Alessia Russo thinks for a moment and then has two words to describe how life has been since helping England win Euro 2022 with a 2-1 victory against Germany in the final at Wembley in July: “Pretty crazy!”
Russo and teammates such as Ella Toone, Leah Williamson and Chloe Kelly became household names during the tournament, which ended with England’s women winning their first trophy and delivering the nation’s first football success since the men’s World Cup triumph in 1966. Russo has had her boots placed alongside the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London to celebrate the Lionesses’ success and Sarina Wiegman’s squad have all been invited to Disneyland Paris as a reward for winning Euro 2022 and having such an impact on the sporting landscape. But this weekend, when the Women’s Super League (WSL) returns, it’s back to business and with it will come a measure of just how much the heroics of the summer have boosted the women’s game in England.
Russo’s Manchester United were due to play the opening game of the WSL season against Tottenham at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last weekend, before the whole of English football was paused due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Arsenal have confirmed that their North London derby against Spurs on Sept. 24 will be played at the Emirates, with over 40,000 tickets already sold for the game to ensure a new record attendance for a WSL fixture.
The game is growing at a rapid pace — over 85,000 fans will watch England play world champions, United States, at Wembley on Oct. 7 — and Russo now wants to see the club game benefit from the effect of Euro 2022.
“The last few weeks have been pretty crazy,” Russo told ESPN. “The summer was a watershed moment for women’s football and there are now things that have definitely changed in our lives — we’re getting recognised a lot more and it comes as a part of the women’s game growing.
“It’s part of the job now and hopefully the game will grow even more. It’s exciting times. We hope to see the crowds get bigger and bigger, after the summer and with the talent on show, we hope that a lot more fans are interested enough to come out and support us at club level.
“We just want it more and more and when we get to a stage like Wembley and fill it, parading the [Euro 2022] trophy in front of the fans against the USA next month, we just want to experience it more and more.
“We have the Spurs Stadium, then Old Trafford later in the season [vs. Aston Villa, Dec. 4]. There will be lots of other games taking place at the men’s grounds, so we want to put on performances and make sure the fans come back.”
Russo was arguably the first breakthrough star of Euro 2022 thanks to the back-heeled goal he scored during the 4-0 semifinal win against Sweden which projected her, and the tournament itself, to a global audience. The audacity of Russo’s goal, and its importance, combined to make video clips of the moment go viral on social media.
“I didn’t actually know the ball went through the keeper’s legs until I’d seen it back because I didn’t even see it go in,” Russo said. “I just turned around and everyone was celebrating — it was a shot, but I didn’t expect it to go in. I had a few ex-players and current players get in touch [on social media]. Abby Wambach tweeted and I used to love watching Abby Wambach so that was a special one. Sam Kerr too, and she’s one of the world’s top strikers. So yeah, it was lovely.
“Since I finished the tournament, I’ve seen all lots of memes about it and stuff. It’s great to see women’s football get so much media attention and hopefully it inspires young girls to go out there and play. I think maybe the back-heel might have won a few of them over. We are role models, but at the same time, I’m just a normal girl and but if I can inspire more young girls to go out and get involved in football, then that’s my job.”
Ticket sales for WSL games and the friendly against the USA next month are a positive indicator of growth and expansion for the women’s game and this week’s 10-0 World Cup qualifying win against Luxembourg in Stoke was watched by over 24,000 fans. But the acid test will come with the WSL and whether the season will continue to see an uptick in interest and attendances.
“I hope so,” Russo said. “I hope Euro 2022 spurs us on for this season and the seasons to come. Hopefully, we’ve got many more women’s football fans and they will come out and support us. So not only for country, but also for clubs.
“I think the whole month was really special, filling stadiums from the first day of the tournament right until the very end. We just hope that it can now continue through our league with the WSL and women’s football worldwide.”
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