THERE’S no doubt about it, the England women’s performance against Norway was exhilarating, an 8-0 drubbing against a team once considered among the best in the world. The progress made by England since they sensibly appointed a coach with a track record in women’s football is clear and they may now become the team to beat in the rest of the competition. But the question has to be asked, does the women’s game have the sort of imbalances that exist in some quarters of men’s football?
EURO 2022 is 10 games in and five matches have been emphatic victories, including England’s eight-goal fest, Italy’s 5-1 drubbing at the hands of France and Germany’s 4-0 win against Denmark. England’s win was unexpected as Norway are ranked 11th in the world, just three places below England. Results like this happen, but Norway were appalling, particularly in defence, where they were feeble. England, once they had scored what looked like a dubious penalty, were rampant, taking full advantage of Norway’s lack of conviction.
Has the European Championship expanded to 16 teams prematurely? Difficult to say at the moment because this is only the second time this format has been used, but the momentum of women’s football is obviously going to have more pace in countries where investments have been made in making football more diverse. Hence, the biggest clubs in Europe are, mostly, the women’s arms of the men’s game. Lyon and Wolfsburg, with their heritage, are exceptions to the rule, but the names are familiar: PSG, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona and so on. The club game is already very much imbalanced.
Since 2017, something has changed. In the last European Championship, there were only three victories over three goals and 16 games were decided by a one-goal margin, seven by two goals. In 2017, it was clearly a competitive tournament.
That’s why some people have been drawn to this competition and indeed women’s football, because there is still scope for the unexpected, although in the Women’s Super League in England, it is a three-way struggle involving clubs with money. Before 2017, Germany had dominated Europe, but then the Netherlands, coached by Sarina Wiegman became champions, beating Denmark in the final. On the face of it, this year’s championship looked quite open.
There’s certainly been greater enthusiasm than in the past, largely attributable to a robust marketing campaign and a general rise in standards. Ticket sales were very good pre-tournament, some 517,000 of 700,000 but the “real” appetite can be gauged by removing the England games and the final, which one would assume was a sell-out from the off. This reveals an average per game of around 11,500 which is roughly how the attendances have worked out, a 40% improvement on the average for 2017 – a very impressive increase.
This is a very important European Championship for a number of reasons. Firstly, it has few distractions; this summer has been a very football-free close season for many people. Secondly, the narrative around women’s football has been accused of being a little removed from reality – therefore it is an opportunity to really shop-window the sport. While women’s football is not to everyone’s taste – and this has to be understood by the people running the game – it has come a long way in the past five years.
England’s 8-0 success was probably the best advertisement for EURO 2022, there’s nothing fans love more than a passing bandwagon and there will be a wave of emotion underpinning the team’s bid to actually achieve something for English football. And then it really will be a case of “football” and not “women’s football”.
Note: The “Goal” cards are unnecessary!