Leah Williamson's Lionesses can harness the already ‘indescribable’ growth of women’s football to catapult the sport to an even higher level at this summer’s home EUROs, believes former England ace Laura Bassett - who was speaking at an event in Bury to celebrate the start of the tournament and the £50m of National Lottery investment into women's football over the last decade.
Captain Williamson’s hosts kick off the hotly-anticipated tournament against Austria at a sold-out Old Trafford this evening bidding to build on their memorable run to the World Cup semi-finals in 2019.
Over 11 million people watched Phil Neville's side go down 2-1 to the USA and in the three years that followed, the profile of the Women's Super League – bolstered by the red-hot form of the national team – has continued to snowball.
Bassett starred in three European Championships between 2003 and 2017 and hopes success for Sarina Wiegman’s players over the next four weeks can build a long-term legacy.
The 63-cap international said: “The growth, visibility and impact of the women’s game has been unrecognisable in recent years.
“It’s just brilliant for girls to grow up knowing they can be a professional footballer – the pathway, funding, structure and support is now all there.
“The National Lottery funding since 2012 has been really important – to get more funding and education to reach the elite level and chase your dreams is crucial.
“For this summer’s EUROs, games are sold out, they’ve sold more tickets than any other EUROs and we’ve sold out Wembley for the final.
“It’s just incredible – fingers crossed England are successful, go through to the knockout stages and people jump on board.
“The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham come after but at the moment, it’s all about the EUROs.
“I really hope they galvanise the nation, get people in the spirit and encourage everyone to hold garden parties and go wild for the Lionesses.
“The Lionesses like that legacy tag and level of responsibility – they can impact a lot of people’s lives, inspire them and make a difference.
“They’ve paraded a lot of legacy but it won’t be more present than on a level like this – now it’s about going one step further and driving participation in women’s football through the roof.”
Bassett was attending Holcombe Brook Primary School on the opening day of the Women’s EURO 2022 to see how women and girls’ football is flourishing.
The former Chelsea and Arsenal star was able to witness Bury AFC’s thriving female playing base in action first-hand, with the club set up three years ago to provide opportunities for over-40s to play football.
Bury started with a handful of players at a local school and now boast 200-plus members, ranging from 18 to 60-plus across nine recreational teams.
The teams have been playing in a new league across Manchester - created as part of the EURO tournament legacy – and Leigh Gell, Women’s Football Recreational Officer at Manchester FA, is relishing the prospect of the tournament on home soil.
Gell, 24, said: “I live and breathe football and it’s so fantastic to see so many young girls now playing in the local area.
“With the help of National Lottery funding, the growth of the women’s game has been brilliant - but this summer’s tournament can help elevate its profile even further.
“I’ll be there at Old Trafford cheering on the Lionesses this evening – we’ll be at the fan park before and are hoping for an England win with lots of goals!”
Casey Lynchey, Head of Women's Football and coach at Bury, added: “National Lottery funding is so important in growing the profile of women’s football.
“There’ll be a few of us heading down to the game this evening and we can’t wait for the tournament to start.”
Thanks to National Lottery players, over £50million has been invested into football in the last ten years in ways which benefit the women’s and girls’ game by increasing participation and helping young players fulfil their potential. Investment into the Women’s Euros legacy includes £1m of National Lottery funding, invested through Sport England, to get more women playing the game in each host city