England football fans went home in bitter disappointment on Sunday after losing the Women’s World Cup final 1-0 to Spain, but in defeat many of them also found inspiration and hope for future generations in the sport.
Large crowds camped out with finger food and picnic blankets to cheer England on at public screenings across the country, while face-painted punters started the day with a beer in packed-out bars and pubs.
But the nationwide “watch party” that started at breakfast had dissolved into despair by lunchtime as the Lionesses could not overturn a first-half Spain goal before the final whistle blew over 10,000 miles away in Sydney.
“They might have not won, and it’s so sad, but they’ve done so much for women’s football, and that’s what matters,” said Jennifer Maidment, a 25-year-old student who watched the game in London.
Earlier this week the government had encouraged pubs to open early, supermarkets forecast a surge in demand for breakfast and barbecue food, and the Church of England gave its blessing to those who wanted to fit the match around their Sunday worship.
The scale of the national excitement reflected the growing public profile of women’s football in England, where the team’s run to the final built on its victory at the European Championship last year.
“We never had any role models as girls when we were younger, so to have role models now is amazing. They’ve inspired us,” said Kaitlin Howard, a 26-year-old teacher who plays for Woking Football Club.
For older generations, the progress since the first England women’s international match in 1972 was clear.
“We played in front of about 400 people ... it’s very, very different now,” said former England player Pat Davies, 68 as she reflected on the level of support at a sold-out venue in London.
“It’s just fantastic, we didn’t think we’d see this in our lifetime.”
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