Leah Williamson: 'The EUROs hasn’t just been a change for women’s football but society in general'
Leah Williamson believes this summer’s EUROs has helped change not only women’s football but society as a whole and the England captain hopes Sunday’s Final proves to be the ‘start of something’ and not the end.
England have played in packed-out stadiums throughout this summer’s record-breaking UEFA Women’s EUROs, with millions more watching at home.
Attendances at this summer’s competition have already more than doubled the previous record for a EUROs and Sunday’s Final is set to be the most attended match of any EUROs in history, men’s or women’s.
But arguably even more crucially, Williamson is among those who have noticed that there seems to have been a change in the way women’s football has been discussed and the amount of interest shown by the wider public.
Pubs and homes across the country have been filled with conversation around England’s run to the Final and the impressive goals scored by the likes of Beth Mead and Alessia Russo, and the defensive quality shown by players such as Williamson, Millie Bright and goalkeeper Mary Earps.
Williamson used her pre-Final press conference on Saturday evening to speak passionately about the importance that the legacy of this tournament lives on.
She said: “I think what we have seen in the tournament already is that this hasn’t just been a change for women’s football but society in general – how we are looked upon.
“Tomorrow is not the end of a journey but the start of one. I think regardless of the end result of the game, there will be a nice moment for reflection.
“Naturally it is my job to go out for 90 minutes and win but I think when we look back on the tournament as a whole, we have really started something and tomorrow is the start of that - I want this to be the start, I want this to be a mark for the future and not looking back on what has come before.”
Williamson’s career has transcended a period where the women’s game went from semi-professional to her starring in one of the biggest professional leagues in the world in the Women’s Super League.
Tomorrow’s EUROs Final between hosts England and Germany at Wembley Stadium is expected to be a sell-out.
One more game. One last push. Together. pic.twitter.com/6mKHq0W9f7— Lionesses (@Lionesses) July 30, 2022
If the game does come close to reaching the stadium’s capacity, it would surpass the record attendance for any EUROs, with the previous highest the men's final in 1964 between Spain and the Soviet Union, which was played in front of 79,115 spectators at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.
Williamson said: “I think this (playing in front of 90,000 fans in a major tournament final] has obviously felt unachievable for a very long time [for] the people who have come before me that have had to fight, especially in this country.
“We are hosting it, it is at Wembley, it is not just 90,000 people but hopefully 90,000 England fans who are now behind the team who didn’t have the opportunity before, so I think that is a nice reflection moment tomorrow – that there will be so many people filling that stadium with an interest in women’s football who have an opportunity to watch it because it has been made available, because not so long ago that wasn’t the case and I think that is probably one of the nicest things to reflect on.”
Tomorrow will be ten years to the day that a 15-year-old Williamson watched on from Wembley Stadium as Team GB beat Brazil 2-0 at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The attendance of 70,584 was at that point the biggest to ever watch a women's international match in Britain and Williamson hopes tomorrow’s EUROs Final can leave an even bigger legacy.
Williamson said: “I was in the crowd that day and it was an amazing opportunity for me that my parents facilitated, to put women’s football in front of my face and convince me at least that it was the norm at the time. I think tomorrow will be another moment like that.
“It is incredible that it happened and I think the fall off since that, we hope that is not what happens after this tournament. That is [one of the] main things tomorrow. [We want] everybody who gets onboard to stay with us, because we can’t have a lack of interest post tournament because it defeats the objective that we have achieved throughout the last six weeks.”
Episode 28 | Lionesses Live connected by EE
Jill Scott, Lucy Bronze, Fran Kirby and Mary Earps look ahead to Sunday's Final
Williamson continued: “100 per cent for us, my job is to come here and win that game tomorrow. That is how I approach every other single game.
“It (continually growing women’s football) is definitely not the most important thing but it is something that of course I want. I fight every single day for us as women’s footballers. That won’t change tomorrow. I will still do my job as I have every other time. But I do think it is important for that message to come across as well.”
For England head coach Sarina Wiegman, who was sitting alongside her captain, she spoke of how the players and staff have looked to approach the Final in the same way as all their other matches.
It is something which midfielder Keira Walsh also highlighted during her in-camp diary on Friday.
Wiegman said: “It has been really calm around the team. We have worked really well. We went back to The Lensbury, where we stay, and we did our training sessions again, did recovery there and the things we had to do to get prepared for tomorrow so it has been pretty calm.”
What a journey it's been, eh? 🤩— Lionesses (@Lionesses) July 30, 2022
Together, we continue tomorrow…
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Germany boss Martina Voss-Tecklenburg stated she felt ‘there is more pressure on England tomorrow than us’ but Wiegman believes both sides will be under a similar level.
Wiegman said: “I think the pressure is on both teams because we both want to win the final and we both have very good squads. I think it is going to be a very tight game. It is going to be exciting.
“We don’t feel more or less pressure [than Germany]. It is just a game, it is a very exciting game, with two very good teams who both want to win.”
Wiegman’s coaching style and tactical nous have received a lot of plaudits, from inside and outside the camp, during the competition.
From grassroots to the #WEURO2022 Final at @wembleystadium— England Football (@EnglandFootball) July 30, 2022
This is where it all started for our @lionesses 📍
Good luck to the whole squad for tomorrow’s match 💪
And the England head coach is hoping her side can find areas of the German team to exploit.
Wiegman said: “I think at some points the game might be a little physical. Germany can play very direct, physical and straightforward. So that is what we expect.
“We did see some things which we want to exploit but we will see that tomorrow.”
Wiegman was asked if she felt Germany were the best team in the tournament and the England head coach responded: “When you reach the Final, then you are one of the best teams in the tournament. We have a very good team too and we don’t fear anyone.”
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