Euro 2022: Tournament is just the ticket for women’s football in Yorkshire

There is nothing like an England win to get football fans into a tournament.

The Lionesses’s 1-0 victory over Austria may have seemed pretty tame by the goal-crazy standards of Sarina Wiegmann’s time in charge, but the Women’s European Championship is well and truly under way.

This weekend the tournament comes to South Yorkshire, with the Netherlands against Sweden at Bramall Lane today, and France versus Italy at Rotherham’s New York Stadium tomorrow. Tickets are selling well but still available and both hosts will be doing their best to create a carnival atmosphere. With prices starting at £10 for adults and £5 for under-16s, there ought to be a good atmosphere at all eight games visiting our part of the world.

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It is only a pity so many of the games are kicking off at 8pm, and that the tournament goes no further north than Rotherham in the east and Manchester in the north. Not that Uefa is to blame for the geography. The clubs hosting matches are by and large the ones who wanted to, and at least the spread is much better than the last time the tournament was here, the 2005 tournament never venturing beyond the north west.

England fans show their support prior to the Women's International friendly match between England and Netherlands at Elland Road. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Sheffield Wednesday looked into hosting matches but decided against given the costs involved in upgrading the once-grand Hillsborough; Leeds United welcomed a warm-up game last month but did not put itself forward for the tournament proper. Despite having hosted the Lionesses before, Middlesbrough did not volunteer either.

Maybe by the time the tournament is over, a year later than planned because of the domino effect Covid-19 had on Uefa’s calendar, some might feel they missed out.

Women’s football is on the rise in this country, no more so than its flagship competition the Women’s Super League, riding on the back of a new broadcast deal that catapulted its exposure last season – it is just a pity Yorkshire does not have a piece of it.

But we can still get a taste, with the likes of Arsenal strikers Vivianne Miedema and Stina Blackstenius and Everton midfielders Aurora Galli and Kenza Dali some of the English league’s international stars coming up against one another in the colours of their countries.

lionesses roar: Whitby’s Beth Mead celebrates scoring England’s fifth goal with team-mates Georgia Stanway and Nikita Parris in their friendly against the Netherlands at Elland Road. Pictures: Lewis Storey/Getty Images

We have not been fobbed off with duff matches, either. Sweden, France and the Netherlands are Europe’s three top-ranked sides, albeit not the outright favourites.

As is sometimes the case with the men’s side, internal politics are threatening to ruin Les Bleues’ chances, and the Netherlands did not give the best impression of themselves in their pre-tournament friendly at Elland Road, but the talent in the two squads is undeniable and if it clicks, they will be hard to stop and entertaining to watch. Sweden have been finalists at the last two Olympic Games, only beaten on penalties by Canada last year.

As well as a Rotherham quarter-final there will be a Sheffield semi-final which, all being well, could send Wiegmann’s team off to Wembley for the June 31 final. That would be some occasion but an awful lot has to go right first.

As well as the games themselves, the tournament organisers have been holding roadshows, with England men’s team manager Gareth Southgate and a Football Focus film crew amongst those popping up at Sheffield in May. The response showed how women’s football is starting to grab the attention of not just young girls but boys too.

Danielle Van de Donk of Netherlands challenges England's Millie Bright. (Photo by Lewis Storey/Getty Images)

But it is vitally important we do not simply have the jamboree, pack up and forget about it.

Yorkshire remains hugely important to both our senior international teams whilst not punching its considerable weight at club level.

If Harrogate’s Rachel Daly, Sheffield’s Millie Bright and Ellie Roebuck, Whitby’s Beth Mead and Barnsley’s Beth England can reach international level without a regular diet of elite footballers playing on their doorstep to inspire them, imagine how much more successful England could be if Yorkshire did?

Doncaster Belles are one of the great names of women’s football but with bank balances ensuring the elite largely mirror the men’s game, they have been left behind. Whilst Manchester City, United and Chelsea bankroll successful teams, the Belles are now Doncaster Rovers Belles, poor relations of a League Two club with financial concerns of its own.

Seeing captain Sophie Scargill having to reluctantly beg for help to pay for career-saving knee surgery was as depressing as Gary Lineker’s kind-hearted response was uplifting.

Leeds United do have the support of a Premier League team but a lot of ground to make up after being cut adrift in the cost-cutting days of Ken Bates.

Now 28, Bright played for Doncaster and Leeds when they were still top-flight clubs before having to move to Chelsea to make the jump into international football.

It was certainly good timing by Sheffield United to announce their women’s team will be playing all its home games at the club’s historic home next season, as opposed to the successful one-off against Liverpool in 2021-22.

The record crowd that day showed there is an appetite for women’s football, but the fact it was only 4,100 showed they too have ground to make up. Neil Redfearn’s Blades are part-timers in a Championship where the big-hitters increasingly train to professional schedules.

For the next few weeks the people of Yorkshire have the chance to be inspired as Daly, Bright, Roebuck, Mead and England were.

Hooking them in is the easy part, keeping hold of them is the test.