England's Lionesses put Love Island's preening prima donnas to shame

JANET STREET-PORTER: England’s fearless Lionesses put Love Island’s preening prima donnas to shame – they are the REAL role models for the under-exercised young women slumped on the nation’s sofas

England’s brilliant Lionesses have put smiles on our faces and given us a dream: dare we hope for an English football team to win a major trophy, instead of always being second best, gallant losers, smiling sheepishly in defeat?

Since Sarina Wiegman took over as manager, the England women’s team has undergone a total transformation, winning 17 out of the last 19 matches, conceding just four goals and scoring a whopping 104. Wiegman excels at controlling a player’s mindset, teaching them to focus on the now, not the past, not the failures. She preaches positivity, having played from a young age, coaching her national team – the Netherlands – to victory in the Euros in 2017.

And look at how her girls celebrated their wonderful win over Sweden, the tournament favourites! They jumped for joy and so did we.

I can’t thank them enough.

I can’t thank the Lionesses enough for ensuring the women’s game is taken seriously – and for inspiring women, writes JANET STREET-PORTER Pictured: England captain Leah Williamson

Women’s football has struggled to be taken seriously for so long, regarded as second best to the men’s game for 50 years.

The Lionesses’ inspiration strikes quite the contrast with the Love Island contestants (Pictured: 19-year-old Gemma Owen)

If this tournament was played by men, last night’s match would have been played at a Premier League stadium, although Sheffield United’s stands were packed to capacity with almost 29,000 hysterical fans.

It’s as if the male-dominated world of professional football couldn’t believe that the female sex might be the key to rebranding their sport, enticing a new audience, from children and mums to young women. Fans who’ve held parties splashing out millions on pink wine and popcorn, not beer and crisps. Fans who hold hands, hug and jump for joy. What more evidence do these dreary men need?

During the last few weeks, the Lionesses have shown it’s possible to turn a football match from a slightly threatening occasion into a silly, frenetic disco where everyone dances with mad abandon. Pleasure and joy are key, not chucking beer over rivals or shouting racial slurs and smutty songs, chucking over barriers and throwing punches.

Now one huge hurdle lies ahead. Can this bunch of incredibly dedicated and talented women – inspired by a genius of a manager- pull off the heist of the century and win the Euros final this Sunday?

More importantly, can the brilliance of goal scorers like Beth Mead and Alessia Russo inspire British women to get off their backsides, onto their feet and exercising once again? 

England will play a huge final on Sunday (Alessia Russo celebrates the third goal yesterday)

The Lionesses are super-fit. The same can’t be said of almost half of the female population- a new survey from a health charity reveals that one in three women say their health has deteriorated since lockdown and one in seven have given up exercise altogether.

Slumped in front of Love Island, stuffing snacks and fizzy drinks, we need to regain our pride in our bodies again.

Whatever the result on Sunday- and we’ll all be praying and manifesting for victory like mad- there’s no doubt that the Lionesses have become huge stars in the process, role models for the young girls all over the country.

Young women across the country will be inspired by the Lionesses – unlike Love Island’s stars

I hope that the vapid antics of the over-primped females on Love Island- are being superseded by these modern women, girls who fight and win on their own terms, who take pride in their achievements, work with, not against their workmates. Women’s football isn’t just about physical prowess- at this level it requires huge stamina, guts, and proper intelligence to read the opposition.

Following their 4-0 demolition of Sweden, the scenes of joy and happiness were truly moving. Most touching of all was the sight of eight-year-old Tess waving her arms in the air to the strains of Sweet Caroline, telling a reporter: ‘I want to be a footballer when I grow up’.

When William and Kate attend the final on Sunday, I hope they take their daughter Charlotte, who is said to love football. It might be too late to persuade most twentysomethings that spending hours manicuring your eyebrows, enhancing your rear end or daubing yourself in fake tan isn’t time well spent, but I’m hopeful that very young girls who haven’t yet been polluted by the fake values of much of reality television will realise that playing sport and burnishing the desire to win is not to be sneered at.

Succeeding at sport- even if it’s just setting your own small goals- is something I’ve tried to do all my life, ever since I had the misfortune to be the tallest girl in my secondary school, and was picked for all the teams, regardless of whether I was any good or not. Since then, I’ve always played a bit of tennis, swam, or hiked. Even a small regular amount of physical activity gives you confidence and mental strength.

England defender Lucy Bronze scores the second goal in the Women’s Euro 2022 semi-final

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge even tweeted their appreciation of the incredible result

You can’t say the same about the Love Island contestants. Bickering about appearances and whether someone fancies you or not is hardly good for self-esteem and mental health.

Judy Murray- mother to doubles player Jamie and former Wimbledon champion Andy- is leading a campaign to encourage women to start exercising with their friends, but we need more. The Lionesses should inspire girls to see that women can succeed where so many men have failed in the past.

Their success is down to huge investment over the past few years, and in spite of their talents female players remain poorly paid compared to their male counterparts.

Apart from inspiring other girls to follow them, the women’s game is bringing other less obvious benefits to the UK and Euro 2022 has had a huge impact on the economy. The city of Sheffield reckons that visitors have spent an extra £3 million. Last night’s semi-final attracted a record 14 million viewers, which means that in future advertisers and sponsors will be spending more money on games which are televised.

Love Island contestants take p[art in the ‘Wish You Were Beer’ challenge earlier in the series

And almost £10 million will be spent on merchandise by the time of the final this weekend.

For years, women’s football was shunned by the FA, who didn’t allow games to be played on members’ grounds. Since January 2022, however, the Association has been chaired by a woman- Debbie Hewitt- for the first time in their history. From 2023, another top job will be held by a talented woman- Alison Brittain is stepping down as the boss of Whitbread to chair the Premier League.

If I was a smart girl, I wouldn’t just want to emulate the Lionesses on the pitch- I’d set my sights on following Sarina Wiegman into a Manager’s role, or even Debbie and Alison into the boardroom.

With smart women at the very top of British football, and scoring success on the pitch, is our national game finally moving into the 21st century?

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