How women’s football can capitalize on England’s triumph – in six steps

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Welcome to Moving the Goalposts, the Guardian’s new (and free) women’s football newsletter. Here is an excerpt from this week’s issue. To receive the full version once a week, enter your email below:

When the Lionesses laid their hands on the EC trophy on Sunday, one eye was already on “what next”? Because as special and historic as this moment is, it will be a failure if women’s football does not capitalize.

Victory on the international stage has the power to change the sport. Just as when the USA 99ers’ World Cup success saw women’s soccer explode in the US or the legacy of the Netherlands’ victory in 2017 which has boosted participation and attendance, along with the introduction of the first professional Vrouwen Eredivisie, England will need to find their own way to ensure this achievement has a long-lasting effect.

How do we ensure that? Here are six areas that need to be focused on.

Equally early year access

As Ian Wright said so passionately after the Lionesses’ semi-final win over Sweden: “If girls aren’t allowed to play football in their PE, just like the boys can, what are we going to do?”

He is not wrong. According to Football Association figures, 63% of schools offer equal access through girls’ football in PE, including just 44% of secondary schools. These barriers are established at key stages in children’s development that will color their vision for years.

One of the main goals of the FA’s women’s and girls’ football strategy in England is being worked on: “All girls of primary school age should have equal access to schools and clubs” by 2024.

Related: Men’s Soccer Boom Offers Roadmap and Warning for Women’s Struggle | Jonathan Liew

Path for participation and diversification

An increase in interest always follows tournament success and the infrastructure must be ready to meet the demand.

More resources need to be deployed at grassroots level and at the lower end of the football pyramid to ensure that the focus is not just on elite competitive sport. A strong club pathway is integrated, as are increased efforts to reach a more diverse range of local communities. This is where the stars of the future will be discovered, while also giving girls and women an outlet to play and enjoy a sport they have traditionally been excluded from.

Building on WSL’s success

Strong national leagues are the key to international success. A broadcasting deal between Sky Sports and the BBC in 2021 has been crucial in getting eyes on the game. However, there is a cost of attendance. The usual kick-off time for big matches on Sunday night does not suit the average match fan.

Similarly, several stadiums across the league are inadequate. I have a slightly more radical view on this. I believe that all teams should play at the club’s home. Seats may not fill right away, but if you build it right, they will.

Beth Mead takes a shot during Arsenal's WSL match against Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium in May.

Beth Mead takes a shot during Arsenal’s WSL match against Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium in May. Photo: Bradley Collyer/PA

The clubs’ marketing + community outreach

I’ve said in a previous piece that we need to use this moment to “market the hell out” of the game. This requires input from everyone involved and perhaps a look at other models to see what can be learned.

Clubs need to increase their marketing budgets and community outreach. There is a tendency towards complacency in thinking that being a big brand on the men’s side, spectators will automatically come. When I spoke with Casey Stoney for a previous issue, she emphasized how effective NWSL clubs are in reaching out to their communities and building their foundations. More of this needs to be done in England.

Media attention

It has so often been the case that after media attention flourishes for a tournament, it falls off within a few months. The demand that Euro 2022 has created – 17.4 million tuned in to the BBC for the final – shows that this cannot happen again. Coverage needs to be on the game 365 days a year, bringing all its wonders and problems to life so that it can continue to be at the forefront of people’s minds.

Continued national team success

England cannot rest on their laurels. After a short break, eyes will be fully focused on the World Cup, the spectacular event of the sport in July and August. But success must also be achieved at youth level and the continuation of a strong talent pipeline. Youth football was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, and work must be done to ensure it recovers.

Talking points

Copa América champions 2022 Brazil sealed the Copa América with a 1-0 win over Colombia. A first-half penalty from Debinha saw Pia Sundhage’s side lift the trophy for the eighth time. They face England in the inaugural Women’s Finals final next year.

Crowds celebrate teams from England and Germany Seven thousand spectators gathered in Trafalgar Square on Monday to celebrate England’s Euro success with their Lionesses. Meanwhile, Germany returned home to celebrate their second place finish with thousands of their fans on the streets of Frankfurt.

World Cup Intercontinental Playoffs almost complete Nine places for the first intercontinental play-off have been decided. Cameroon, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Haiti, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Senegal and Thailand have booked places. The Uefa award will be decided later this year. The competition will be held in New Zealand next February to award the remaining three qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup.

Quote of the week

“The legacy of this tournament is a change in society. That’s all we’ve done. We have bought them all. We have people coming to games and we want them to come to WSL games. But the legacy of this team is winners and this is the start of the journey.” Leah Williamson, England captain

Recommended viewing

Scoring the winner at Wembley to see your country win Euro 2022: it doesn’t get much better than that. Chloe Kelly’s extra-time goal certainly wasn’t the prettiest, but the celebration was iconic.

• Moving the Goalposts is really taking a short summer break this time – the newsletter will return on Wednesday 17 August

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