England legend and now TV presenter Alex Scott summed up the mood of the nation perfectly: “Hashtag who cares? Millions care. Millions. And like our England captain said, this tournament may be over, but this is just the start of a magical journey.”
Despite negativity from small factions online, England’s Euro 2022 victory on Sunday captured hearts and minds, turning skeptics into believers, reducing neutrals to tears.
And, looking slightly worse for wear after partying long into the night in celebration, England’s victorious team and coaching staff took to a stage in Trafalgar Square, London, as the celebrations began again.
But before the tunes and dance moves kicked off in earnest – we’re looking at you, Mary Earps – some of the players and manager Sarina Wiegman, who have all been awarded the Freedom of London award, spoke to Scott about what the win at Wembley Stadium against Germany in the final meant to them and the future of the sport in the country.
Captain Leah Williamson – who admitted the team has “partied more than we have played football in the last 24 hours” – said the victory, played in front of a record crowd of 87,192 for a European Championship final, men’s or women’s, is just a start.
“The legacy of the tournament was already made before the final,” Williamson said. “What we have done for women and young girls who can aspire to be us.
“I think England have hosted an incredible tournament and we’ve changed the game in this country and, hopefully, across Europe and across the world. But we said we wanted to make our legacy about winning and that’s what we did.”
The 25-year-old added: “Dreams turn into reality. Hopefully, there is a generation that is being inspired by us.”
‘I haven’t stopped dancing’
So much so that according to the BBC, the final was watched by a record-breaking audience of 17.4 million on UK television.
And although the breathtaking feats of brilliance on the pitch were engrossing – from Ella Toone’s sumptuous chip to Chloe Kelly’s first international goal – it’s the player’s personalities and charisma which have won over a whole country.
Kelly abandoning her post-match interview with the BBC to join her teammates in singing Neil Diamond’s classic “Sweet Caroline,” Jill Scott pulling an all-nighter in celebration and Earps singing “It’s Coming Home” standing on the table from which Wiegman was giving her post-game press conference: the squad members have become instant legends.
When asked about her delicate chipped goal to give England the lead and Kane’s praise for it, Toone said she “taught” the men’s England team captain that.
Kelly said she’s been on the move ever since the final whistle: “I haven’t stopped dancing, my feet just keep going.”
She’s even had a two-time World Cup winner confirm her life will never be the same from now on. “I see you Chloe Kelly, well done. Enjoy the free rounds of pints and dinners for the rest of your life from all of England. Cheers!” US Women’s National Team legend Brandi Chastain tweeted.
And for Manchester City midfield Scott – who’s appeared for England at multiple unsuccessful international tournaments – she thanked the backers the team has had.
“It’s been fantastic, to be part of this team. I’m training with the best players in the world and it’s so tough keeping up with them. I am so honored to play any part in this team.
“Everyone who has put the shirt on, everyone who believed in women’s football. We just wanted to be football, hopefully, that is how it is perceived now around the world.”
And just before the second round of partying kicked off in earnest, Bronze – in her skiing goggles as is tradition for celebrating teams – said even despite her medal-laden career, there’s still one more on her bucket list.
“I’m feeling on top of the world, on top of Europe. Another trophy but the best one by far. There is still one more we can get our hands on next year.”