England legend Karen Carney has urged women’s football to capitalise on the ‘appetite moment’ seen during Euro 2022, which set a new Women’s European Championship attendance record, as well as a new all-time European Championship record for the final alone.
There were more than 87,000 people at Wembley to watch England beat Germany in extra-time, breaking a 58-year record for a final set in 1964 when Spain played the Soviet Union in the men’s tournament. That took the overall tournament attendance to 574,875 – almost two and a half times the previous women’s record set at Euro 2017 just five years ago.
The BBC also recorded a peak television audience of 17.4m, a figure that doesn’t even include 5.9m online streams on BBC platforms or those who watched in public spaces like pubs or fan parks.
“Good luck to the next host country,” Carney joked when speaking to 90min.
“Everything that we would have wanted at the start has actually come true and that is an absolute credit to everyone that has been involved to make this happen, because it’s not just happened by fluke. It’s through organisation and hard work, but more so passion.
“That people saw something in the game, wanted it to happen and have made it happen. We have to give a lot of people behind the scenes credit that don’t normally get it.”
The big question on lips now that the tournament is over is what comes next.
Carney explained that there was an ‘appetite moment’ when Great Britain played in front of 70,000 people at Wembley during the 2012 Olympics. But the WSL was still in its infancy and “…it wasn’t sustainable,” she said of the interest that wane afterwards.
There was a spike in WSL attendances immediately following England’s success in reaching the semi-finals at the 2019 World Cup. The 2019/20 club season opened with 31,000 people watching the Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium and 24,000 at Stamford Bridge that same weekend.
But the cancellation of the campaign due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and an entire season behind closed doors in 2020/21 killed off that momentum, with 2021/22 struggling to recover. Manchester United pulled in 20,000 people at Old Trafford, while Arsenal were only able to attract 27,000 fans in total across three games played at the Emirates Stadium.
For Carney, the most important thing is ensuring the fresh momentum doesn’t stop here.
“In women’s football we’ve always had appetite moments in big tournaments. The key now is maintaining it and getting consistency,” the retired England legend said.
“Now we’ve got a great opportunity, with broadcasting deals in place to allow that momentum to happen and continue telling stories of the sports stars, not just from the England team, but all teams. Vivianne Miedema is a great example – she’s fantastic for Netherlands but rocks up in an England jersey, plays for Arsenal, wants to be at Arsenal and is a superstar in her own right.
“We can have an attachment to a Dutch player in the WSL. We have to get more fans to games in the WSL and watching the games on TV. We have to use this momentum [from Euro 2022] for more consistency and put the women’s game in a better position than it was six weeks ago, 12 months ago or four years ago. The opportunity is now.”
The debate about grassroots football for girls has also been opened up as a result of Euro 2022. Currently, football is only offered to just over 60% of girls in schools, which means that nearly 40% aren’t being given the opportunity to play at school, even if they wanted to.
Ian Wright went viral for his impassioned speech on the subject after England’s semi-final victory over Sweden, urging schools to offer football to girls in PE lessons. There are FA and sponsor targets to make football universally available to girls in school by 2024, but Carney agrees we shouldn’t wait have to for another two years.
“We don’t leave it to 2024,” she said. “Ian Wright is right, it should be now. Every girl should have equal opportunity and there’s a hashtag out there #LetGirlsPlay. We have to use this shift because it’s actually dictated by schools. Schools should be giving every girl the opportunity to play, not just for boys. Hopefully this tournament has ensured that will happen.
“I’m from a generation that it was very difficult and my sister’s generation was not able to play. We have to ensure the next generation have every opportunity.”
Karen Carney is an ambassador for Heineken’s 12th Woman campaign alongside Ellie Taylor, Harry Redknapp, Jermaine Jenas, and AJ Odudu to show fans of all genders how they can show their passion and be the ‘12th Woman’ for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022.
Heineken is releasing an official ‘12th Woman’ tournament t-shirt, with all profits from sales to be donated to Women in Football, an NFP that supports the women’s game.
The 12th Woman is part of a wider campaign entitled ‘Passion Knows No Gender – Cheers To All Fans’ where Heineken® is challenging bias and promoting equality in football, on and off the pitch, across all male and female UEFA competitions.
“For so many years we’ve spoken about the ‘12th man’. It’s been amazing to see people wearing the ‘12th woman’ shirt,” Carney said.
“I always want to do stuff that makes positive impact and this campaign has definitely done that. Heineken have done so much and amplified it, so it has been a really great campaign to be a part of.”