5 reasons the Lionesses are more deserving of your support than the England men's team
When England’s women departed Canada after a third-place finish at the 2015 World Cup, they knew that continued success was crucial to their momentum – now they find themselves in the European Championship semi-final, with the nation’s public enthralled again.
At this point the Lionesses are outperforming the men’s team who, under Gareth Southgate, are attempting to rebuild their credibility after a poor 2014 World Cup and a dire 2016 European Championships.
But given the disparity in success between the two teams, aren’t the Lionesses more deserving of your support as they venture into their semi-final against the Netherlands? Perhaps, and here’s why.
1. They are demonstrating consistency at the highest level.
In 2009, England actually reached a European Championships final, but were ruthlessly exposed by a Germany team that had two World Cups under its belt, losing 6-2.
In the two major tournaments that followed the team were knocked out of the 2011 World Cup at the quarter-final stage before failing to make it past the group stage two years later at the 2013 Euros.
But in the space of just four years the Lionesses have rebranded themselves as one of the world’s best teams thanks to a third-place finish at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, and at least a semi-final spot at this year’s Euros in the Netherlands.
Furthermore England have proved they can compete with the best by beating Germany and France at the last two major tournaments – they’re up there with the best now, and deserve their country’s support.
2. Mark Sampson is a head coach the country should be proud of.
Mark Sampson was just 31 when he replaced Hope Powell as England head coach in 2013 and, while still young for a manager now, it’s clear that his combination of ambition and attitude is helping the Lionesses thrive.
“We’ll still be looking to establish ourselves as the best team in Europe. Our mission is to become the best team in the world,” he told BBC Sport ahead of the semi-final.
It’s a level of confidence that seems to have perfectly struck the balance between cautious and confident, a coach who is clear with his players and the media about what he expects.
Furthermore, he’s not shy in defending the team – after France boss Olivier Echouafni claimed England would not want to play his team ahead of their quarter-final, Sampson described his opposite number as “wet behind the ears when it comes to tournament football,” citing his own tournament experience.
And Sampson’s got the results to back it up, too. In beating France the Lionesses helped their head coach become the first England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey to reach consecutive major tournament semi-finals. He’s good.
3. The players have had to work harder than most to get where they are.
Everyone has to work hard to become an international footballer, but for England’s women the struggle to go from part-time to full-time professionals is something the men’s team haven’t had to deal with for decades.
In 2009, 17 of England’s players were given central contracts by the FA. In simple terms that meant they could dedicate more time to training, but would still likely need to work part-time, with the salaries reportedly just £16,000 a year.
Those contracts were increased to £20,000 a year in 2013 along with the introduction of a bonus scheme, and have since reached around £25,000 a year according to BBC Sport.
The relatively recent increase in such available money demonstrates the pioneering work some of this England squad, especially those whose careers have spanned the last decade, have done. Maybe future generations will be able to focus solely on being one of the best sides in the world.
4. This is another crucial step in a long and continuing journey.
England’s semi-final against the Netherlands is a huge event on its own, but it also represents another moment in the movement of women’s football in the UK.
In 2011 the semi-professional Women’s Super League was formed, while 2012 saw Team GB beat Brazil in front of 70,000 people at Wembley Stadium.
The 2015 World Cup in Canada saw unprecedented success for the Lionesses which in turn led to increased ticket sales for that year’s WSL season-opening games.
And now this – a chance for the team to reach the final of a major tournament and proclaim themselves the best on the continent. The more support they get in these key moments, the stronger the women’s game becomes in the UK.
5. They’ve never won a major tournament before.
Of course, you might just want to support the ladies to see them lift major silverware for the first time ever.
England’s men won the World Cup in 1966, but the women are still waiting for their own champagne moment. After defeats in the final of the Euros in 1984 and 2009, to reach the final and win it at the third time of asking would simply be the greatest achievement in the history of English women’s football.
And the likelihood of that happening? Well, after surprise exits for France, Norway and Germany (who have won the past six Euros) England are the highest ranked side left.
Is football coming home?