Football’s coming home, and this time, we have the Lionesses to thank. 

After a stunning 4-0 victory against Sweden last night, the England women’s football team are roaring into the Euro 2022 finals at Wembley on Sunday, ending a 13-year wait to return to the final of a major tournament.

Sunday’s showdown will be against either Germany or France  – we will know which team later tonight – and a victory would secure them the first big trophy in their history. 

In 2009, the Lionesses suffered a bruising 6-2 loss to Germany – and at the inaugural Euros in 1984, the only other time the team reached the final,  they were beaten on penalties by Sweden.

Tuesday night’s game was watched by over 28,000 fans – a record for a European Women’s Championship semi-final. And those who only follow men’s football, are rushing to catch up. The top players are fast becoming household names.

The current star in the spotlight is 23 year-old substitute Alessia Russo, whose superb back heel goal during last night’s match sent social media into meltdown. Of Italian descent, Russo, comes from a keen footballing family – her father and brothers have all played at high level – and she has played for Manchester United in the Women’s Super League. Mary Earps is another player making waves as the England goalkeeper is yet to concede a goal in these Euros. 

Women’s football has grown massively in popularity over the last century despite facing a number of obstacles. It was during the First World War that the sport took off, mainly because the men’s professional leagues were all postponed. By 1920, over 50,000 fans were turning up to watch a women’s Boxing Day match at Liverpool’s Goodison Park stadium. 

Yet a year later, the FA threw a curveball: labelling the game “quite unsuitable for females”. The association voted to ban women from playing in registered stadiums, effectively killing it off as a professional sport. 

This ban wasn’t lifted for another 50 years. And the official England women’s side was only formed in 1972. 

One of the joys of the recent matches is the number of goals the England team have scored: 8 against Norway and Tuesday’s 4 against Sweden. But even this higher number of goals which female teams are scoring has brought its own protests, and criticism that female goalkeepers are less skilled than their male counterparts. 

An obvious point is that male goalkeepers are, on average, taller than women so they have more ability and flexibility to stop goals. For example, in the 2018 men’s World Cup, the average height of the goalkeepers was just under 6ft 3in. In contrast, a year later the average height of women goalkeepers in the Women’s World Cup was 5ft 8in. 

Yet all football goals have remained the exact same size since the 1860’s. Given that the size of the goals were designed with men in mind, some believe the solution is to reduce the goal size for women’s football – after all, similar adjustments are already custom in a host of Olympic sports. But others in the women’s game see this suggestion as impractical and demeaning. 

Record numbers of girls are now playing football with new clubs opening up all over the country. Hopefully, the current success and glory of the Lionesses will inspire the next generation of female football enthusiasts. And, at academy and amateur level, the hope is that the FA will increase investment in the women’s game. Others involved in women’s football have another plea: can we move away from the obsession with constantly comparing women’s football with the men’s game. Instead, women’s football should be appreciated in its own right as another way of playing a beautiful game. Hear hear.