Little more than half a century ago, women were still banned from playing at football league grounds in England.
Yet, today, the Lionesses star on the nation’s greatest footballing stage, 90,000 seat Wembley – with thousands more roaring them on at Trafalgar Square as they stand on the cusp of Euro 2022 glory.
Crowds, eventually expected to number up to 7,000, began to mass at the London landmark on Sunday afternoon to watch the final between England and Germany on big screens.
Becca Stewart, 24, was going to make the trip to Trafalgar Square on her own, until her friend, Emma Hoskins, 23 – not typically a football fan – stepped in to join her.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen that the whole country has paid attention and not just those interested in women’s football,” Ms Stewart, wearing an England shirt and with a St George’s flag painted onto her cheek, said. “Seeing men, people that aren’t interested in football, actually paying attention to women’s football has been so nice and also shows that we’re making a step in the right direction for equality in every aspect, not just football.”
She added: “I think the fact that we did well in the men’s Euros, we got close, and post-Covid everyone wants something to celebrate and get together and enjoy together and this is just the follow on from that. And the fact that, once again, we’ve got to the final, is sort of a boost for England in general.”
Ms Hoskins, 23, a security assistant, added: “When it comes to big tournaments, I’m just here for the atmosphere. I’m being a supportive friend. She would have come on her own but [I] didn’t want her spending the weekend on her own.”
Four friends from Devon – who all play for the same football team, Juventus Academy Devon – got on the road at 6am to make the trip to London to cheer on England from Trafalgar Square.
Asked what she likes about the England team, Hannah Healey, 18, from Torquay, who works in a waterpark, replied: “Everything, the atmosphere, the team, the way they play, all the players. They’re like our team, we’re obviously a close team, we all get along, and they’re exactly the same.”
Friend Sophie Packer, 18, from Torquay, who works in Primark and a chip shop, added: “Watching them and if they can win, which I’m sure they will, it’ll… improve women’s football and stop making it such a ‘they can’t do it’ type of thing.”
Ms Packer thinks there is still a “a bit” of a stigma against the women’s game. “You see videos on TikTok and that… there’s just loads of comments that women can’t play,” she explained.
But the women’s game has come a long way since the FA council said in 1921 that football was “quite unsuitable for females and ought not be encouraged”. Extraordinarily, the ban imposed then on women playing at the grounds of affiliated clubs survived until 1971, when it was finally lifted.
Ms Stewart added: “I’ve been to the last two FA cup finals for women and the fact that each year we break the record for the attendance.
“Like, this year was … 68,000, or something like that, at Wembley and it’s going up and going up and going up. It seems that people are finally taking women’s football as seriously as they do men’s football and that shows how much of a jump we’ve made from when it was banned to now.”