The announcement was expected, but the result still sparked excitement for those involved with women’s football in England.
Uefa have confirmed that the Football Association’s bid to host the 2021 Women’s European Championship had been accepted. The fact there were no alternatives mattered little to the FA, which quickly trumpeted the news.
“A home Euro in 2021 has the potential to be a pivotal moment in the development of the women’s game in England,” said the FA’s director of women’s football Baroness Sue Campbell.
FA chief executive Martin Glenn described it as a “tremendous opportunity to celebrate women’s football” which “will allow us to amplify our significant commitment to growing the game.” He added: “We cannot underestimate the positive impact this tournament will have on inspiring the next generation.”
It’s tempting to take a cynical view of such official statements, framed as they are in necessity, but on this occasion the FA chiefs are spot on.
The tournament will come a year on from the men’s 2020 Euros, of which Wembley is hosting the semi-finals and final, among other fixtures. It is therefore easy to see why the FA is happy with itself.
And if you look past the mild controversy of the venues – of the nine earmarked none are further north than Manchester and Rotherham, leaving fans in the north east facing long journeys – then the 16-team tournament does indeed look like a “tremendous opportunity”.
In recent years women’s football has gone from strength to strength. Powered by increasing professionalism, greater exposure and success on the pitch, there is a burgeoning positivity around the sport.
Better mainstream media coverage, effective social media campaigns and excellent work at the grassroots level means more and more people are being drawn in, either to watch or play. The FA announced in March that it was “on track” to double the number of players and fans in women’s football by 2020 – an aim set out in its 2017 “Gameplan for Growth”.
The decision to host the Euros comes within this context of an upward trend. While the 2005 Euros and London 2012 Olympics arguably came too soon for women’s football in this country, the hope is that 2021 will be perfectly timed to sate the growing appetite of some while simultaneously grabbing the attention of the many.
The other side of the coin is the opportunity it presents to England in terms of winning silverware. The Lionesses reached the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup and 2017 European Championship, but are still yet to win a major trophy.
Phil Neville’s side are in good shape, sat third in the world rankings, behind the traditional powerhouses of the United States and Germany. Their 2-0 defeat by Sweden last month was their first at home since losing to the USA in 2015. Neville has recorded seven wins, three draws and two losses from the 12 matches during in his 10 months in charge.
The Lionesses will go to next year’s World Cup confident of living up to their ranking, but should they fall short of claiming the trophy in France or at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the chance of doing so on home soil in 2021 looks a promising one.
By then their exciting young players will have gained more international experience and played for two more seasons in the ever-improving top flight Women’s Super League.
Manchester City’s 19-year-old forward Georgia Stanway has only won two caps at present, but is already showing huge potential for the future, while Fran Kirby (25), Nikita Parris (24), Beth Mead (23) and should be approaching their peak.
With the quality of facilities and coaching available increasing markedly, the hope of course is that Neville or his successor will have plenty of other talented players to choose from by 2021. If that proves to be the case then the Women’s Euros could just be coming home.