Thousands of England supporters old and new poured into Trafalgar Square on Monday, chanting and waving flags after the Lionesses won the Euro 2022 tournament in a victory described as a turning point for women’s football.
For Nev Walters, who was with his three daughters in the crowd – his eight-year-old, Tess, propped on his shoulders – it was important for them to see a team that had achieved so much.
“I wanted them to see what can be done,” said Walters, who was astonished to learn only days ago that women were not allowed to play on Football Association-associated grounds until 1971. “I wanted them to be able to see something they can aspire to.”
While his daughters do not play football, he said: “If you take that sentence ‘women can’t play on Football Association grounds’ and you replace the word ‘women’ with the words ‘black’ or ’Jewish person’, you’ve got a sentence so outrageous you can barely say it.
“It was just tolerated, I can’t actually believe it. I don’t want anything like that to be able to happen again. I want girls to just be able to know they have a right to all of it.”
Fans, dressed in England jerseys, caps and draped in flags, packed into the square, waiting for the players to take the stage.
Standing atop a bollard overlooking the crowd, Theo, 12, was waving his flag. He said the title win would “encourage more English girls to play football. Give them a chance and give them experience with other players.”
Theo has been an avid watcher of women’s football since 2019, when the sport was added to the Fifa video game in time for the Women’s World Cup. But, he added, “they’re not getting paid as much as men”.
For his father, Ed Deegan, it was great to see women playing at the same level as men, facing the same criticism. “I think it’s been bubbling for a while, but I do think now this will just be a kind of icing on the cake,” he said.
On Monday morning, the front pages rejoiced at the team’s 2-1 win against Germany at Wembley, calling them “history makers”, “game changers” and declaring “move over fellas, it’s home!” A record crowd of 87,192 attended the game – with 17.4 million TV viewers, making it the biggest UK television event of the year to date.
But despite the triumph, parents with their daughters in the crowd at Trafalgar Square said there were still barriers to playing football in schools, and that girls were often pushed towards other sports.
For Persephonie, eight, the national team’s win will “convince the girls to play because now they know it’s a good thing and the women have won so I think they’ll feel stronger at football”. It will also, she said, change how men view the game.
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“They’re going to think girls can play,” added Persephonie. “I think the girls are good but they just hide it because they think the boys are better than them and they don’t want to get embarrassed, now I think they can really show their talent.”
Mia, 14, a player for AFC Wimbledon who dreams of one day playing for England, said: “Women’s football has really grown now, it wasn’t like that before.
“When you play in school, the boys don’t really want to play with you to be fair, like they don’t really pass. They were quite cocky. But now, people actually realise women’s football is a thing and it’s good. And it’s a good quality, good level. I think this whole competition will help with equality.”