LONDON: England's hungover "Lionesses" held a victory party in central London on Monday in front of thousands of jubilant fans after they clinched the country's first major football trophy since 1966. A capacity crowd of 7,000 supporters packed into Trafalgar Square to give the women's team a rapturous reception as they paraded the European championship trophy, following their 2-1 win over Germany. A tournament record crowd of 87,192 was at London's Wembley Stadium to see the victory, and the BBC said more than 23 million viewers tuned in on television or online Sunday.
"We said we wanted to make our legacy about winning and that's what we did," England captain Leah Williamson told the flag-waving crowd in Trafalgar Square. "The party's not going to stop!" she added after her squad stayed up into the early hours celebrating. "This team likes to work hard, but we definitely like to party harder." Chloe Kelly, who scored the winner deep into extra-time, said she was "a bit worse for wear". "I ain't stopped dancing!" British royals, political leaders, football legends and star-struck youngsters have all hailed the players' game-changing exploits.
The men's team failed last year to conquer Europe, falling short in the final to extend a winless streak stretching back to the 1966 World Cup. It was bad enough for the men to lose to Italy on penalties after extra time, but the final itself was marred by drunken thuggery on the part of some male England fans. The festive and family-friendly atmosphere seen at the women's tournament extended into Monday's celebration in central London.
'We need more girls'
"I'm really, really happy!" said Lauren, aged eight, attending with her younger brother. Lauren's mother Lisa Christie, 45, from west London said of the final: "It was incredible. We took the roof off the house!" Christie said that while Lauren is a keen footballer, her mixed team currently only has four girls. "We need more girls, and hopefully now we'll get them." Mark Peters, 45, a community worker in Birmingham, said his 12-year-old daughter "loves" the game but her private school does not currently let girls play football.
"Hopefully it will change. We can now say to them 'why aren't the girls playing?'" he said. "It's a bit backward in 2022." Countless more watched in pubs, bars and other venues nationwide, as women's football fever swept England and helped distract from economic and political crisis. "These Lionesses have raised the bar. They have changed the way women's football is viewed in this country," former England international Alex Scott, who hosted the Trafalgar Square celebration, told BBC TV.
The previous day a similar number watching the final in Trafalgar Square had erupted with euphoria. Some people dived into its famous fountains, fittingly watched over by the square's four lion statues. The Lionesses gatecrashed coach Sarina Wiegman's post-match press conference with a rowdy rendition of the England anthem "It's coming home!"-the 1990s football song officially called "Three Lions".
David Baddiel, who recorded it with fellow comedian Frank Skinner and pop group Lightning Seeds for the men's Euro 1996 tournament, said the Lionesses had helped redefine the sport. "Football is not by default owned by men," he told BBC radio. "It's the same game, played by women or played by men. "And what's totally brilliant in the last sort of few weeks is the sense that the country can get behind it in entirely the same way." - AFP