England and Northern Ireland players intend to show solidarity with the alleged victims of abuse in the US National Women’s Soccer League before Saturday’s Women’s World Cup qualifier at Wembley.
Leah Williamson, who will captain England, said her team wanted to do something akin to the gestures of solidarity shown by players in the Women’s Super League this month.
WSL players linked arms and clapped before their matches a fortnight ago and NWSL players have performed similar acts of solidarity after sexual misconduct allegations made against the coach Paul Riley, who was sacked last month by North Carolina Courage following accusations he denies.
“We’ve discussed it as a team and we want to show our solidarity if we can,” said Williamson. “There will be a meeting tomorrow and we will speak to Northern Ireland, Uefa and the officials. We will see what we can be done but obviously it’s something on our radars and that the girls believe in.”
Northern Ireland’s Demi Vance revealed on Wednesday her team’s intention to make a public acknowledgment of the NWSL allegations, with the midfielder saying: “We will come together in solidarity and support … We stand by anyone who has had the courage to come out and stand up against abuse that has been suffered in the past and the present.”
Williamson will lead England on their return to Wembley and in Latvia on Tuesday in another qualifier for the 2023 finals, though Sarina Wiegman, the England head coach, said she was “not close yet” to awarding the role to the Arsenal 24-year-old on a permanent basis.
With the more experienced Manchester City pair of Steph Houghton and Lucy Bronze continuing to be absent through injury, Wiegman is delaying a decision on who will lead her team at next year’s Euros. Williamson was captain in September’s qualifiers against North Macedonia and Luxembourg, won 8-0 and 10-0 respectively.
England (4-3-3): Earps; Daly, Williamson, Bright, Greenwood; Kirby, Walsh, Toone; Parris, White, Mead.
Northern Ireland (3-1-4-2) Burns; McFadden, Vance, Rafferty; McCarron; Wade, McGuinness, McDaniel, Callaghan; Beattie, Furness.
“I think Leah does very well, she plays well,” said Wiegman. “She’s very good in the group so she does a very good job but Steph and Lucy Bronze are the other ones in our group who have captained this team before, so we will take just a little time so that when everyone’s fit, performs well and comes into the squad I can see what’s best for the team.”
For now, Williamson is happy to retain the armband on that game-to-game basis. “It’s probably the most sought-after job in football but it’s not something that I have ever chased, or is on my agenda, and I am not looking past tomorrow,” she said. “It’s a huge honour. While it falls in my lap I hope I can do well in the job.”
England’s women are back at Wembley for the first time since they faced Germany at the national stadium in November 2019, a long absence enforced by the pandemic. Walk-up tickets will be available and about 30,000 have already been issued for a meeting of two nations who have both won their two Group D matches so far.
“It’s a great stadium, and everyone wants to play there in a competitive game,” said Wiegman, “It’s my third [competitive game] with England so it’s very special, with a big crowd, too.
“I do think that lots of players play at the highest level here in England so they get exposed to big crowds and media, so they are used to it a little bit. This is just a little step higher, so hopefully we can just enjoy this great environment.”
With next year’s Euros, for which Northern Ireland have qualified, being staged in England, Saturday gives players chance to familiarise themselves with the stadium where the Euro 2022 final will be staged, though Wiegman’s team will play their group games at Old Trafford, Brighton and Southampton.