90min’s Moments series delves into the most iconic goals, games and occasions from football history through the eyes of those who were there. Ahead of Euro 2022, we look back at Karen Carney’s last-gasp winner in England’s 3-2 victory over Finland at Euro 2005.
Euro 2005 marked the first time that England had played host to a major women’s football tournament, and offered an opportunity to garner national attention for a sport still attempting to break into the mainstream.
England manager Hope Powell had a relatively young pool of players to pick from ahead of the championship on home soil, with experience coming in the form of Arsenal defenders Faye White and Mary Phillip, while teenage talents Karen Carney and Eni Aluko were also in contention for selection.
“When I was 16 I used to get the train home from Loughborough once a week, and I used to go with my massive bag full of kit and my mum would do my washing,” Karen Carney told 90min. “And on the train journey back I had my motivational music and I thought: I want to get to these Euros, I’m going to make it, I’m going to make it.”
The landscape of women’s football in England 17 years ago was vastly different to what players at Euro 2022 will enjoy; there was no professional top flight, no central contracts for England players, and certainly no landmark broadcast deal. Women’s football was a niche sport with a small, dedicated fanbase; an indie band with a cult following.
“There was always a community of women’s footballers and people who wanted to watch games,” England’s Euro 2005 captain Faye White recalled. “In 2004 and 2005 we played in FA Cup finals in front of 25,000 people, so people who knew where to look could hear about it. But in 2005 when we hosted it, the majority didn’t know about it, it was only really people in that area.”
Eight teams competed in the tournament, which took place across a fortnight exclusively in the north-west of England. Bloomfield Road, the City of Manchester Stadium, Ewood Park, Deepdale and the Halliwell Jones Stadium were the venues.
“There was a buzz in the north part of the country,” explained former England full-back Phillip. “If you were in London you didn’t know it existed. You didn’t know that England had a women’s team that were hosting the European finals. Up north you heard about it a bit more and there was a little bit of advertising.”
“When we drove up to go to the hotel near the matches it was suddenly: oh, there’s a poster!” White added. “UEFA had branded up some of the stadiums and some of the bus stops on the way, and it felt really good to be part of something. We were getting paid attention to, finally.”
The Lionesses were not expected to progress particularly far at Euro 2005. They had qualified for just one of the previous four major tournaments and their funding and resources were dwarfed by other nations. Although not shouldering the expectation that the Lionesses of 2022 will experience, England’s 2005 team played with the knowledge that their performances could transform the face of their sport.
“Every tournament that we went to, we always knew if we do something special, if we get to a final, if we win it: wow, how massive that would be to change the perspective (of women’s football),” England winger Rachel Yankey explained. “Because people see women’s football in one (way) but if you get to a final people don’t really care if it’s women’s football, they’re just going to support because it’s England.”
As the novelty of seeing their faces on billboards and bus stops began to settle in, the actual football began for England with an opening game against Finland at the City of Manchester Stadium – now the Etihad.
“I remember travelling to the game and seeing loads of people outside pubs and cheering and thinking: where are they going? Not really being able to match it all up,” recalled Yankey. “Seeing people travelling to games with your name on the back of their shirt was just a little bit strange and weird, but pretty cool.”
The fixture attracted a crowd of 29,092 – a Women’s Euros record at the time.
“Seeing the stadium so full, we weren’t often used to, especially in England,” added White. “I’d played in tournaments abroad that were used to that, but not in England. To get recognition here it was like: yes, we’ve finally done it!”
The attendance is still the second highest in the history of the Women’s Euros, and remains the all-time record for a group game at the championships. A further 2.9m viewers tuned in on BBC Two.
“I didn’t realise how big it was,” Carney said. “As a 17-year-old to play in front of those crowds, to be on BBC TV, I didn’t realise how big it was.”
The five-figure crowd were treated to quite an encounter.
“I remember just the adrenaline and the sheer nerves, for a week almost,” said White. “That first game is always the focus for such a long time, and then you get past that and it’s bang, bang, bang.”
England raced in to a 2-0 half-time lead courtesy of a Sanna Valkonen own goal and an Amanda Barr header. Anna-Kaisa Rantanen halved the deficit early in the second period, before Laura Kalmari drew Finland level in the 88th minute. The Lionesses’ moment on the big stage appeared to have been snatched from them at the death.
Enter 17-year-old Carney.
“She was the young gun in the squad; young, vibrant, full of life,” Phillip recalled. “Just wanted to be on the field playing, ball at her feet; you couldn’t stop her.”
As three minutes of stoppage time were announced over the tannoy, Carney received the ball on the edge of the area and spun past Rantanen, before splitting the Finland backline with a pass to play Aluko through on goal.
The England forward’s shot was saved and fell to the feet of Carney, who dinked the ball past a flurry of Finland bodies and into the top corner.
“Seeing it hit the back of the net, it was so uplifting,” said Phillip. “It was such a drive and it just put the team on a high. You couldn’t think of a better way to start.”
And Carney’s celebration?
“She started swearing and then got told off by her mum,” Yankey added. “I always find that hilarious.”
The breathless victory over Finland would be England’s only win at Euro 2005, and they were eliminated at the group stage following defeats to Denmark and Sweden. Life returned to normal.
“I’d go back to work after,” said White. “After the tournament, I went back to doing my job.”
Euro 2005 brought the women’s game to a brand new audience, with 115,816 fans attending the 15 fixtures. However, the post-tournament momentum was short-lived.
“Every tournament we were at, after the tournament stopped or we got knocked out it kind of ended and no one wanted to know anymore,” Yankey recalled.
Although Euro 2005 did not transform English women’s football into a mainstream spectator sport overnight, it was one of a small series of steps that led to the game being on the cusp of a record-breaking summer at Euro 2022.
The following year, England qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1995, and progressed to the quarter-finals. In 2009, 17 England players were given central contracts, and the Lionesses went on to reach the European Championship final later that year. The 2012 Olympics catapulted the women’s game into the mainstream, and England have been regular major tournament semi-finalists since 2015.
“I don’t think enough credit goes to Hope Powell for what she’s done for women’s football,” said Yankey. “At a time where I don’t think many can appreciate how difficult it would be to be, one: a woman, and two: a black woman standing in a position when people really, let’s be honest, didn’t care too much about women’s football.
“And you’re standing there fighting, saying you want more money, you want more backing. She moved stuff further on, the players got central contracts, the performances improved.
“That’s why I say 2005 wasn’t about us going and winning the tournament. It was about us understanding who we are and moving forward so in later tournaments we could get better and better and better. So I think the building blocks were put in place and she definitely fought for that.”
Euro 2022 tickets are available now at www.uefa.com/womenseuro/ticketing