Fara Williams believes Euro 2022 will have a greater long-term impact in England than any previous major championship, after admitting the momentum carried into the WSL after past tournaments had always fizzled out within a matter of weeks.
The Lionesses won their maiden major trophy at this summer’s Euros with an extra time victory over Germany at Wembley, with the win being heralded as a game changer for women’s football in the UK.
Williams was part of the England squad who won bronze at the 2015 World Cup and played in the WSL with Reading the season after the Lionesses’ reached the semi finals in 2019 – but admitted any post-tournament feel good factor was always short lived.
“Yeah for two weeks and then that’s it, it’s back to reality of a couple of people and family and friends that show up,” Williams told 90min, when asked if players could feel the post-tournament momentum during the WSL season.
“I remember coming back from the 2015 World Cup and we (Liverpool) were away to Arsenal and Borehamwood was packed. Then we were at home and we had Notts County and again it felt like it was packed and then I don’t remember many fans turning up after those games. So for those two games there was a real drive and that momentum of wanting to come, but not for long enough.
“I feel like this one’s different, this tournament’s different. People come up to me all the time talking about the Lionesses now which certainly didn’t happen to me when I was a player. They’ve changed the perception of the game.”
England’s Euro 2022 final victory over Germany attracted a European Championship record crowd of 87,192, while a peak UK TV audience of 17.4m, plus another 5.9m BBC online streams, tuned in to make it the UK’s most watched TV event of the year.
Williams believes the key to Euro 2022’s huge viewing figures and sustainable legacy was the quality on display on the pitch.
“Every game was played at such a level that somebody watching the women’s game for the first time would keep the TV on for 90 minutes because it was a game of football,” added Williams, who was speaking to 90min on behalf of M&S Food’s Eat Well, Play Well campaign.
“It wasn’t ‘a women’s game’ it was just a high level game of football.”
Williams was pitch side at Wembley for England’s victory over Germany, and was greeted by Jill Scott shortly after the Lionesses lifted the trophy. Scott hung her winner’s medal around the neck of Williams – England’s most capped player – and told her: ‘This is yours as much as it is mine’.
“I jumped on Jill at the final whistle and nearly did my ACL as Lucy Bronze took the both of us out!” Williams added. “When she came over it wasn’t just about me, she mentioned all the players that put in the work before that.
“Knowing the person that Jill is – she was my roommate for a long time – she would have enjoyed putting it (her medal) around every ex-Lioness.”
Much has been made of the legacy of Euro 2022, and Williams reiterated the words of her former England boss Hope Powell when emphasising the importance of investing in grassroots football to continue the tournament’s success.
“There’s so many things that need to happen in the women’s game,” she explained. “Equally there’s so many things that people would like to change. I think the grassroots is important.
“It’s people’s first step into the game in terms of being part of a team, so you want it to be the best experience it can be for them, and educate them around all of what comes with being a footballer.”
Fara Williams is working with M&S Food’s Eat Well, Play Well campaign, offering kids the chance to win a training masterclass with the England teams. Go tomarksandspencer.com/football to find out more.