An all-female RAF flypast will grace the skies above Wembley on Sunday in celebration of a women’s football team that this weekend received good-luck messages from the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and the royal family before the Women’s Euro 2022 final against Germany.
“Your passion for the game, your tenacity in tricky spots and above all your astounding talent on the pitch have already created a summer of fantastic memories for millions of us,” Boris Johnson wrote in a letter to the England team.
“Whatever happens at Wembley this evening, I know that, come tomorrow morning, the pitches and playgrounds and parks of this country will be filled as never before with girls and women who know beyond any shadow of a doubt that football is not just for boys – it really is for everyone.”
Keir Starmer, in his letter to the Lionesses, said: “As a parent, I know how vital it is to see strong, successful role models in sport. What you and your team have accomplished this summer will not just be celebrated as a great moment for English football but as one that encouraged and inspired young women like my own daughter.”
On Saturdaythe royal family’s Twitter account posted a message saying “There was some special music at today’s changing of the guard” accompanied by a video of the Coldstream Guards playing Sweet Caroline, football’s unofficial anthem, outside Buckingham Palace.
The RAF will fly over Wembley before a match that is expected to hit a new attendance record for any Euro final tournament match.
Tickets for the final sold out before the start of the tournament, which started on 6 July with England against Austria in front of a packed Old Trafford. The last-minute scramble for tickets has even left the England men’s team disappointed. “Quite a lot of the England men have been in touch, just wishing us well and asking if they can have a ticket,” England midfielder Georgia Stanway said yesterday on Saturday. “Sorry lads, we’re all sold out!”
Enthusiasm for the game has been building rapidly throughout the contest and today screens are going up in pubs, bars, gardens and public spaces around the country – including Trafalgar Square in London and Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester – ready for the kickoff at 5pm.
Meanwhile, millions are expected to tune in to BBC coverage from home, with audiences expected to break records. The previous women’s viewing figure record was set in 2019, peaking at 11.7 million when England lost to the USA in the World Cup semi-finals.
The British Beer and Pub Association predicts 10m pints worth £40m will be sold on Sunday. It is hoped the event will boost trade for struggling pubs by at least a third.
“The widespread interest in this year’s women’s tournament so far has been unprecedented,” said Emma McClarkin, the BBPA’s chief executive. “We’re looking forward to fans making the most of Sunday’s final by heading to their favourite pub to cheer England on to victory.”
Jo Clark will be one of those watching in her local. She has been a dedicated follower of the Lionesses all her life – but trying to watch games at pubs, even in big tournaments, has always been a deeply unsatisfying experience. During the World Cup, she said, pubs treated it “like the afterthought”.
So this time she and five friends teamed up with an east London pub to screen the 31 games themselves in a friendly and inclusive environment.
The outcome, Baller FC, has proved such a success that all 200 tickets for their screening of today’s final at the Stag’s Head in Hoxton were snapped up in just a few hours. “It’s been brilliant,” said Clark, 38, who works in business development. “It’s been the best July of my life.”
Boxpark, which provides street food, drinks and entertainment under one roof, said more than 3,000 people had bought tickets for its sold-out events at Croydon, Shoreditch and Wembley. At the start of the tournament, it found people were hesitant to come out in support, but since the quarter-finals has seen huge demand.
Those who have a ticket for Wembley can expect an “electric” but friendly atmosphere, said Yvonne Harrison, chief executive of the group Women in Football.
The atmosphere for the finale of the biggest women’s sport event in history would be “unlike anything we’ve seen”, she said. “It will be a different energy going down Wembley Way to anything I’ve experienced. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Commercially, the tournament and the success of the Lionesses had led to a surge of interest from big brands, said Harrison. But, she added, it would be interesting to see whether they stuck around after the Euros.
Girls United Football Association, which has worked with more than 650 girls in south London in the last year, said the tournament had enabled it to take dozens of girls to their first football matches, but that impact on participation would not be apparent until the start of the new season.
Spokesperson Josh Emerson said a meaningful legacy would be enabling all girls to play football in schools.
Marcela Villa-Mackenzie, from south-east London, is one of 10 Girls United players chosen to walk on to the pitch at Wembley with the England and Germany teams at the start of the match. The 11-year-old, who started playing football four years ago, said: “It’s the best thing that I’ve done and I’m really excited.”
She said the Euros had changed views of women’s and girls’ football. “People think men are a bit more exciting, which isn’t true, but now people have really thought ‘Oh, women are just the same as men.’”