England Women have reached the World Cup semi-finals, won the SheBelieves Cup and attracted a crowd of more than 77,000 to Wembley. But rarely, it appears, has their popularity been greater than during lockdown.
Players have swapped pitch-side selfies and signings for substantial social media interaction and the forward Beth England is far from alone in having enjoyed producing content and engaging with fans. “They are the voice for us when we’re on the pitch, we can help be the voice for them off it,” she said.
England has been part of the Football Association’s “#FootballsStayingHome with the Lionesses” social media campaign that has reached millions since its launch at the end of March and has brought a faster increase in positive engagement than any other FA channel.
Positive engagement analyses the reaction to a post, and on this measure the Lionesses’ channels have increased from 33.7% to 55.3% in a year, a faster rise than for the senior men’s team and FA Cup, among others.
Negative comments about women’s football are a regular feature of social media, as shown by replies to the BBC Sport tweet on Monday about the likely cancellation of the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship. The vitriol provoked replies from frustrated players and the fact that positive interactions are on the rise in the FA campaign is therefore welcome.
Twenty-nine of the England Women’s team have taken part in producing content, starting with a message to fans from Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, Nikita Parris and Leah Williamson that had more than 500,000 views across Twitter and Instagram, 341,686 impressions and more than 20,000 engagements.
Jodie Taylor, the OL Reign forward and England’s top goalscorer at Euro 2017, has taken part in the “Keeping up with the Lionesses” series, which provides a weekly update from players in lockdown, and the weekly “Coffee Club” hosted by Jill Scott and Karen Bardsley, who are Manchester City teammates.
“The impact of Covid-19 has been tough on everyone,” Taylor said. “It has been quite uplifting being actively involved as a team to help bring support and a bit of laughter to others during this time.
“As footballers we have a huge responsibility as role models to those who follow our sport, as well as for wider society. Many of us have the reach and profile that allows us to help promote positive messages and words of thanks. It’s the least we can do to help people through these times.”
England, who has scored 14 goals in the WSL this season, said: “I feel it’s been extremely important to engage with the fans and the public during this time to make sure they feel they aren’t alone in all this. As professional players we’re still human of course, and go through similar struggles to everyone else in our personal lives.
“Like myself, alone during this time, it’s nice to have other [social media] conversations with people and not to get too down about being alone … I’ve loved doing the Lioness content, it’s definitely kept me busy.”
The first seven #ObviousJill Jill Scott skill sessions gained 145,296 views across Twitter and Instagram, and Bardsley’s TikTok challenge, for fans to show themselves “celebrating the small wins”, was viewed more than 350,000 times. The hashtag it spawned had 6.2m views, 4.2m likes, 221,000 shares and 124,000 comments.
Ellen White, one of three players to have taken part in calls to key workers, described the experience as “truly inspiring”.
The Manchester City striker said: “I feel extremely honoured and privileged to have spoken to Kristen. She’s not only working as a nurse for the NHS but looks after her family as well during these uncertain times. I can’t thank Kristen and all the NHS and frontline services enough during this pandemic in helping to look after and care for the nation.”