“For everyone that came before and everyone that will come after”.
Ellen White’s words hold the emotion that an entire stadium shared when England were crowned European Champions at Wembley. The atmosphere felt everything like a seminal moment in women’s football history should as fans understood exactly what this victory could signify.
I had experienced sleepless nights and foreboding nightmares of missed penalties prior to the day of the final. But a cautious buoyance had crept into my step after witnessing the Lionesses’ display in the semi-finals.
This buoyance was evident in the expression of every fan on Sunday morning. White and red shirts converged onto tube lines and clustered in carriages that rang with chants and stamps of “Eng-er-land ole ole ole”.
London was abuzz with a feverous anticipation of what this England team had the potential to achieve. An atmosphere usually restricted to the small enclosures of WSL matchdays had engulfed swathes of London crowds.
"Euphoria filled the stadium, hands flying into the air in triumph with a roar that would charge away down Wembley Way"
Pride flags draped across shoulders; women existing uninhibited in their love of football on the concourses of the stadium; and parents passionately explaining football rules to their children without the fear of leary men around the corner.
Watching the game itself was not so freeing. Two teams of such high-quality battling for everything. All eyes fixed on the match. Heart rate fixed at 100. Crowd rising to their feet as the ball progressed towards the goal. Collective deflation as it flew past the post.
Then time slowed down. Keira Walsh had splintered Germany’s team with a lofted ball for Ella Toone. She was through. The crowd stood motionless. A bounce. Lifted. Is it going over? Ripples in the net as the ball dipped perfectly. Goal.
As though pulled out of slow motion the crowd erupted as a euphoria filled the stadium, hands flying into the air in triumph with a roar that would charge away down Wembley Way.
I remained tense. Heart rate fixed at 100. But ‘It’s Coming Home’ echoed around the stands as though tempting fate. Sure enough, Lina Magull proved ready to dampen the party. Flag waving sections of German support were looked on with disappointment and envy – was it slipping away?
Suspense resumed, a collective angst. Full-time came and the crowd braced for a further nervy 30 minutes. Penalties against Germany seemed to be calling once more.
That was until Chloe Kelly sent Wembley into ecstasy. Ball loose in the box then a toe poke that lifted the stadium to their feet as one. In that moment all of Wembley felt the elation that Kelly emanated in whipping her shirt around running to the bench.
"At last, we know they have a future in the game"
We were all mentally charging down that pitch. All riding a wave of the history that had brought us here as though in that moment the weight of fighting for the recognition of women’s football had been lifted. We were all England.
The final whistle came, and Wembley was overcome with joy. Tears on the pitch, tears in the crowd. Good times never felt so good. It was a victory for Leah, Millie, and Beth and in their familiarity, it was a victory for us.
Fans who have lived the progress of the sport alongside the players on the pitch stood side-by-side with a generation experiencing their first taste of football. At last, we know they have a future in the game.