‘It’s only going up’: Gabby Logan on the Lionesses and the rise of women’s football | Women’s Euro 2022

It wasn’t until Alessia Russo’s already legendary third goal in England’s 4-0 semi-final defeat to Sweden on Tuesday that Gabby Logan dared to believe ‘we have a final on our hands’.

The presenter, the BBC’s face of Euro 2022, told the Observer she thinks Sunday’s final at Wembley could be a ‘hockey stick moment’ for the evolution of women’s football in England.

“In terms of breaking records, from on-court attendance to the number of eyeballs on games to grassroots attendance, everything is going up. So if you look at it as a graph, it’s only going up and it feels like, as they say in business parlance, it could be a hockey stick moment.

Not a single match was ‘uncontested or boring’, she said, including when England beat former European champions Norway 8-0, calling the match ‘unbelievable’ .

In England’s 4-0 semi-final defeat to Sweden on Tuesday, it wasn’t until Alessia Russo’s already legendary third goal that Logan dared to believe ‘we have a final on our hands’.

After the fourth goal, the overriding emotion in the studio, where she watched with co-hosts Alex Scott and Ian Wright, was one of “utter disbelief”. “I actually couldn’t quite fathom the magnitude of what they had just done,” she said. “Because Sweden had never conceded more than two goals in a European Championship since 1984, when they first won it.”

Alessia Russo celebrates scoring England’s third goal in the semi-final against Sweden in Sheffield. Photography: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

For Logan, 49, football has always been an integral part of his life. His father, Terry Yorath, played for Leeds United, Coventry City and Tottenham Hotspur, and represented Wales both as a player and as a manager. But women’s football is more than “just kicking a football on the pitch”, she said.

As England’s biggest and fastest growing women’s sport, she said the potential for women’s football was “enormous”. “For me, it’s about opportunities in women’s sport, and also in the world and society, and how we’re treated and how society reflects its values.”

Having a double team of female commentators for England games has helped to ensure the broadcasts are “not just a showcase for a few women playing football”, she said. “It’s about reflecting society. And that spills over into all areas of what we do. So that was another shift in the chemistry of the tournament’s success.

Many women in football haven’t had the opportunity to develop their careers until recently, she said, which means they’ve had to level up very quickly. “But they are doing brilliantly and there are more opportunities for them now than ever before because there are more platforms, more interest, more women’s football writers.”

But on the pitch, representation issues loom large for England and its stark lack of racial diversity. After England’s game against Norway, BBC presenter Eilidh Barbour said: “All 11 starters and five substitutes who entered the pitch were white. And that points to a lack of diversity in women’s football in England. »

While Logan said that in the past England had many black players and a black manager – Hope Powell was the first black and female manager of an England team – “in this current starting XI, this is not is not the case”.

The problem lay, she said, in the development of academies, which she said had ‘crowded out’ some children, who might have already been scouted as her co-host and former England defender Scott, playing in a football goal in Tower Hamlets. . “What the academies need to keep in mind is that they don’t just take in the kids who show up and they make sure that the talented kids, who can’t get into the academies for a any reason, are not excluded.”

The reason this doesn’t happen in men’s football, she added, is that young boys are seen as ‘very valuable commodities’, which means academies are doing what it takes to find the most talented boys to train with them.

England manager Sarina Wiegman celebrates after the game against Spain.
England manager Sarina Wiegman celebrates after the game against Spain. Photography: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

The FA’s appointment of former Dutch player and manager Sarina Wiegman, who started coaching England last September, was “genius”, Logan said, describing her as “an extraordinary leader”. She said Wiegman, who led the Netherlands to victory at Euro 2017, “didn’t need to prove herself to these players, they knew she was absolutely the best in the business”.

“He’s clearly someone with a high EQ [emotional quotient]yet she doesn’t let sentimentality or nostalgia get in the way of those decisions.

Reaching the final opens the door to more sponsorship and brand involvement for the Lionesses and she hopes this will lead to greater support for the WSL and women’s clubs. The success of the tournament will make it a “model” for other sports. “Let’s hope for record attendance, record television audience, everything continues [with] this growth,” she said. “And those Lionesses who worked so hard, and those who paved the way before them too, the pioneers of the sport. It will be, I imagine, very emotional actually.

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