soccer

England celebrate after winning the Women’s European Championship

LONDON – For more than 50 years, English soccer fans have hoped, prayed and sung for the big trophy to “come home”. Now it finally is. And they can hardly contain themselves.

Thousands of supporters shouted and chanted in Trafalgar Square in central London on Sunday and at other viewing parties across the country where the European Women’s Championship final was shown on big screens.

Pictures of the Lionesses, as the team is known, dominated the front pages of British newspapers on Monday after their 2-1 win over Germany at Wembley Stadium in London. Headlines hailed them as “game changers” or “history makers.” declaring, “Haven’t hurt in years.”

Politicians and royals showered the team with messages and congratulations on their victory, a dramatic conclusion that paralleled England’s last major championship in 1966, when the country hosted the men’s World Cup and beat Germany in the final.

But the success hid the potential to transcend national pride and euphoria as women’s football captured the British public consciousness like never before.

“I think we really made a change,” Sarina Wiegman, the team’s Dutch coach, said at the post-match press conference. He added that the team has done a lot for sports, but also for the role of women in society, which was echoed by others.

“It was an amazing month and an amazing day yesterday,” said Mark Bullingham, chief executive of English football’s governing body, the Football Association.

“I think it really turbocharges everything we’ve done in the women’s game,” she said interview on BBC Breakfast on Monday, adding that the organization has invested heavily in women’s soccer in recent years.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be playing as many girls as boys, and we think that’s going to create a whole new generation of heroes that girls aspire to be like,” she said.

There is definitely room for improvement. A report in March by Fair Game, a group of 34 English football clubs, found that the gaping gender gap at football clubs across England and Wales was keeping the sport “living in the dark ages”.

Only 11.1 per cent of Premier League club board members are women, and two-thirds of the league’s team boards are women, the report said. Compared to other countries, England had significantly fewer women at the games.

“This is at a time when public attitudes towards sexism and misogyny are changing and football needs to change too,” said report author Stacey Pope.

That change looked possible as the Lionesses emerged victorious from a match attended by a record crowd of more than 87,000 fans on Sunday, the biggest ever for either men’s or women’s European Championship finals.

Queen Elizabeth sent a congratulatory message to the team, writing that while the athletes’ performances were commendable, “your success far exceeds the well-deserved trophy.”

“All of you have set an example that is an inspiration to girls and women today and to generations to come,” she wrote.

Kevin Windsor, a graphic designer from London, watched the match with his 3-year-old daughter, who was wearing a princess dress. “My daughter doesn’t have to be interested in football. He just needs to know it’s a possibility,” he wrote on Twitter. “That she can be anything she sets her little heart on. From a princess to a lion. And everything in between.”

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