The projected record-breaking attendance for a women’s football match in Britain should inspire fans to come regularly and encourage girls to believe they can play at international level, the England manager Phil Neville said on Friday.
More than 86,500 tickets have been sold for England’s showpiece friendly against Germany at Wembley on Saturday, close to the stadium’s 90,000 capacity. The attendance could beat the 80,203 who watched the 2012 women’s Olympic final at Wembley between USA and Japan. At the same tournament 70,584 watched Team GB beat Brazil and in 2014 another 45,619 came to watch England lose 3-0 to Germany.
The next step, for Neville, is turning those fans into regulars. “The biggest thing from this sort of circus is that these 86,000 people come back,” he said. “Just like they have done after the World Cup, they tuned in, they watched and thought: ‘I want a bit of that, I want to go and see these players play.’ That’s what I want tomorrow and I want to come back to Wembley yearly and make it a regular occurrence.”
The match is also being shown live on BBC2 with commentary on Radio 5 Live. English women’s football has had unprecedented projection during 2019, with 11.7m television viewers tuning in to the BBC to see England’s defeat by the USA in the World Cup semi-final in Lyon.
Since the World Cup the Lionesses have struggled, that defeat beginning a run of six games with only one win.
But Neville said it was time his team put on a show. “My players have to inspire those young girls, like a little Ellie Roebuck [the Manchester City goalkeeper], who said something in mid-week about how being a fan at Wembley in 2014 changed her, that’s what we want to do tomorrow, those 12-, 13-, 14-year-old girls that are coming tomorrow need to be inspired to put the work in and believe they can become a Lioness.”
Roebuck recalled her 2014 visit to the London stadium as an “unbelievable occasion … It was probably one of my first memories of thinking: ‘Wow, you could actually probably do something in the women’s game now.’”
Germany were knocked out in the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cup, but are second in the global rankings, three places higher than England. England’s record against Germany is poor: one win; four draws; and 20 defeats.
“They have scored 31 goals in the last four games haven’t they?” Neville said of Germany yesterday. “I thought they missed Lyon’s Dzsenifer Marozsán massively in the World Cup. I’ve got to say, if she would have been fit like we know her then they could have easily got to the final instead of the Netherlands.
“They are in a state of transition but they still maintain their spot – second in the world. They are Germans, they know what they are doing, they are consistent and that’s what you will see tomorrow. You will see a team that won’t fold. You will see a team that will be disciplined, a team that won’t be scared of that occasion and we will have to play probably as good as we’ve ever played under me to get that win tomorrow.”
Neville said his players were still learning what it took to be the best in the world. “In one of the [training] camps I wanted them to go to their bedrooms, and sleep for two hours … an hour later I came down and 18 players are in a room just having a laugh and a joke because they couldn’t sleep. But the best form of rest and recovery is sleep. There is still that education needed.”
The world record attendance for any women’s match is 90,125 for the 1999 World Cup final in Pasadena, California, which the USA won against China in a penalty shootout.