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Published 07 July 2022 9 min read
England Women's Senior Team

A special moment in the history of women's football

Written by:

Frank Smith

It was a record-breaking night at Old Trafford as the UEFA Women's EURO got underway with England versus Austria
Historic. Record-breaking. Inspirational. 

It will not go down as England’s greatest performance under Sarina Wiegman but for the 68,871 people in attendance at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, they returned home knowing they were a part of history. 

England’s performance against Austria in the opening match of EURO 2022 lacked some of the composure and cutting edge of previous performances under Wiegman but crucially it finished with a 1-0 victory. 

And Wednesday night was about much more than the 90 minutes on the grass. It was a moment which highlighted the growth of the women’s game – with a new record attendance for a UEFA Women’s EUROs match - and a chance to inspire a new generation of England supporters. 

The excitement around the home EUROs was evident before you even reached the Greater Manchester area. It may have only been 2.30pm but Stafford Services was already bustling with young girls – and boys – in the latest Lionesses’ kit, running around, unable to contain their excitement. 

And as you made your way along Chester Road, the sight of Old Trafford in the distance took the excitement up another notch and by the time you had pulled up, the sounds of the Fan Park could be heard before you could see it. 

With the opening match a sell-out and more than half a million tickets sold across the tournament, the magnitude of this year’s EUROs was obvious but even still, the number of supporters inside the Fan Park more than four hours before kick-off still came as a surprise. 
The queue for the face painting was at almost a hundred
The queue for the face painting was at almost a hundred
Thousands were already packed in and the queues for some of the England Football activations ran to almost a hundred.  

The queue for the face-painting was even longer than that of the Bus Bar, with those waiting looking on as children slotted their heads into a picture alongside Leah Williamson, Demi Stokes and Ella Toone, no doubt dreaming of one day emulating their heroes. 

As a father to a young daughter myself, I could resonate with the proud parents watching on as their child completed four keepie-uppies for the first time and responded with a smile which was probably worth the entry fee alone. 

Whichever way you walked, there were children of all ages playing football. To the left, teams of four battled it out on a football tennis court. To the right, a mother and daughter went head-to-head in a mini cage.  

And front and centre, with the world-renowned Old Trafford in the backdrop, boys and girls competed inside an inflatable five-a-side pitch. There may have been no trophies on offer but tell that to the boy who marked his goal with a celebratory dive onto the bouncy castle-style touchline. 
The Fan Park was a festival of football, with hundreds of children taking part
The Fan Park was a festival of football, with hundreds of children taking part
It is said you should save the best to last and as you walked towards the exit of the Fan Park, you were met with a table covered in felt-tip writing of all different colours. Upon closer inspection, the top of the paper read: ‘What does football mean to you?’ 

The helpful assistant immediately highlighted one message, which read: ‘It makes me feel like I am worthy… plus fun, pride, experience, equality”. 

Directly above it, messages of ‘Football is fun with friends’ and ‘Football is my life, still playing at 50’. 

On one end, it read: ‘Ladies football has changed my daughter’s life, showing girls everywhere you can achieve any goal in life’.  

Well said. 
The impact sport can have on young people’s lives is clear and it is hoped EURO 2022 can have a transformative effect, in a way reminiscent of London 2012. 

As fans entered the stadium, they were met with blaring music but even the sound of Beyonce singing: ‘Who run the world? Girls!’ seemed to mean that little bit more today. 

Ten minutes before kick-off, fans were treated to a dance and flag routine which was supported by impressive fireworks and shoots of fire, as oohs and aahs could be heard from the stands. 

As you were left wondering whether the air would clear in time for kick-off, your eyes were drawn to the screen and where in years gone by, the iconic Old Trafford tunnel shot would show the likes of Roy Keane and then Peter Schmeichel, there stood Williamson followed by Mary Earps
The flag and fireworks display pre-match impressed supporters in attendance
The flag and fireworks display pre-match impressed supporters in attendance
The national anthems were sung with the passion one would expect on the opening night of a European Championship, with Ellen White leading the way. 

‘Old Trafford, are you ready?’ 

The announcer’s question was met with a roar from the crowd and after both teams had taken the knee, in a sign of their continued support for equality, there was another vociferous cheer as the game got underway. 

If the Lionesses’ narrow 1-0 win in November wasn’t enough of a warning that Austria would be putting up an almighty fight, the point was emphasised in the opening ten minutes, as the visitors came out of the blocks flying and the hosts were put under uncomfortable levels of pressure. 

But on 16 minutes, Fran Kirby showed why her return from illness was so welcomed, with a fine diagonal through-ball for Beth Mead and her loft over the onrushing goalkeeper reiterated the benefits of VAR and goal-line technology being in operation for the tournament. 

There was a moment of concern as, after giving the goal immediately, the officials wanted to double-check their decision. But the goal was given and England’s EURO 2022 campaign was off and running. 
07 Jul 2022 2:18

England 1-0 Austria | Highlights

England kick off the UEFA Women's EURO with victory at Old Trafford

England had settled into their stride by this point and the interchanges between the likes of Lauren Hemp and White, and then Kirby and Lucy Bronze, showcased to those who were maybe watching women’s football for the first time that these are elite athletes. 

The Lionesses’ patterns of play were increasingly evident as the half wore on but just before the interval, Austria highlighted the game was far from done with a couple of dangerous breaks. 

Hemp would have added a second goal in injury-time had it not been for Manuela Zinsberger’s save but as the players headed back down the tunnel, the cheers from the passionate crowd showed they had been thoroughly entertained. 

In the second half, England’s passages of impressive play were fewer and further between but there was a special moment for the Manchester-based trio of Chloe Kelly, Alessia Russo and Toone, as their arrival was met with a hearty cheer from the crowd. 

Whether it’s the tenacity of Rachel Daly and Georgia Stanway, the artistic guile of Keira Walsh, or the dynamic running of Hemp and Kelly, this England team has something for everyone. 

Yet, the closing stages of this contest were too close for comfort for the Lionesses, as Earps was twice forced into saves from distance.  

England were unable to control the contest in a way they have in the past for much of the second half, as Austria made them sweat, but they managed to see out the contest for an opening night win. 
The first outing of the EUROs for ‘Sweet Caroline’ was well received by the supporters – to the point that Mead admitted afterwards that she was unable to hear Wiegman in the post-match huddle. 

And when Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa’s ‘One Kiss’ was blasted out of the speakers, the thousands of young fans still in attendance could be seen bouncing with a vigour which belied a time which was surely passed their bedtime. 

Wiegman and player-of-the-match Stanway both admitted afterwards that the team could have played better but they also acknowledged what an ‘incredible’ and ‘unbelievable’ night they had been a part of. 

The opening match of a home EUROs is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and everyone who was there at Old Trafford went home knowing they had been a part of history.   

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