I’ve been banging on about women’s football for ages – and this sensational England team are the reason why
I THOUGHT it was all over. England’s Euros dream was dying at around a quarter to ten on Wednesday night.
Spain had been all over us and when they went ahead, they looked certainties for the semi-final. Yes, I thought it was all over.
But, what about England’s women? To keep channeling Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous commentary of 1966, did they think it was all over?
Did they hell. The Lionesses had other ideas.
On came Alessia Russo and Ella Toone, and everything changed. With just six minutes left, in came the cross and the magnificent Russo somehow got to it ahead of the three defenders around her.
Knock down. Toone. Bang. Equaliser.
Love it, love it, love it.
If this match represents a tipping point for women’s football, it was at this moment that it started to tip.
Fifteen minutes later the process was complete. When Georgia Stanway advanced with the ball down the middle of Spain’s half, those supporting England would have fallen into two camps.
There were those thinking, for God’s sake, don’t waste your time having a pop from there.
In this camp were supporters unfamiliar with the work of Ms Stanway.
In the other camp were those who knew exactly what she was capable of.
They screamed, SHOOT! And shoot she did. If the net hadn’t caught it that ball would still be travelling. What a strike.
I don’t think women’s football in this country will ever be the same again.
I’ve been banging on about the women’s game to my best mate for a while now. He’s not been having it.
Yesterday, when I opened my mouth to ask him if he’d watched the Spain game, he cut me off mid-sentence. “Ok OK,” he said. “Now I get it.”
We’ve all been on a journey with women’s football. Mine began on a school football pitch in the late Seventies.
We were around 12 years old, about to play an away game.
The opposing team’s teacher called us over and told us gravely that there was a girl playing for them.
He actually asked us if we minded!
We all looked at each other and shrugged. Er, no. Why would we?
And as soon as the match started, we never gave it a second thought.
On Wednesday night, I thought about that girl. I hope she was watching.
Talking about the match on Radio 5 Live there was a breed of male I wanted to hear from: those who had been unsure — or even scathing — about women’s football but were now converts.
They didn’t disappoint. Ok, hands up, was the general message. It was bloody amazing.
A text from a man from Nottingham was a bit off message with that hoary old chestnut about the goalkeepers not being up to much.
I admit, that’s something I’ve grumbled about in the past. Not any more.
Mary Earps and Sandra Paños, at opposite ends, were both just great.
More than seven and a half million watched the match on the box and even more on iPlayer.
Nottingham man can’t have been among them.
Perhaps he was one of the relatively few watching Love Island instead.
I loved the camera shots of the crowd. They were as special as the occasion demanded.
There was joy, passion and sheer wonderment at the magnitude of what they were witnessing. Not just the result; all of it.
There was one guy celebrating with what looked to be a three-year-old daughter. Their smiles will stay with me for a good while.
The din the Euros crowds have made has been as loud as you like, but obviously at a higher pitch than we’re used to.
At first this sounded a bit odd, but now it’s the deeper noise at the blokes’ matches which will sound a bit weird when the Premier League starts up again.
By then, will the Lionesses be European Champions? I’ve been disappointed too many times by every team I’ve ever supported to be counting any chickens.
But at this moment I can’t imagine any team losing if it has the awesome Millie Bright at the back, the rampaging Russo leading the line and nine other legends swarming around them.
There’s plainly something special about the coach too, and not just because two of her subs combined to score and change the game.
Sarina Wiegman radiates calmness as well as competence and confidence as coach.
Her demeanour reminds me of Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti: they just make you believe that everything is going to be alright in the end.
Her players are the real deal.
They have shown us they can both win at a canter and come from behind against amazing opposition.
They are ferociously talented with iron wills.
Yet there is a delicious hint of innocence about them, too. Of course there is — this is new territory for all of them. And for all of us, too.
Together, let’s go all the way.
WE’RE IN THE SEMIS!
England v Sweden or Belgium
Tuesday, July 26, 8pm, Bramall Lane, Sheffield
(Sweden v Belgium, today, 8pm, Leigh Sports Village)
‘CROWD GO SO CRAZY’
By Lianne Sanderson – former England player
PEOPLE have always been sceptical about the women’s game but this year has proved all the doubters wrong.
I’ve never heard a crowd go so wild when our team gets the ball, it is crazier than the cheers at men’s games. And it’s all been kept positive in the stands, we haven’t seen a single fight or violence so far.
Getting the girls to this point hasn’t been easy and Sarina Wiegman has been a key part of that. She’s the puzzle piece we’ve been missing.
We’re not the best team in the world, we’re ranked eight, but you wouldn’t know it from their Euros performances.
Games like the quarter-final this week showcase women’s football at its absolute best.
I can’t stand Sweet Caroline as a song, but if I get to hear it every time our Lionesses win, I’ll learn to enjoy it.
- Hear Lianne commentate on all of the Women’s Euros England games on talkSPORT
‘EDGE OF OUR SEAT’
By Jason Cundy – footballer turned radio host
ENGLAND’S win against Spain was football at its finest.
It had all the elements of unscripted drama from elite athletes that keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
They have lived in the shadow of the men’s game for such a long time and last night they dominated the back pages of the papers.
For the first time ever, we’re doing phone-ins on the women’s game on talkSPORT.
Thanks to it being broadcast on terrestrial TV, more people than ever can see just how technical women’s football has become. From the way the players move the balls around in triangles to the standard of goalkeeping, it’s no surprise people are being won over.
There will always be sceptics, but they’re outnumbered now.
It feels like we can win this tournament. It certainly feels like it is their time.
- Jason presents The Sports Bar on talkSPORT 10pm-1am from Monday to Thursday