Former England midfielder Jermaine Jenas is expecting Euro 2022 to be a "moment in history" for women’s football that will "catapult" the sport to the next level and inspire a whole new generation of female players like never before.
England will host the European Championship finals, which were delayed by a year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, next summer. The buzz around the tournament is already building and it is set to be the biggest international women’s football tournament that Europe has ever seen.
The FA is making 750,000 tickets available for the tournament as a whole, which is around three times the number that were sold for Euro 2017 in Netherlands. There has already been a pre-sale ticket event, while the ticket ballot, which is the first opportunity to buy tickets since the group stage draw was made and determining which teams would play who and where, is open now.
“I was at the Euros in Netherlands [in 2017] and it was amazing. It was the semi-finals when England were beaten by Netherlands and they had a packed stadium, absolutely rammed out,” Jenas, who is an ambassador for Euro 2022, told 90min.
“It was really nice to see and my first real experience of seeing the women’s game in the same way that the men’s game is seen, with the visibility and everything that goes with it. To say that this [in 2022] is going to be bigger than that is really exciting for the sport.”
England last hosted the Euros in 2005, when it was held in only a small cluster of stadiums in the north west. Since then, the appetite for women’s football in the country has grown massively in a relatively short period of time, largely thanks to increased exposure of the club game and consistently strong tournament performances from the Lionesses since 2015.
By his own admission, Jenas was unaware of the previous Euros on home soil, but insists the profile and interest in the game now should be a positive and is testament to the hard work that has gone into growing it. As such, he hopes this tournament can be another watershed moment.
“Right now, there is a massive interest in going to watch women’s games,” Jenas explained.
“Every time I put on the TV there’s an advert for the next game in the WSL that weekend. So the visibility of it all is massive. This platform that is going to be coming this summer for the women’s Euros is going to be that perfect moment to catapult the sport again.”
"This summer is going to be absolutely massive for women’s football."
This time, the Euros in England are nationwide, while the increased number of tickets will provide many fans with the opportunity to take in a major tournament like never before.
“The beauty of it is it’s up and down the country. There’s the final at Wembley and opening game at Old Trafford, but it’s from top to bottom [of England], it’s going to be on people’s doorsteps, so the ability to get your kids out of the house, adults, whether you follow the WSL or just local sides, get some summer football into you and go and support the girls,” Jenas said.
“I’m going to take my girls. They’ve been to a few games and they love it. It’s the type of thing that I want them to see. I want them to see something in sport that really ignites them and this is a massive opportunity for me to get all of them out to a game.”
The seeds of his own football career, which took in spells at Newcastle, Tottenham and Aston Villa in the Premier League, as well as a six-year international career with England, were planted as a child when he was awe-inspired by watching England at the 1990 World Cup.
“When I was a kid and growing up watching football, Italia ’90 was my World Cup that I watched and I saw [Gary] Lineker scoring that goal against Germany and all of a suddenly you’re like, ‘I want to be a footballer’. I was seven years old.
“The women’s generation never really had that, they were never able to draw on certain individuals or special tournaments and look at a player and go, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing’. After 2005, we’ve had World Cups where we’ve got to semi-finals, European Championships with decent runs, and all of a sudden there’s a bit more of a spotlight been put on the team, and this is a culmination of it all.
“This summer is going to be absolutely massive for women’s football. It’s one of those where you have to see past the team that is playing, but what they are doing for the future generation of women’s football is going to be off the scale. For it to be in England, it’s as special as it can be.”
As the world begins to emerge from the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, Euro 2022 will also signify a return to a normal tournament atmosphere in way that Euro 2020 and the summer Olympics in Tokyo were sadly limited.
“Having European teams coming to England, fans coming to England to travel around and watch games is what major tournaments are all about,” Jenas said.
“Seeing people going to games with their outfits on and represent their country. That is what everyone has to look forward to his summer and, off the back of the pandemic, where it’s not been that same feeling that we’re used to, it’s going to be really nice to see a major tournament back how it is supposed to be.”
"I was at the Euros in Netherlands [in 2017] and it was amazing. It was the semi-finals when England were beaten by Netherlands and they had a packed stadium."
As for the England team, this is now a real opportunity to win a major international tournament for the first time, having been to three consecutive semi-finals since 2015.
“There’s a number of things around this England side that I would hope would play into their hands,” Jenas said. “I know that this team has changed around over the years, with regard to the teams that had success at World Cups and the last European Championship, but there is still kind of a nucleus of players that have been there and seen it and done it within this squad, with some newer younger players, which I think is always a great mix.
“There’s obviously the new manager in place as well. Major tournaments are difficult to call for a reason. I think one thing this [England] team knows is how to deal with pressure now. know quite a few of them and they are the type of girls that enjoy it, they’re gritty types and have got character.
“I think playing a major tournament at home is something that will make them play better and a force to be reckoned with, but there’s a lot of other big teams within the competition.
“It’s going to be a really interesting watch, which is why people need to go and get tickets, that’s the bottom line. These stadiums are going to be packed for people to go and watch – I personally think this is a moment in history, which is going to really catapult the sport.”
The UEFA Women’s EURO England 2022 ticket ballot application window closes on 16 November. Don’t miss out and enter the public ballot for tickets, visit www.uefa.com/womenseuro/ticketing