I Remember to prepare for the 2009 European Women’s Championship final and look at our German opponents and think they are more professional, better resourced and get a big bonus if they win. On Sunday, thanks to years of progress, the two teams will start on a level playing field.
There may not be the same level of coverage or hype, but it means the same for the Three Lions on that day as it does for the England players on Sunday at Wembley. It was great for me to score in a big final and I stayed in the game until the break but Germany were fitter, faster and stronger, so it’s no surprise that they won 6-2. We did really well to get to the final and we got a lesson at the end.
The relative lack of coverage of the previous England final means it could be a blind spot in history. During the men’s tournament last year, people were saying how it was the first time England reached a major final since 1966, ignoring our achievements in 2009. And that will not go wrong in the future, whatever the result against Germany, thanks What did this tournament do? For the ladies game.
In the 13 years since that final, the game in England has changed incredibly. Players are no longer required to arrange training sessions in the park or go to the gym on their own time – they are professionals. At the time, only a few guys who went to America were working full time, including me. Now the players are all professionals, and the Women’s Super League, which has helped change the landscape, is one of the best in the world.
There is a survivor of that night in Helsinki all those years ago. My good friend Jill Scott started by my side against Germany and he will be part of the England squad on Sunday. I am so proud of everything she does and that she still plays for her country, which is a testament to her work ethic. She is a great person. I always tell any young player to stick to a generation and learn from her humility, hard work and her appetite to learn and improve herself. This is why she has enjoyed longevity in a sport that has changed so much during her career.
It’s no coincidence that she’s been in all these major tournaments, that she’s the second most capped England player, male or female, winning major titles, playing for big clubs, going there, doing it and getting a T-shirt. I want her to do well and whenever I go on the field I want the team to win just because of her. I want her to get a gold medal. One of the things that always reminds me of Jill is Whitney Houston’s song Step by Step. I won’t sing it to you, don’t worry. Jill is doing things brick by brick, day in and day out. This is a good way to look at things and keep you on task. She is an example for anyone to follow.
With the increased investment and coverage for this England team comes the increased expectations, but I think this group is just going with it – nobody needs to tell them anything. It’s raw and fresh but they accept it. They look great.
It helps that England have had experience playing at Wembley in recent years. On Sunday, they’ll be the home team, they’ll be all white, they’ll have the home locker room, and the home crowd. However, it will be different going out to a full house waiting to be cheered home in a grand slam final than their previous matches under the arc. Getting to know the pitch would be helpful but I’m not sure anything would be able to prepare the players for that.
These are the occasions that make memories and the final is definitely more special because England vs Germany. In my career, I played with Germany on many occasions and they had the upper hand. We beat them in the bronze medal match at the 2015 World Cup and that was a big moment because Germany beat us over and over again because they were previously more physical than us. It was a sign of how far we’ve come since 2009. I think there’s a little spice in it and we’ll continue to add it by talking about it in the media.
The tournament’s best tactical coaches led their teams to the final. It’s great to see that at the top of the game there are great female coaches. Sarina Wegman is really special It is no coincidence that she won the Euros with the Netherlands and led them to the World Cup final, nor that England were unbeaten under her leadership and scored more than 100 goals. There is something special about this group and me I felt it during the semi-finals When I was on the field, something I didn’t experience as a player. I would love to play for Wiegman; She is inspiring. You can always see when their teams play that there is a plan, which is not always the case in football.
There has never been a better time for a catalyst for women’s football. Even if England had won a major tournament over the past 15 years, it wouldn’t have had the same impact it made on home soil in front of thousands on the court and millions at home. There is a chance to change the game forever on Sunday at Wembley. This is our time.