'Make sure you remember what you have seen today'
Our content producer Frank Smith provides a fan's view of England's UEFA Women's EURO Final win over Germany and the celebration at Trafalgar Square
When I put my nine-year-old daughter to bed on Sunday night, the last thing I said to her was: “Make sure you take in everything you have seen today because you have witnessed history being made. And as you grow up, if anyone ever tells you that you can’t do something or as a girl you are not as good at something as the boys, you remember what you have seen today and you remember those players because they were probably told the exact same thing and today they became European champions.’
Now I’m aware it may have been a little heavy for a nine-year-old just before bed, when a story of Peter Rabbit probably would have sufficed, and maybe I have watched the scene with Will and Jaden Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness one too many times. But I didn’t want the magnitude of what we had seen at Wembley Stadium that day to pass her by.
The night before, I had listened to Leah Williamson use her pre-Final press conference to state that she felt this summer’s EUROs has changed not only women’s football but society in general in terms of how women are looked upon. The Lionesses captain stressed: “Tomorrow is not the end of a journey but the start of one.”
I tend to agree with Williamson and as a dad of a young daughter, I can only share her optimism that this summer’s tournament is indeed a watershed moment and the improvements we have seen around not only women’s football but society as a whole do continue.
At Sunday’s Final, my fiancé Rosie and I were determined to make the most of what was going to be – regardless of the result – a day when history was made and a chance to showcase what was possible to my daughter, Niamh.
We arrived at the stadium at 11am and made our way to the Fan Park outside Wembley Arena, to soak up the pre-match atmosphere.
With us arriving six hours ahead of kick-off, I wasn’t sure what to expect but the England Football tent already had a healthy queue, as children wrote out their messages of support for the Lionesses and picked up their clappers and postcards. We may have been early but there were already hundreds enjoying a pint and pizza.
The customary unhealthy pre-match meal was followed by a trip to Wembley Way, as I showed Niamh what all the fuss was about, putting her on my shoulders so she could see the thousands of people eagerly awaiting what Germany head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg had predicted would be ‘a football feast’.
It doesn’t matter how many times you visit Wembley Way, the sight remains breath-taking, so we did that annoying thing of stopping in the middle of the stairs to get some pictures.
Sunday was ten years to the day since a 15-year-old Williamson watched Team GB take on Brazil at London 2012 so when I recognised a few of the England women’s under-19 internationals among the crowd, it was an apt reminder that there is a high chance that several future Lionesses stars will have been among the crowd on Sunday evening.
As we worked our way around the iconic ground, my daughter was delighted to see some activations en-route. Now she is no Lauren Hemp when it comes to a love of Lego but Niamh is pretty handy with the old blocks so enjoyed the chance to have her picture taken with a Lego version of the UEFA Women’s EUROs trophy.
She then had the chance to score at Wembley, albeit in a Gillette Venus goal, before we worked our way to our gate.
Now for me as a kid going to matches, waiting to walk through the turnstiles was when the excitement would really kick in and as we made our way up the escalators, you could hear the hubbub increase as we approached the top.
We were not in our seats long before Becky Hill, Stefflon Don and Ultra Nate had us on our feet once more for the pre-match show and then the place erupted at the sight of the England and Germany players taking to the field.
As the players lined up for the national anthems, the level of excitement went up another notch and upon completion, were met with a roar from the sell-out crowd.
Midway through the half, my daughter informed us she felt sick. ‘Do you think it is the Z-Up and sweets, Niamh?’ ‘No, I’m just really nervous,’ came the response.
The early arrival of Ella Toone and Alessia Russo meant Niamh was able to put her weeks of singing into practice on the biggest stage. Her hopes of getting the ‘Here we go, Tooooney and Lessi Russo’ chant (to the sound of Status Quo’s Rockin’ All Over The World) going didn’t materialise but it didn’t stop us from trying, continually.
Like children all over the country, Niamh has two new heroes to look up to in the shape of Toone and Russo and Fran Kirby definitely now has competition in the favourite player stakes.
And when Keira Walsh produced one of the best passes you are likely to see with an hour of the game gone, we had the moment we had all been waiting for: an England goal.
The subsequent warnings of ‘this game isn’t over yet’ proved wise, as Germany equalised with 11 minutes to go and memories of the heartbreak from yesteryear came flooding back.
England. Major tournament. Extra-time…It’s a story as old as time.
But this team is different. Sunday was different.
