England’s women’s football team’s success at this summer’s UEFA Women’s Euro tournament is being revived in a new 75-minute documentary film produced by Altitude Films and directed by Poppy de Villeneuve which is available on Apple TV from Monday.
With women’s football currently overshadowed by live coverage of the men’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Lionesses: How Football Came Home, it’s a timely reminder of how the women’s game captivated England during a glorious summer heatwave.
Six of the players – captain Leah Williamson, Mary Earps, Fran Kirby, Nikita Parris, Jill Scott and Keira Walsh – contribute their own memories of the three-week tournament alongside reporters Faye Carruthers and Nicole Holliday. Players also take turns to think of their own paths to the top using home-movie footage from their childhood.
Goalkeeper Mary Earps talks about how her boredom with taking her turn in goal at her first club West Bridgford Colts turned into an obsession with keeping clean sheets after saving a penalty as a youngster. She admits, “I hate conceding a goal, whether it’s a friendly match or a European league final. I hate conceding, I always want to keep a clean sheet.”
There are many behind-the-scenes moments of humor, such as when the players remember how the night before the final against Germany at Wembleytheir sleep was interrupted by electronic curtains in their rooms that opened and closed seemingly at will.
The six matches are also interspersed with poignant reminders of how far the women’s game has come despite the numerous obstacles to its growth. From the ban of the English Football Association placed in women’s matches at professional club grounds, through England first official international match in 1972their first European Championship final in 1984 and their previous final in 2009, when manager Hope Powell admitted not a single member of the media was at the airport to welcome the tournament runners-up home.
Other former players such as Carol Thomas, the first woman to win 50 caps for England and former defender Anita Asante, are interviewed as well as Powell to give the Lionesees’ triumphant story a historical perspective, along with archive footage of of the groups and conditions and apathy they encountered in their time.
This contrasts with the heady journey of the 2022 Lionesses who were swept up in a tide of emotions playing on the ground. The film beautifully combines the action of the match with footage from England fans around the country to capture the summer fun, from the marches in Sheffield to the festival in Trafalgar Square to the projection screens around the capital.
There is no footage of the mastermind behind the success, head coach Sarina Wiegman, and with the BBC releasing its own documentary on the Lionesses’ success on Wednesday, the film suffers from a lack of original match commentary but the journey to the conclusion we all know it’s still about and some of the players’ revelations about their feelings at the end will tug at the heartstrings.
Williamson has been particularly vocal in expressing her emotions, admitting she took a moment to cry in the dressing room after the semi-final win over Sweden. It also reveals Wiegman’s last words in the pre-final team meeting that eased the tension between the players, “we don’t have to win, but we really, really want to.”
At the end, Williamson quotes England’s 1966 World Cup winner, Geoff Hurst, to describe how he felt after the whistle that signaled eventual victory at the end of the final. “My initial feeling was relief, but the feeling of victory stayed with me forever.”
Lionesses: How Football Came Home is available to own on DVD and digital from 19 December and to watch on Sky Documentaries and the NOW streaming service from 27 December.
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