The FIFAWWC, The Lionesses, The COGS & Inspiring the “Missed Generation”.

When you think of England’s Lionesses, many people say they have inspired the next generation of young women and girls but it’s often forgotten that there is also a “missed generation” of women who are now enjoying the benefits of learning to play football, as well as coming back into the game, after being inspired by this World Cup.

This has not been more evident since the first game in the FIFAWWC when a woman who had played over 20 years ago, messaged the COGS’ page on Facebook and said (in the 56th minute to be precise) that watching the FIFAWWC had rekindled her love of playing football and that she would really like to start playing again at a COGS’ session.   Music to our ears, we spoke to Emily and she decided that she would come to the next available session. She has enjoyed participating ever since. This scenario repeated itself throughout the tournament and many messages have been received through the COGS social media pages, from “older” women, eager to start learning to play football or come back into the game.  They have somehow felt a connection to this World Cup and also been inspired by watching the Lionesses.

It had been coming for a while, with the investment and marketing that the FA have put into the Lionesses for the last few years.  Following them around the country and enjoying watching them play, as well as the post match fan engagement, inspired a number of COGS to organise a trip to Nice for the first England group game against Scotland.  Women’s Recreational Football, as it’s now called, has brought women together through their love of football and now it was galvanising them to organise a trip to France together!  This was not only the case for the COGS, that they wanted to support their Lionesses, but down the road in Kent, another trip was being organised too, by the Canterbury Old Bags!  You see, this is what playing football at a later age can do.  All these women getting together, booking flights and tickets to go and watch their National team in the World Cup. Most of the women had bought the new replica shirts too (the raspberry one seemed to be the most popular; even some male England fans wanted it!).  This had all come about as friendships were formed, through Women’s Recreational Football, and previous trips together to watch the Lionesses had inspired all the women to go and support them further, not to mention the social aspect of a couple of days away with a few drinks!

Having watched players in the FAWSL and FAWC, where the Lionesses could be seen playing for the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Man. City and Man. Utd, to name a few, it appears that there is a real connection with supporters who go and watch the games and that connection is then felt again when they play for their Country.  When you watch any women’s football there is always great fan engagement at the end of the games which makes supporters feel that they matter.  This then makes an emotional connection with players who you have met and you watch their career with interest.  When they pull on an England shirt, you just want to support them even more.

The first England group game, in Nice against Scotland, was a good start to the campaign, although the England fans did seem to be outnumbered by the Scottish fans!  A great first half, albeit England did let Scotland back into the game, but the result was all that mattered and the England fans all went off with a spring in their step, to celebrate.  There was great camaraderie and banter between the England and Scotland fans and the evening was finished with the COGS & Bags celebrating a first win together, apart from Annie the Scotland fan!  The Lionesses certainly made a few Old Girls and Old Bags very happy that night!

After returning home the next day, there really was a buzz around everyone and preparations were being made to return to France for the Old Girls’ “World Cup” on the 21st June.  A fantastic day where 200 women, the majority who were fairly new to football, descended upon Soissons, in France, to play in the Inaugural Festival/Tournament.   All fingers were crossed that on the Wednesday prior to the #OGWC19, when England played Japan in the final group game, that the result would mean England finished top of the group, as most of the COGS and Bags who were staying in Soissons, had previously gambled on buying tickets to Valenciennes to watch the Knockout game of the winners of Group D!

The game was watched in the Beach Bar in France and there were jubilant scenes when the final whistle blew, meaning England were travelling to Valenciennes for the game we had tickets for!  To many people, we had already gone through so the result maybe didn’t matter as much, but we were all elated that we would get to see the Lionesses play again!

The Valenciennes Round of 16 game against Cameroon, was a fantastic atmosphere outside the ground with the Cameroon fans but by the end of the game there certainly wasn’t the same atmosphere on the pitch!