This England side is full of heart-warming stories so you could have picked a host of potential match-winners and there would have been a great tale to be told. But there was something particularly special about Chloe Kelly scoring the title-decider.
As a child, Kelly used to get the 92 bus from neighbouring Ealing to Wembley Stadium just to buy a matchday programme and honed her craft with her five brothers in the cages around Hanwell and Southall. She was also not expected to be at this summer’s tournament, after only returning to the England set-up when the provisional squad was named, following almost a year out with an ACL injury.
A massive QPR fan, Kelly had told her family before Sunday’s Final that she was going to create a Bobby Zamora moment, in reference to the striker coming off the bench to secure the R’s’ promotion in dramatic fashion in 2014, when Kelly was in the crowd watching on.
And the talented winger did just that as she scored what proved to be the winning goal with just ten minutes of extra-time remaining. The goal itself was always going to be an iconic moment in its own right but Kelly’s subsequent shirt-off celebration catapulted her to legendary status in a moment which was reminiscent of Brandi Chastain’s World Cup-winning celebration in 1999.
England 2-1 Germany | Highlights
England were crowned UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 champions with a dramatic 2-1 extra-time victory against Germany
England’s ability to see the game out deep in the Germany half took away some of the anxiety but there were still heads in hands across the stadium until the very end.
But when Toone hacked the ball clear and referee Kateryna Monzul blew the final whistle, the wait was over. Fifty-six years of hurt, forgotten.
The subsequent outpouring of emotion was incredible.
We’re an emotional bunch in the Smith household but we weren’t alone as the tears started to flow.
For my fiancé Rosie, as a secondary school PE teacher and someone who grew up loving sport at a time when it wasn’t encouraged in the way it is now, she felt the impact of this victory the most.
As the England players danced around the pitch, the overwhelming sense of joy and pride was interspersed with passionate singing and questionable dancing.
Then came the trophy lift. Cue more tears.
As fans started to filter out of the stadium, Niamh was happy as it left her with more room for dancing, while Rosie and I contemplated the magnitude of what we had just witnessed.
In the end, the steward called time. We had to leave. But we really didn’t want to go. We didn’t want the moment to end.
By the time we were home, the even more calorific dinner provided an opportunity to watch magnificent Mary Earps dancing on the table in the press conference, to listen to Chloe Kelly’s brilliant post-match interview, and to watch the goals and celebrations on repeat.
The usual rules around bedtime go out the window when it comes to Final days but despite Niamh’s protests, come 11pm, it was time to call it a day.
The following morning, I rushed out to buy the day’s papers - you know it’s a special day when you buy more than one newspaper. But joking aside, I wanted a record of this historic moment and I wanted Niamh to wake up and see all of the newspapers covered – front and back – with these inspirational women.
The celebrations were not done though and come mid-morning, I was on the train heading to Trafalgar Square.
Sitting close to me was a young boy with an England flag on his cheek alongside his dad. Not there because they were travelling with his sister or Mum. There because they wanted to celebrate this England team.
I arrived five minutes after the event had started but by that point, Trafalgar Square was already full and people were trying to catch a glimpse from nearby office blocks and from the entrance of the National Gallery.
Music from DJ Monki and video montages kept the 7,000 people in attendance entertained until it was time for Lionesses legend and now BBC presenter Alex Scott to welcome the players and staff to the stage.
I won’t take up too much of your time when it comes to the victory celebration as you can watch it in full below but it was another showcase for how likeable and relatable this squad is.
As Rachel Daly blasted out her own rendition of River Deep – Mountain High, it was time for us to work our way to the back of the stage so we were ready to interview the players when they came off.
Let the celebrations... CONTINUE 🎉— Lionesses (@Lionesses) August 1, 2022
We're LIVE from Trafalgar Square! https://t.co/17MG9poM8K
The interviews can be seen on EnglandFootball.com in the coming days but the way this tournament has gripped the nation was evident as fans were hanging over the fence in a bid to see the players and some were trying to have conversations with their heroes through the covered fencing.
Whether it was Wiegman, the players or senior FA executives like chief executive Mark Bullingham and women’s football director Sue Campbell, one of the ongoing themes was the potential legacy of England winning the European Championship.
The long-term impact of the Lionesses’ success will not be truly known for decades to come but the sight of seeing a group of exceptionally talented women achieving success on the biggest stage has the potential to empower young girls and educate boys on a level we may not have seen before.
The Lionesses’ win is not just a victory for women’s football in England. It is a victory for women. It is a victory for football. It is a victory for England.
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