England’s Lionesses have broken boundaries and Euro 2022 victory hailed as ‘landmark moment’ for women’s football, as Women’s Super League aims to become ‘worldwide brand’ like Premier League

Kelly Simmons’ face lights up with a broad grin as she reminisces about England’s historic victory against Germany in the European Championship final at Wembley.

“I was in a hug with the Spice Girls, would you believe!” the FA’s Director of the Women’s Professional Game laughs as she reflects on those full-time scenes in July.

The Lionesses made history by winning the Women's Euro title in the summer


The Lionesses made history by winning the Women’s Euro title in the summer

It was a defining summer for women’s football in the UK with the Lionesses winning their first major tournament and, for Simmons and others working within the FA, years of hard work finally came to fruition as the full-time whistle blew against Germany.

“I thought I’d cry but I didn’t actually! I couldn’t quite take it all in,” she says, speaking exclusively to talkSPORT as part of a new documentary titled Historymakers which airs on Christmas Eve at 8pm.

“To win it is one thing. But to win it on home turf, in a sold-out Wembley Stadium against Germany, was something I’ll never ever forget and a really special moment for the game.

“Those last few minutes, I’m just so pleased the England players were so much calmer than me! They played that game out with such style! I’d have been putting it in row Z if it had been left to me!

“When you look back in time, this is really going to be the landmark moment that has really put women’s football on the map. It’s shown the quality of top-level women’s football to huge audiences.

“The nation fell in love with the Lionesses and have gone on to follow those players in the domestic game and we’ve seen the benefits of England’s success. The Lionesses talked so eloquently about wanting to inspire the next generation and they’ve absolutely done that.”

Wiegman has turned England into one of women's football's most dangerous teams


Wiegman has turned England into one of women’s football’s most dangerous teams

The Lionesses remain unbeaten under manager Sarina Wiegman since she took over in September 2021, and will surely go into the World Cup next summer as one of the firm favorites to win.

A monumental year for the team, though, has propelled women’s football to a different stratosphere with many of the Lionesses fronting various advertising campaigns for brands as they gain new-found notoriety.

The Lionesses have also gained thousands of new fans with crowds in the Women’s Super League up by a massive 227 per cent this season with more games being played in men’s teams stadiums.

Over 44,000 flocked to the Etihad Stadium for the Manchester derby earlier this month, while Arsenal Women broke the WSL attendance record back in September when 47,367 fans watched the north London derby at the Emirates.

“We’ve seen previously with women’s sport that you can have those big pinnacle moments when it’s World Cups, European Championships and Olympics but it’s about trying to break through into the week-in, week-out high-profile visibility of the sport, Simmons explains.

It was an unforgettable summer for women's football in England and WSL bosses have been determined to capitalize on the new injection of interest in the game


It was an unforgettable summer for women’s football in England and WSL bosses have been determined to capitalize on the new injection of interest in the game

“I think [with] the WSL, I have genuinely always thought [it could be] the sport that could break through in terms of women’s sport and have regular big crowds, big audiences and be very visible. It’s great to see that the success in the Euros has resulted in such a big uplift in attendances.

“Of course, we have worked really hard to make sure we put our big games in those best slots [and we] maximize those windows when the men’s Premier League isn’t playing because that helps attendances and audiences and the clubs have done a fantastic job.

“They’ve really stepped up in terms of [playing games in] main stadiums, marketing those games, promoting those Euros stars and the crowds have followed and it’s great to see.

“We’ve broken records in the Super League. The Championship is 85 per cent up on its attendances as well. That impact is rolling through the whole women’s pyramid.

“The other really exciting thing is the growth in audiences. Sky and the BBC have come out recently to talk about significant growth post Euros in their audiences and Sky at a conference last week were talking about a 70 per cent uplift in WSL audiences this season. I mean, thats huge. We are getting some of the biggest audiences in sports.”

More and more WSL games are being played in the big stadiums – including Arsenal Women at the Emirates


More and more WSL games are being played in the big stadiums – including Arsenal Women at the Emirates

Such success on the field has opened up new investment opportunities as well and Simmons hopes the WSL could become a worldwide superpower in the women’s game in the future.

Asked whether the WSL could become a worldwide brand like the Premier League, Simmons said: “Yes, absolutely. That is our ambition. We have sold our TV rights across the world. We’re in a lot of territories across the world right now and that is increasing and that’s part of our ambition.

“We’ve got top international stars and we’ve got interest from across the world, so absolutely we’re looking to continue to market our league and those stars and enable people across the world to see what we think is one of the best leagues in the world.

“Obviously, we’ve announced new deals centrally with Nike and EA Sports recently. We’ve got probably one of the biggest deals in women’s sport with Barclays as title sponsor both of the Super League and the Championship now as part of a renewed deal.

“But the clubs are seeing brands coming to the table in increasing numbers that want to be part of something that is inspiring a nation [and] really showing some female empowerment at its best.”

Not only have the Lionesses empowered a nation but they have also been a voice for change, with the team writing an open letter to the Government shortly after their Euros win calling for more young girls to be given access to football within PE.

It is a message that Simmons supports as Director of the Women’s Professional Game and she confirmed that discussions between the FA and the Government are still ongoing.

“We are continuing to talk to the Government,” she finished.

“First of all, we have got a partnership with Barclays on schools partnerships and we continue to work through those partnerships to grow opportunities for girls to play football within and outside the curriculum. It is growing significantly, but there is still a gender gap.

“We are still calling on the Government to ensure that all children have two hours of high-quality PE and school sport [per week]. We think that’s really important, not just for all sports, but for the health of a nation and for the mental well-being and health of young people.

“Then we think it’s only fair and right that girls should have the same opportunities as boys. If boys are being offered football, then girls should be offered football in the curriculum, too. It’s our national game [and] we’ve already demonstrated the huge interest through the Euros and the WSL and we think it’s only fair and right. We’d really like to see that change made and we think that all young people benefit from it.”

Hear more from Simmons in a special documentary Historymakers – the 2022 Lionesses on Christmas Eve from 8pm on talkSPORT


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