The head of women’s football in England, Baroness Sue Campbell, believes the success of this summer’s Women’s World Cup is just the start as the Lionesses prepare for a record-breaking homecoming at Wembley Stadium.
The women’s game experienced a watershed moment this summer as fans flocked to watch the Phil Neville’s side, breaking TV viewing figures as England reached the semi-finals.
And that was confirmed on Wednesday, with fans set to flock to Wembley to see their Lionesses in action against Germany in November.
The Football Association have announced over 50,000 tickets have been sold for the clash, raising hopes it will break the previous record home attendance record of 45,619 when Germany beat England at Wembley in 2014.
The SheBelieves Cup winners will play away against Belgium and Norwich this autumn before hosting Germany – their first home game since the end of the World Cup.
And Baroness Campbell says the match will be a celebration of the Lionesses’ achievements over the past 12 months.
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“We got incredible media support and had just a massive surge in the following, not just from women either, about 50 or 60 per cent were men watching the women’s game and really enjoying it.
“We want this event at Wembley to be a real celebration of what the Lionesses have achieved and who they are.
“50,000 is terrific, it’s a step in the right direction and it will be a record if everyone who has bought a ticket shows, and we hope they will.
“We’d love to fill this stadium and what a homecoming that would be for the Lionesses.
“They deserve it. They’re an incredible group of women and they played exceptionally well at the World Cup. It was not quite the result we wanted, but nevertheless, it’s going to be a fantastic at Wembley in November and we hope as many people as possible come along.
“Since 2015 the women’s game has developed massively across the world, the standard has gone through the roof.
“I’m really excited about the Lionesses did, but we see it as a starting point.
“We’ve got the Olympics next year where Phil’s ambition is to come home with the gold medal and we’ve started our planning for that already.
“The year after that we’ve a home Euros, so the next three years – we talk about football coming home, woman’s football will be home and I hope by the end of the Euros we will have established it in a way that it will never go backwards again.”
Listen back to talkSPORT’s interview with Baroness Sue Campbell in full above
Manchester and London derbies kick off the new Women’s Super League season and games will be held at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge respectively.
On September 7, City entertain Manchester United, while Chelsea take on London rivals Tottenham.
Premier League grounds will host the games with the men’s top-flight on an international break and tickets to Chelsea’s clash is free of charge to supporters.
Fans can claim up to four free tickets for the London derby, while City are offering up to three free tickets for under-16s per paying adult, with adult tickets at £7. Any additional child’s ticket will cost £2.
City reportedly considered making the game free of charge but decided adults should pay something as they want fans to view the WSL as a product worth paying for.
The club, however, did benchmark their adult price against the cheapest ticket available at the Women’s World Cup in France.
The decision to move the most high-profile WSL season-openers to large stadiums is part of a wider initiative by the Football Association, which runs the league, and the 12 member clubs to build on the interest generated by England’s Women’s World Cup campaign.
It’s understood that both matches will also be broadcast live on BT. It will be only the second time City’s women’s team have played at the Etihad, with the first coming during their successful Women’s League Cup run in 2014.
Their usual home is the 7,000-capacity Academy Stadium, a five-minute walk away from the men’s ground.
The match, which kicks off at 3pm, will also be the first women’s Manchester derby since United launched their team at the start of last season.
Former England captain Casey Stoney’s side won the Championship last season but City will represent a formidable first game at this level as their squad is packed with players from England’s France 2019 line-up, including captain Steph Houghton, midfielder Jill Scott and leading scorer Ellen White.
“We are all very excited to play our first home game of the season at the Etihad Stadium and, better yet, in a Manchester derby,” said Houghton in a statement.
“Big games like this are the ones you want to be in as a player and every one of us Manchester City players is looking forward to getting on that pitch and giving you all a performance to be proud of.”
Last season, City finished second in the WSL and won both the Women’s FA Cup and League Cup.
Spurs came up with United as Championship runners-up but they also face a tough WSL opener against Emma Hayes’ experienced Chelsea side, which reached the last four of the Champions League last season and feature England stars Fran Kirby, Millie Bright and Carly Telford.
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The game will kick off at 12.30pm on September 8, and Chelsea have told fans to only order tickets if they are sure they can attend, as they are expecting a full house.
The full fixture list for the new WSL season, its second as a fully-professional league and first with Barclays as a title sponsor, will be revealed on Wednesday, but the four other opening games have already been announced and will see champions Arsenal host FA Cup runners-up West Ham, Everton visit Birmingham, Bristol City host Brighton and Reading go to Liverpool.
England missed out on a third-placed finish at the Women’s World Cup as they were beaten 2-1 by Sweden in their play-off in Nice.
Sweden raced into a 2-0 lead at the Allianz Riviera, with Kosovare Asllani firing in in the 11th minute after an Alex Greenwood error before Sofia Jakobsson struck less than 10 minutes later.
Phil Neville’s Lionesses replied through Fran Kirby’s left-footed effort just after the half-hour mark and two minutes later the ball was in the Swedes’ net again courtesy of an Ellen White finish.
But, just had been the case in the 2-1 semi-final loss to the United States four days earlier, White had what she had thought was an equaliser disallowed following a VAR review.