England got through the game with their heads held high after being wound up by the Cameroon team and were now on to play Norway in the quarter-final in Le Havre.   Throughout the tournament the Lionesses have shown composure, commitment and a great team spirit in abundance and when the young women and girls are watching this it inspires them to act in the same way.  It also filters down to the “older” women who look up to the Lionesses and often wonder what might have been had we been able to play, growing up!  With the Lionesses heading to the quarter-final in Le Havre and all the COGS and Bags now back home in England, there was a conversation with a few COGS that maybe we should get tickets and go back to France for the quarter-final!  This is what happens, the Lionesses draw you in as part of their journey and you just want to join them again to support them.  Tickets purchased and Tunnel crossing booked, the number of COGS dwindled, mainly due to work and not wanting to be divorced! It was going to be a there and back trip, which would see a long drive beginning at 8.00am and ending at 5.30am the next morning.  It was completely worth it though as a 3-0 win against Norway was a great result and was the best atmosphere so far.  That goal by Lucy Bronze was a beauty and even more so when you’re standing behind it as it goes in!  It even ended up on FIFA’s list of Goal of the Tournament, along with our COGS’ flag.  It was great to catch up with the She Can Play girls at the Fan’s Embassy which has been a great part of the tournament from the FSA, run by Deborah Dilworth.  The @FreeLionesses has been an integral part of getting fans out to France and to the games without any problems.

There was a very happy car journey on the way back which arrived back home at about 5.30am!  What had happened, though, during the last 2 games was an influx of messages to COGS asking about coming to both the Beginners’ session and the more experienced ones.  These women had been inspired by watching the Lionesses and the fever that was beginning to grip the nation.  With TV audiences of 6.9M for the Cameroon game and 7.6M for the Norway game, there was a change coming.  Never before had so many people watched Women’s Football.  What came out of reaching the quarter-finals was something that was unprecedented.  Men and women who hadn’t watched Women’s Football previously were tuning in and the Nation was being inspired by these hard working, committed Lionesses.  People who you wouldn’t think would be watching, were!  This was amazing to see and hear and plans were now being made to attend the semi final against the current champions, USA.  This was going to be a hard game!   The day came to fly back out to France and make our way to Lyon.  It was exciting, nerve wracking and there were way more Americans than English fans so loud voices were needed!  Unfortunately, the Americans were just too strong for the Lionesses and we lost 2-1 but we can hold our heads high.  With a record 11.7M people watching on BBC1, it was the highest peak TV audience of the year, so far!  Phil Neville has, with his team, inspired not only the next generation but the “missed” generation of women too.   Just the play-off to go for 3rd/4th place and then the Lionesses will return home.  They’ll return home to see what they have achieved in inspiring the Nation, they will return home to a hero’s welcome, just like they should do and they will return home having changed the Women’s game, forever.  The viewing figures for England games have been incredible and show that there is an appetite for Women’s Football.  Let’s hope this carries on with the domestic Leagues!

Throughout the Tournament, we have been extremely lucky that one of our COGS, Karen Dare, has been writing match summaries for every game.  This first started a few years ago when Karen would put her thoughts on the England games on our own Facebook Page.  We loved reading her personal insights and musings about the matches, which were honest and fun and we thought that others should enjoy them too.  If you have missed any of the games, you can find Karen’s short summaries in our Menu “Dare’s Diaries”.

What a tournament, what an amazing time following the Lionesses around France and what an amazing future there is for the women and girls of the country who have been inspired by these brilliant Lionesses!

Finally, if you have been inspired by this FIFAWWC and the Lionesses and think you would like to start playing football, or even come back into the game, we have 3 sessions which are run by the Crawley Town Community Foundation, at Crawley Town FC.  You don’t need any experience to join the Beginners and it’s all about having fun, playing football.  Details of our sessions are on the Menu.  If you don’t live locally, there are details of other groups of Recreational sessions, including Women’s Walking Football, on our Menu under Links/Other Teams.  There is something out there for everyone to join in the beautiful game.  The next major tournament will be the Olympics with the GB team and then Euro 2021 which is being held in England from 11 July–1 August but, in the meantime, go and support Women’s Football around the country to help grow the sport even further.

CB – 06.07.19.