Analysis Sports

Lionesses’ path to World Cup roused interest in women’s football

Official publicity photo for the Lionesses.

LONDON – Devastatingly for many fans, World Cup journey of the Lionesses – England’s national women’s football team – came to an end Sunday with the 1-0 loss against Spain in the final. 

Their remarkable route to the World Cup came only a year after they won the Euros.

Their path this summer brought a revolutionary change to the way that people are seeing women’s football, with more and more fans tuning in to watch them play and showing their support.

An advertisement for Nike in a sports store touts Georgia Stanway of the Lionesses. (Aimee Shah/YJI)

Stereotypical notions of football being a ‘boy’s sport’ likely emerged from the post-war ban on women playing football after women took to the pitch while the men went to fight in the war.

But more recently, with the increased coverage of women’s football and the increased media presence of women’s teams, there has also been a newfound interest sparked in watching women play the sport.

Many fans have followed the Lionesses journey in both the Euros and the World Cup and the team’s prowess altered women’s football forever.

But they are not the only national team that has sparked interest. With Australia and New Zealand hosting the World Cup, the Matildas, the Australian national team, reached the semi-finals before losing to England 3-1. The Matildas also gained widespread national media attention and the whole country watched in awe as they progressed through the tournament.

This clearly shows how much women’s football has progressed in the recent years with increasing numbers of people watching the skills of these women who are inspiring a whole fanbase of young people who could follow in their footsteps.

Following the final, the BBC published figures showing that 12 million people watched the final on BBC One which made it the second most watched event of 2023. This remarkable turnout of fans who tuned in to watch the Lionesses play Spain showed the dramatic change in the way that women in football are seen.

A shopping divider in a UK store features a photo of players for the Lionesses. (Aimee Shah/YJI)

For many young fans, these women have become role models through the demonstration of their skills and perseverance.

Still, there are some controversies surrounding women’s football in the UK. This is as a result of no members of the Royal Family – specifically Prince William, who is President of the England Football Association – or Prime Minister Rishi Sunak or Gareth Southgate, who is manager of England’s men’s team, attending the final in Australia.

Critics heavily argued that had this been a men’s final, they would have shown up in support of the national team.

The large media backlash against their decisions to not attend does somewhat show a change in rhetoric demonstrating the increasing importance of women’s football to fans.

Women’s football, particularly in the UK as a result of the Lionesses, has progressed dramatically in the past few years.

The Lionesses and their World Cup journey inspired so many people and they will continue to do so while paving the way forward for more female footballers.

Aimee Shah is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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