This time the forward – the tournament’s joint top-scorer with six goals – was judged to have been guilty of a handball.
White’s frustration at the decision was clear, and it ended up a disappointing outing overall for the team after they had the better of the second half but were unable to save themselves from defeat, with Lucy Bronze seeing a late strike cleared off the line by Nilla Fischer.
Victory would have made the campaign in France England’s joint-best performance at a Women’s World Cup, four years on from them securing bronze for the first time in Canada.
Instead they must settle for fourth, while Sweden, the 2003 runners-up, take home bronze for a third time.
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“I’d like to thank everyone who has made this all possible from my family and friends, everyone I have played for and worked with and, of course, the England squad and staff. I owe everything I have to all of them.”
England manager Phil Neville added: “Karen deserves all the plaudits that will come her way. It’s been a privilege to work with her over the past 18 months, but even more special has been the chance to get to know someone who is an incredible person and a special team-mate.
“While she will not want a fuss, Karen is someone who deserves total recognition and respect as a true legend of the game.”
The Football Association has plans to honour Carney at a future international.
Only Fara Williams has won more England caps than Carney, and Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA’s women’s director, said: “Karen will be regarded as one of English football’s great names. Her humility, despite all she has achieved on the world stage, is one of many endearing qualities.
“She’s played a huge part in the Lionesses’ incredible progress on the pitch and the inspirational impact the squad has had off it.
Morgan’s celebration, in particular, sparked a huge reaction on Twitter.
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But England’s record goalscorer, Smith, says the world’s number one team had every right to celebrate ‘however they wanted’ after reaching their third consecutive World Cup final.
Speaking on Wednesday’s Sports Breakfast, the former striker said: “Do you know what, they’re the number one team in the world, they’re hungry and successful and it doesn’t bother me one bit.
“I took my boot off and kissed in 2007 and I got told I was arrogant.
“You live for these moments. You train your whole life for that moment. So when you score in the World Cup semi-final you can celebrate how you want.
“It doesn’t bother me one bit.”
Despite the disappointment of the result, and their manager Phil Neville saying before the game not reaching the final would be classed as failure, Smith says the Lionesses can come home with their heads held high after a brilliant tournament.
They could still come away with a bronze medal, after all, as they will take on either Netherlands or Sweden in Saturday’s third-place play-off.
“When you play the USA, you have to play at your best,” added the ex-Arsenal Ladies forward.
“They’ve reached their third World Cup final in a row and they’re the best team in the world so you have to raise your game.
“It was always going to be a difficult game for us, and I thought we had enough to do it, but the girls should be proud of themselves.
“They shifted the perception of the women’s game, they made TV viewing history, and I just hope they can bring that bronze medal home on Saturday.”
Listen back to Kelly Smith on the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast IN FULL above
Afterwards, Neville said of the post-match huddle he had had with his players: “I didn’t want to see tears. You lose, but I thought the way we lost was exactly the way I wanted us to play.
“The courage they had to play football and keep going and battle – they left everything out there. We have no regrets. We’ve come to the World Cup and given it our absolute all, and that’s what I said to them.
“I didn’t want to see tears – there should be smiles. We’ve had the best 46 days of our life and it’s not ended yet.”
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Midway through the second half, England thought they had equalised through Ellen White, only for her goal to be disallowed on a marginal offside call following a VAR check.
The Lionesses were then awarded an 84th-minute penalty via VAR, but captain Steph Houghton’s effort was kept out by Alyssa Naeher.
Millie Bright was sent off soon after following a challenge on Morgan.
Rather than returning to the venue on Sunday for what would have been their first World Cup final, England – now beaten in the semi-finals of three successive major tournaments – will instead play in Nice on Saturday in the third-place play-off, against Holland or Sweden.
“I can’t say to my players unlucky, because they don’t want to hear that,” Neville added. “They’re not listening probably to the words I’m saying in terms of I’m proud of them, they left their hearts and souls on the pitch – that’s white noise to them. Because they wanted to win.
“That tells me we are closer than we have ever been. Maybe in the past we’ve accepted ‘semi-final, we’re going home and we’ll get plaudits’. But my players don’t want to hear that any more. They’re sick of it, and so am I. We came here to win and we didn’t do that.
“I think we’ll have to allow 24 to 48 hours for this to sink in, for them to get over the disappointment. But elite sport means that on Saturday in Nice we have to go and produce a performance.”
Houghton stepped up to take the penalty with Nikita Parris having already had two saved in the tournament.
While Neville told BBC Sport ‘no blame should be attached’ to the skipper, Houghton said she was ‘gutted’ and felt she had ‘let the team down’.
She added: “We’ve got to go and try and get a bronze medal now.”
Boss Jill Ellis said after the match: “It goes back to the mindset. We’re here for one thing. Not external noise. We’re here to win the trophy. So everything we talk about and focus on is about that.
“When you are the premier team, you’re always going to have noise, external stuff, to deal with.
“But I’m around the players a fair bit and the conversations I hear are about the game. I think they are professionals.”
Ellis also confirmed forward Megan Rapinoe had sat out the contest due to a “slight strain to her hamstring”.