How Sheffield United and Brighouse Town plan to capitalise on Lionesses Euro 2020 success

If England winning Euro 2022 was the spark, then it is beholden on the clubs and people within women’s football to let the flame burn brightly for years to come.

As much as the fans, new and existing, who have been roused by what the Lionesses achieved over the past month have a part to play in maintaining that interest, it is the people within the game who must now harness that potential.

Tickets selling out in minutes for England’s game against the United States at Wembley in October – a meeting of the European and world champions – is headline-grabbing stuff.

But what about beneath the international game? What are the clubs below the now-professional women’s Super League going to do to retain that interest?

Leah Williamson and Millie Bright of England lift the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 Trophy after their sides victory during the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 final match between England and Germany at Wembley. (Picture: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Yorkshire has a broad cross-section of semi-professional teams in the women’s pyramid.

At the top of that are Sheffield United, who have played in the second-tier Women’s Championship for a number of seasons now, nearly won promotion in the season before Covid, and announced during the recent Euros that they will be playing all their home games at Bramall Lane this season, having most recently played in Chesterfield.

The Championship is 80 per cent professional now, but United remain part-time, their players also having day jobs.

But they have already felt the ripple-effect of interest since the Lionesses breakthrough moment for women’s football, with season ticket sales up over 100 per cent on last season.

England's Beth Mead (third left) scores her sides first goal of the game during the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 semi-final match at Bramall Lane (Picture: PA)

“Is that due to the move to Bramall Lane or is it because of the interest generated by the Lionesses?” asks Zoe Johnson, Sheffield United’s head of women’s football, rhetorically.

“We’ll be a lot more in the eye at Bramall Lane and we’ve seen an increase in season ticket sales already plus more interest across our social media channels.”

Retaining that interest over the coming weeks, months and years is now the challenge.

“A lot of fans at our games have been young families, young girls and grassroots teams,” continues Johnson. “Now I’m expecting to see a real growth in young boys and it is so important that we jump on that.

Yorkshire Lionesses Rachel Daly and Millie Bright celebrate semi-final victory over Sweden in Sheffield. (Picture: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

“Women’s football is not just for young girls to come down to, we want the boys to come as well. The women’s game is very unique in the fans we currently attract – we want to move away from that while also not neglecting it.

“Everybody will see an instant increase, how we sustain that at club level is the big question.

“Getting your matchday experience right is going to be key, doing something to get them there and doing something to keep them coming back. It’s all about fan intercation, how engaging we get the players, Q&As, pictures – making the matchday experience a memorable one. We’ve also got to make sure our performances are right on the day.”

Three of the title-winning Lionesses squad came through the Blades women’s programme; vice-captain Millie Bright and squad members Bethany England and Ellie Roebuck.

The way their profiles have been raised is an example United and other clubs can follow.

“We want to get a lot of content out there to help people know who our players are,” explains Johnson, whose side kick-off the new Championship season against Durham at Bramall Lane on Saturday, August 20 (5.30om).

“We’ve got to get our players out there to build up their reputation so when they are walking around the area, people recognise them.

“Give young people in and around the area the chance to get to know our players, because they are going to be role models.

“Capitalising on the success of the Euros is not just about selling more season tickets or attracting more girls, it’s about getting our girls out there to make a difference around the community.”

While United benefit from sharing facilities with the men’s team, a division below in the FA Women’s National League a very upwardly-mobile club plots a lone course.

Brighouse Town AFC Women share the name of the non-league men’s team and rent a ground but that is where the affiliation ends.

It means that attracting new fans and keeping them is even more important for Brighouse.

“The support shown during the Euros was incredible and hopefully it will inspire people to go watch more women’s football,” says Rob Mitchell, manager of Brighouse Town AFC Women.

“I’m not naive, we are not a massive name compared to some of our more illustrious opponents that we come up against, but hopefully that won’t affect us too much and people will want to come support their local side.

“We will hopefully be having more junior days prior to our games so even more girls can start or continue to play football. I think we will have to inspire the next generation to get involved at a young age within the junior teams, not just at our club, but at others too.

“If we can become the top side in the area, more players will want to come watch us. We are already punching above where many think we should be, above the likes of Leeds United and Bradford City locally, and hopefully with the interest being shown people will see that and be intrigued.”

But there are challenges, one being when the games take place.

Women’s football is traditionall played on a Sunday afternoon, Brighouse starting their third-tier campaign at Flyde two weeks tomorrow. But that competes not only with men’s Premier League football but also the grassroots women’s game. Sky have found that the Sunday 6pm slot to broadcast Women’s Super League games is working, while Sheffield United plan to move games around to discover the best audience. But there is not that flexibility lower down the pyramid.

“The people who want to watch women’s football play the sport too on the same day,” says Mitchell, “and I’m not sure how we address this. I love the local derbies on a weekday, maybe some Saturday fixtures or a Friday night from time to time, I’d love for our games to be streamed on the FA player similar to the Championship and WSL.

“I think our league needs a sponsor now, a big company who has the women’s game at heart and can help propel the sport at our level further.

“The FAWNL do unbelievable work to ensure the league is competitive and well run, now is the time for them to get that financial backing to take us to the next level.”

Sponsorship, supporter buy-in and clubs using this opportunity creatively are all crucial in ensuring women’s football capitalises on the Lionesses success.