England’s heroic World Cup campaign has lit the touchpaper for a women’s football boom.
Phil Neville’s side bulldozed their way to the semi-finals of a major tournament for the third time in a row, and although they were narrowly beaten by holders USA, their performances – and their conduct – have inspired a nation.
And Baroness Sue Campbell, The FA’s director of women’s football, believes France 2019 has done more to help grow the women’s game than any other tournament that came before it.
Sue, what do you hope England’s legacy will be from the World Cup?
There’s a whole manner of things we can take out of this tournament.
Firstly, I think we have modelled the very best in sporting behaviour both in victory and in defeat. I hope what we have done is not only inspire people to play sport, but to play sport in the right way.
I really hope that the millions and millions of people who watched us on television now start to, or continue to, follow a team in the Barclays FA WSL or at any level of the football pyramid. We’d love for more fans to attend more matches regularly and help us grow attendances in our leagues. I’d love to see that people who have been inspired by the Lionesses translate that into support for their local team.
The girls have obviously inspired loads of children to start playing the game and we have to make sure that we turn that inspiration into participation by making sure that schools are offering girls’ football and by making sure schools and clubs are creating the right environment for young, female players to play and flourish.
VAR has been a talking point at this World Cup but we’ve seen some excellent performances by some very good female referees. I hope people have seen that women do have a place at the highest level of refereeing. We would love to see loads more females becoming referees because we can help develop them and send them towards the elite end of the game. The pathway is there.
And alongside all of that, Phil Neville continues to demonstrate what it is to be a good coach. He’s constantly learning. I call him a student of the game. He conducts himself magnificently and he’s trying to get the girls playing in an open and attacking way. We want to see more people – men and women – coaching in women’s football and Phil is the perfect person to model yourself on.
The other big thing is that we’ve seen huge, huge numbers of men watching this World Cup, both in the stadiums and on TV. That is fantastic because we are encouraging men to be supportive of the women’s game. We want to see more men and boys taking women’s football more seriously so I think we’ve achieved a huge amount in that respect.
How does it feel that in 10-15 years’ time, teenage girls and boys will be able to say they started playing football because they were inspired by England at France 2019?
It really is amazing. The players have become household names more than ever before.
One of the big blockers for getting young girls into sport is that they don’t see many female sporting role models. Well we’ve proved that we’ve got at least 24 of them and they’re right here in France. They work ever so hard, they have great values and are so, so professional. These are characteristics any youngster should try to copy.
How will you capitalise on the increasing popularity of women’s football and of this England team?
This is a massive opportunity for us, in all the areas I’ve already mentioned.
The great thing is that, although we’ve got to wait four years for another World Cup, we’ve only got one year until the Olympics and only two years until a home Euros.
Phil’s focus is now on winning gold at the Olympics, and Tokyo 2020 will help us to maintain this incredible momentum.
It is absolutely massive for us to have these next two tournaments to keep pushing the profile of the game.
And before all of that, we've got the game against Germany at Wembley in November!