07/06/2022

It was as if a previously closed window had opened wide, and for the first time, Hope Powell players were able to catch a glimpse of unexpectedly exciting new horizons.

Bev Ward, chief executive of the Football Association and responsible for the tournament’s marketing and communications strategy, remembers that moment well. “England were playing at Owood Park at Euro 2005 but they stopped on the way there because the team bus was being wailed down by fans lining the roads leading up to it. I remember Rachel Unite, Rachel Yankee and Kelly Smith – top players – saying it was the first time they had ever seen It has women and girls wearing replica shirts with their names on the back.

“It gave them that boost. You can see new possibilities. It was a really inspiring turning point. This tournament was a huge change for women’s football in England.”

Seventeen years later, Ward and her FA teammates are making final preparations for another final at home, but the landscape surrounding Euro 2022 has changed almost beyond recognition. “It’s a completely different approach,” says Ward, who is now a senior manager for the host city. “In 2005 we knew that England would not go beyond the group stage, but today we are more optimistic!”

At the dawn of the 21st century, many may have found it hard to imagine that in 2022 the Women’s Super League will be fully professional, technically skilled, heavily televised, and home to many world-renowned names with six-figure salaries. Few realized that the pioneers, notably Powell and Kelly Simmons, the inspiring director of women’s football for the FA, had spent years laying the transformative foundations.

“In 2001, soccer replaced netball as the main girls’ sport,” Ward says. “So Euro 2005 was aimed at creating interest and creating a legacy.”

Hosted in Blackburn, Blackpool, Manchester, Preston and Warrington, it featured eight teams – half the number selected for the 2022 edition – with the lowest-ranked Premier League players finishing last after a 3-2 win over Finland and a Group A defeat. Denmark and Sweden are finished.

Ward worked overtime to promote the hosts’ opening match against Finland at Manchester City Stadium and was rewarded when a crowd of 29,092 – a record for an England women’s game – saw 17-year-old Karen Carney in a stellar performance before thanking her for a superb on-chip victory in overtime. “It was all about the first match and the tension it created,” Ward recalls. “It was an amazing presence.”

Karen Carney (second from the left) celebrates after scoring England’s late winner against Finland in front of a record crowd at Manchester City Stadium. Photo: Paul Harding/Action Images/Reuters

Although local media coverage largely faded after England’s exit, 21105 followed Germany’s 3-1 victory over Norway in the final at Ewood Park.

By then Lennart Johansson had set foot in things. “Companies can use a sweaty, good-looking girl to play in rainy weather,” said the former UEFA president, who died in 2019. “You’ll sell,” Ward sighs. “We were hoping for more respect.”

While Johansson’s comments would have caused a stir on social media today, from his native Sweden to South Africa, the outrage in 2005 was limited.

Today’s complaints generally revolve around the location and size of certain places. Between the opening match between England and Austria at Old Trafford and the Wembley final, matches are held in the South Coast (Brighton and Southampton) in London and in the South East (Brentford and Milton Keynes) and South Yorkshire (Bramal Lane and Rothham in Sheffield). And the most controversial, Greater Manchester (Lee Sports Village and Manchester City Academy Stadium).

With both Wembley and Old Trafford selling quickly, couldn’t what is set to be the biggest in the competition’s history be a more ambitious choice of stadium and better geographic balance?

With over 400,000 tickets sold and over 96,000 fans from 95 countries traveling to England, has the FA missed an open target? “Cities were invited to host, and unfortunately no one from the Northeast, Midlands or Southwest applied,” Ward says. “These tournaments mean a lot of work for local authorities and places that meet UEFA standards are not always available in July. But we did find great places. We sold out tickets at every stage we launched. Using Wembley in the final was a leap of faith, but it was It is justified.”

Giant footballers will parade over London’s Carnaby Street in March this year to celebrate Euro 2022 ticket sales. Photo: John Phillips/Handout via Getty Images

In 2018, when the venues were selected for a tournament that had been postponed by a year due to Covid, organizers feared there was a lack of enthusiasm for matches that England did not participate in. By the time the 2019 World Cup in France changed that perception, it was too late to consider high-quality, high-volume sites like Newcastle’s 52,000-capacity St James’s Park and Sunderland’s 49,000 light stadium to secure them.

Ward is defending the decision to use the Manchester City Women’s Academy Stadium, which will seat just 4,700 fans, and the slightly larger base of their Manchester United counterparts at Lee Sports Village. “We wanted whole houses,” she says. “And we also wanted to build an old fan base by promoting WSL.”

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A variety of games at 8 p.m. will occupy major slots, where the television audience will drive the revenue and core benefits of the game’s continued development. “UEFA wants to attract as many eyes as possible to this tournament – it will be broadcast all over the world,” says Ward, who knows that outside of London many public transport systems are closed until the final whistle. “We have worked hard with local communities to organize special services and ensure that people return home.”

As the original 2021 date approaches and closures begin, fears have grown that the event will be retired behind closed doors. “This move was the right decision,” Ward says. “Now the fans are coming from North America, while in Europe there is a lot of interest mainly from Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Belgium.”

Add innovative links with the Arts Council and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which includes fairgrounds, dance performances and choral concerts. There is good reason to believe that Euro 2022 will not only be a glorious celebration of women’s football, but also a celebration of life after lockdown.

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