formats like Lionesses Live giving a wider audience direct access to the players. Their channels have been incredibly successful – growing 105% on Instagram and 87% on Twitter in the last three months – and as a result many thousands now know how funny Beth is, about the friendship between Alessia and Ella and about Fran’s incredible comeback story. As sponsors start to pile in, the increase in commercial value for the Lionesses will come not just because we’ve seen their talent on the pitch, but because a wider audience now sing their names and know them as people.
There are still real watch-outs for potential partners. There are still too many brands looking at women’s sport as a CSR initiative. As a way to boost their DE&I credentials. Which can lead to short-term partnerships and flash-in-the-pan, here-today-gone-tomorrow sponsorship deals. Women’s sport isn’t charity; these are incredibly talented athletes and great personalities. Brands should be looking to build partnerships with female athletes the same way they would any sportsperson.
That means investing in a meaningful partnership created by an authentic connection between the brand and the athlete. It means not just picking any member of the team because they won, but inviting someone who really connects with the brand and then investing in them over a long period of time. Women’s sport always has this momentum problem with fewer major events. Any brand getting involved now should be committed to the long-haul, not just at large global tournaments but during the Women’s Super League and beyond.
I found myself watching the match from two perspectives. The first was that of my 4-year-old niece, the doors that were now opening for her, and what the football experience might look like when she is my age. The second was my own, and the responsibility I have – in work and, in life – to kick those doors down, so she never has to question that football belongs to her too.
Gabby Logan put it perfectly. The Lionesses have brought football home. Now it’s down to the rest of us to make sure it stays here. ‘Us’ means not only fans, but brands and organizers who must show up, in more ways than one, on a cold Tuesday night in Stoke, not just when 17.4 million people tune in.
I never thought I’d get to see England win a major trophy in my lifetime… Hopefully more brands will see the success of this tournament and stay true to their word and help grow the women’s game & create more opportunities and pathways into the game, so we can have more days like Sunday.
“The Lionesses have brought football home, now it’s down to the rest of us to make sure it stays here.”
Love this from Gabby Logan. Buy a ticket to a WSL match, choose a team, watch the coverage, engage on social media. The best secret santa gift I ever received from a colleague? Tickets to Chelsea v Tottenham at The Hive – £6.50 each! It didn’t have the big crowds and Wembley Stadium, but to help this sport grow, we need to show up beyond the big occasion and convert our words of support to action.
Commercial deals that help sports thrive follow public interest and it’s not just Women’s football that needs you. It’s Women’s Sport full stop. We see the same ground swell of support across other big sporting occasions only to see support dwindle at the smaller events. So let’s vote with our feet and get our bums on a stadium seat. We can be the difference.
For me, it was seeing 90,000 people in Wembley; cut away from the pitch and you wouldn’t have known if it was the men’s team out there or the women’s team.
That’s testament to the women that took to the field, they earned everything they achieved in the past few weeks and have created a moment that elevates the women’s game to the next level and beyond.
However, will brands treat this as a flash-in-the-pan PR moment, where they look to jump on board the hype train to milk as much publicity from the victory as possible? Or as a platform they really look to make an investment in and lay down roots in women’s football?
Growing up, I never really had the opportunity to get involved with football. I was always made very aware of it being a ‘boys sport’ and the option to play at school was non-existent.
Witnessing such an incredible victory and all the conversation around it has honestly been such an uplifting time. I did go to bed on Sunday night feeling like there had been a shift for women, not just in football, but for sport as a whole. I went for a walk in my local park yesterday and there were little girls kicking a ball around and I’ve honestly never seen that before outside of club football.
Even my friends who aren’t particularly sporty were excited; the group chats went off, and TikTok FYPs are an endless scroll of the Lionesses in all their glory. I really, really hope the backing and positive conversation continues beyond this moment and women’s football continues to be given the love and respect it deserves.
I had the unique experience of watching on a ferry from Dieppe – which, ironically, had décor remnant from the era in which Gasgoine and co couldn’t quite get the job done.
With one (barely) working telly aboard the Newhaven Lady, crowds of English huddled, sat, stood, and leant around a flickering screen – all of us screaming at the top of our lungs, hoping and praying the Lionesses could hear. When that last goal went in – my word, what a feeling – no one on this boat would ever experience anything like this, ever again.
Turbulence was shaking the vessel – not caused by waves, but the cheers and songs of jubilant passengers. As the ceremony began, the Seven Sister cliffs appeared on the horizon and right there and then we realised that, just like us, football was coming home.
If football is about the memories, then ‘watching’ (I say that very loosely in her case!) the game with my two-year-old daughter last night is one I’ll never forget. She won’t remember it, she had no idea what was going on, but I hope we can both look back at it as the moment things changed forever.
It’s no secret that the women’s game has been underfunded for too long, and while The FA need to take credit for the changes they made a number of years ago to create the pathways that helped enable the Lionesses’ success, there’s so much more to be done.
We all need to play a role; fans, brands, sponsors, rights holders and broadcasters to maintain the momentum and conversation and ensure everyone has access to the game both playing and spectating, from those in inner cities to those in the suburbs. The game is for everyone, let’s make that truly a reality now. And finally, shoutout to Hope Powell. Without her, none of this would have happened.
On Sunday afternoon, as I watched on with a drink nervously shaking in my hand, the wait for the final whistle becoming excruciating, I felt part of something. A ‘step-change’, a ‘watershed moment’, call it what you will – this is undoubtedly the start of a new era for women’s football, and one which I hope will see the game catapult into the stratosphere. It’s imperative more is done when it comes to improving equity within the game, but for now, we’re champions of Europe and one word comes to mind to sum up the emotion I, and I’m sure the rest of the country, feel following the weekend – PROUD.