For all the social media noise and the amazing work from brands and sponsors like Nike and Kia during this tournament, the best experience of the Women’s European Championship could be had by getting amongst it.
As a seasoned football supporter, you may think you’ve seen it all. You’re used to the Saturday 3pm kick-offs, the lads drinking cans on their way to the ground, the Stone Island patches, the smells of the night previous spent out in town, mixed with the unique concoction of optimism and self-doubt that only being a football fan can conjure up. So much so that a new, different experience of your beloved sport is a rarity. However, the Women’s European Championship has provided just that for many – an atmosphere different from the usual, traditional vibes of the Premier League or the Eredivisie, but one to enjoy nonetheless – both on and off the pitch.
Women’s football is the fastest growing sport in the world, something that you will realise when one of the game’s landmark events lands in your country. At Enschede, the host city of the semi-final between Netherlands and England, and now of the scenes of jubilation as the hosts lifted the trophy, you could see the effect that the excitement of the sport is having on a young female audience. Father and daughters are two a penny, with the two able to bond over the sport that has so traditionally been associated with fathers and sons. But let’s not neglect the mothers, too – truly a family atmosphere is to be had at these games. That’s not meant in the heavily marketed, crafted product of ‘family friendly’ that many big clubs claim to offer, but in a genuinely positive, friendly feeling around the stadium and inside it that is nothing but exclusive to people of all ages, genders and levels of football expertise.
The old-fashioned football fan may be cynical at this. It is, after all, a long way from the traditional, sometimes romanticised view of a day out at the football that we know so well. But, if you’re a parent with a young family, and easing the kids into football is a high priority, these Euros have been a real chance for that. In my own personal, two decades worth of experiencing football matches, from the non-league levels to the Champions League, rarely have I ever seen so many children, boys and girls, watching the game so intently, bouncing around in their seats and engaging with the game. Albeit, I would have preferred it without the noise of the inflatable clappers that were dished out around the 26000 capacity crowd. But not just because the four-year-old nearby was clapping them together as fast as Shanice van de Sanden can run, but because with the sense of pride around the ground, the soundtrack of traditional Oranje songs was enough of an atmosphere.
The girls in Orange played wonderfully in the semi, matching England for physicality with a number of big tackles going in time and time again. And, not a moment was spent on the floor play acting. Not one tumble to ground looked like a dive. Not one player showed any behaviour that you could class as unsporting. It was a fair game and a fair contest, closer in reality than the three-nil scoreline suggested. But with the backing of the full stadium behind them, barring the occasional cluster of English fans who had made the journey across the North Sea, there was only one set of Lionesses that would win.
And that was very much the case yesterday, too. These girls are playing with the freedom that only confidence can give you. They played with a fearlessness and a style that many of the greatest teams even fail to bring to a final. Going behind early didn’t hurt them as Vivianne Miedema, one of the true heroes of the tournament, put Netherlands back on level terms four minutes after conceding a penalty. Then, just as it has been over the past few, victory-filled weeks, it was about momentum. Combining their own skill with the will of the fans, they had too much for their Danish counterparts. An 89th-minute goal from her again, Vivianne Miedema, triggered orange ecstasy around Enschede – they had done it.
The success has dominated much of the national media, on a weekend where Feyenoord secured the Johan Cruijff Schaal and many of Europe’s big leagues kicked off their season. This illustrates the growth of the sport and women’s football is set to grow even further -the Netherlands will be at the forefront of it. No Dutch national team had won a trophy since 1988. Those players remain icons today; Gullit, van Basten, Rijkaard. They inspired the next crop of players, van Persie, Sneijder, Robben. Who’s to say that this team of Dutch talent won’t inspire their own next generation?