Euro 2022 is being heralded as a cultural shifter for women's football in England. With sell out crowds preparing to pour into the country's biggest stadiums, the public will be exposed to the women's game like never before.
For Ella Toone and a cluster of young England players, the tournament could be particularly poignant.
Toone, Alessia Russo, Georgia Stanway, Lotte Wubben-Moy, Ellie Roebuck, Lauren Hemp and Niamh Charles all progressed through the England youth system together. While Stanway was selected for the 2019 World Cup, Euro 2022 could be the first senior Lionesses tournament that they are part of together, completing their synonymous rise through the England ranks.
"It’s really special, we’ve had a little group since Under 15s," Toone told 90min. "We’ve grown up on that journey together and been through all the age groups, so now seeing all of us achieve our dreams and be able to share those experiences together is really special.
"It’s kind of that comfort blanket knowing that you have those girls around you and people you’ve grown up with alongside you when you go away on camp. It’s really nice and I’m really proud of us all."
One of those players is Toone's Manchester United teammate Russo. The pair have been United's standout performers this term, chipping in with a combined 15 goals and 11 assists in the WSL and striking up a lethal attacking partnership.
"We’ve always had that understanding of how each other play and I think it comes from off the pitch how close we are," the 22-year-old added. "We have that bond off the pitch that goes onto the pitch and helps us a lot. Obviously the more we play together the more we understand each other. It’s nice to share the pitch with a friend I’ve had for a long time."
Toone leads the way for assists in the WSL during the 2021/22 campaign, with her low, defence splitting through ball becoming a real trademark.
"It’s about knowing your players around you and them knowing me, and knowing that I like to play that pass. They’re always looking for it and I know they’ll make those runs and I think it’s just the relationships we have," she explained, before adding with a laugh: "Sometimes I do just pass the ball and luckily someone gets on the end of it."
Toone was talking to 90min ahead of a visit to Bloomsbury Football Foundation on behalf of her drinks partner WOW HYDRATE. The sports drink have teamed up with the football club to provide bursary placements for young people, enabling 18 girls to get a placement at the grassroots club.
The midfielder's own journey began at local side Astley and Tyldesley FC, and she is keen to give back to the grassroots game.
"I want to try and influence as many young girls as I can to help them fall in love with the game. Most of all I just want to make sure they enjoy it, because that’s something I didn’t always do growing up. I think that’s the main thing; if you enjoy yourself you’re more likely to love the game."
A place in England's Euros squad would cap a fantastic two years for Toone. She burst out of the blocks following lockdown to force herself into Team GB's Olympic squad, and has been ever present for the Lionesses under Sarina Wiegman.
Off the pitch she has really come out of her shell too, happily breaking into a rendition of Islands in the Stream on Jill Scott's Coffee Club podcast. The England international confirmed she has watched the Gavin and Stacey episode featuring said song 'about 100 times', and now just needs an Uncle Bryn to her Nessa to recreate the duet.
"I think I have that shy side to me but when I know people I’m more confident," Toone added. "I just think you’ve got to be confident; I’m obviously confident on the pitch which helps when I’m off the pitch. Now I start singing on most interviews for some reason."
Bloomsbury Football uses the power of football to improve the lives of young people in London. For more information on the campaign, visit www.wowhydrate.com