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England captain Leah Williamson is hopeful that the Lionesses can “add longevity to success” following an historic year for women’s football.
The Arsenal defender led a senior England side to their first major trophy since 1966 with a European Championship victory in July this year, thanks to an extra-time winner from Chloe Kelly to beat Germany 2-1 at Wembley.
The team capped off a successful year with a 1-1 draw against Norway on Tuesday to extend their unbeaten run to 26 games and they now turn their attention to the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Williamson was speaking after unveiling artwork at Wembley depicting Helen Hardy, founder of Manchester Laces – the first inclusive women’s and non-binary football club in Manchester – and the England captain is determined to ensure their legacy from Euro 2022 can continue from grassroots through to the top levels of the game.
The 25-year-old told PA news agency: “I think we were so aware of the platform that we had during the summer and wanted to win for us, of course we did, but we knew if we won and the inspiration that would be to everyone else, it’s off the scale.
“I’m glad that there are these spaces (to play football at grassroots level) and I want there to be more, because the danger is we inspired all these people and then they had nowhere to go.
“I’m glad the clubs are open to taking them and it’s the right time because those things (football clubs) are places where people aren’t turning up and being turned away.
“When we go to the World Cup as a team next year, we’re going to compete, that’s our sole focus, but adding this longevity to success is going to be powerful beyond measure if the team can achieve that.”
Women’s football is constantly evolving and research developments off the pitch are continuing to enable the best possible performances on the pitch.
WSL side Manchester City announced last year they had partnered with the English Institute of Sport to look at how female athlete health is understood, while this season has seen some teams change their shorts from white to an alternative colour for increased comfort while playing.
More recently, work is being done to study whether football kit such as boots and balls can be developed to prevent injury to female players, something which Williamson welcomes.
“I think that’s another thing you do when you raise the profile of the game is that everything that goes around it is upped as well,” she added.
“I pointed it out before, but the fact the game wasn’t played for 50 years, you’ve got 50 years less of research, or injury research.
“Our bodies aren’t the same as men so all that information is not transferrable.
“I’m just glad that the gains are in a place where that research, that investment, making the game sustainable and protecting the players as much as possible is going on.
“I think when it comes down to performance everything needs to be the best it can be to get the best results for the players playing and this is all going in the right direction.”
Leah Williamson unveils a mural by artist Charlotte Archer (right) on the Spanish Steps of Wembley Stadium, which depicts Helen Hardy (centre) founder of Manchester Laces
(Kieran Cleeves/PA Wire)
Changes have also been seen in the WSL with a huge boost in season ticket sales and pulling in huge audiences, including 47,367 people setting a new league attendance record when Williamson’s Arsenal beat Tottenham at the Emirates in September.
The Gunners are on the hunt for their first WSL title since 2019 and came within touching distance last season but lost out by a point to Chelsea on the final day of the season.
So far this season they have only lost one game out of seven matches to sit second in the league and Williamson, who has been sidelined with a foot injury, has been pleased with her team’s performances so far.
“I’m glad we’ve started the season the same as we did last year and same intensity,” she added.
“Everybody wants to play for the badge which is really important when we are attracting all these new fans, but actually performances on the pitch have been good and we’re performing well as a team still, which is the most important thing.”