Celebrating 50 years of England v Netherlands
Ahead of the UEFA Women's Nations League meeting at Wembley, we hear from two of the players involved in the first game between the teams in 1973
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That was the first time an England Women’s international was played at a League ground and with members from both of the squads on duty that day 50 years ago invited to Wembley for the UEFA Women’s Nations League game, it promises to be a special evening.
Ahead of the latest game at the national stadium, we caught up with Lioness Wendy Owen and Oranje’s Ellen Popeyus, who were both part of that very first meeting.
Wendy, what do you remember about the build-up to the match?
We met a couple of days before the game in London and went to Empire Pool Wembley [now Wembley Arena] to play a five-a-side exhibition match inbetween the semi-final and final of the Daily Express five-a-side men’s competition. We stayed at Bisham Abbey and trained the following day, and because it was the first England match at a league ground, we had a lot of press and supporters there.
We met up in Zeist in the middle of Holland. I was only 16 and still at secondary school. I was of course excited because I’d only been playing for two years as we were not allowed to play two years before. We were invited for four training sessions and two exercise matches, but we didn’t know each other as we were from all over the Netherlands.
How much of a big deal was it to play at a league ground?
Wendy: We’d played at Nuneaton Borough and then at Bath City in our two previous home matches, and during the ban we’d played on factory pitches and youth club fields, so it was a big deal.
What are your memories of the actual match?
Wendy: I remember it was a good crowd of over 2,000, whereas before we’d only played in front of hundreds. Paddy McGroarty scored from a free-kick, and I was really pleased for her because we both played for the same club, Thame Ladies.
Ellen: We had a photo with the England team in the hotel lobby before the game. It was very relaxed, and it helped because it was the first time I’d been abroad and had been in this situation. We didn’t know England had won their first four matches; we just didn’t know anything about them. I played at centre-back. We knew England were a better team, and they were attacking me all the time. Our goalkeeper had a good game, and we stood our ground. The second half we only played 35 minutes and we had some chances, but England was stronger. We had dinner with the England team after and were each given a teddy bear by the WFA.
What were the celebrations like after the match?
Wendy: We actually met the Mayoress of Maidenhead as we stayed at a hotel there. We had joined the Dutch team before the match for a training session, and then after the match there was dinner for both the teams, so we ate with them.
You were presented with your legacy cap last year, Number 12. How special is that?
Wendy: It’s fantastic. I will never forget that we got a cap from the WFA (Women’s Football Association) for our first cap, hand made by Flo Bilton, one of the WFA officials, which means a lot. To then at last be recognised as part of the family with the legacy cap and a shirt, it was great. It’s now pride of place, because we didn’t get to keep kit when I played because we had to give it back, so I haven’t got any shirts from our era. So, this means a lot.
You laid the foundations for the players of today. How proud are you and how good is it to be back at Wembley today?
Wendy: It does make me proud, but it wasn’t something I used to think about. I watched the 2022 UEFA Women’s EURO final live, and when it finished my phone started going, people texting me congratulating me. I was like ‘Why are you congratulating me?’ They were saying ‘You started it all off.’ It was the first time I’d thought of that. It’s very special to be at Wembley with the first match between the Netherlands and ourselves being recognised – it will be great to see some old faces.
Ellen: It’s an acknowledgement. We were not seen at the time we played, but we’re now going to be recognised on the pitch. We laid the path, and the path is getting better and better. We love that we are invited, and I look forward to meeting our opponents. There has been big development [in women’s football]. We have more qualified coaches, which is positive because in our time we were coached by volunteers. Women’s football should be about technique and tactics, and for that you need further development, and time. Then we will have our own game that isn’t compared to men’s football. I am always glad when the Netherlands win, not just for the result, but for the development.
You can read the full feature in the official match programme for Friday's game. Order a copy here.