As the hysteria of the 2018 World Cup slowly fades away, the nation will look back on England’s performance with pride. Gareth Southgate’s band of young players injected a shot of much needed optimism into a gloomy modern era by reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Yet the memory of a football fan can often be painfully short. Just as the hysteria of the month of Russian revelling has drifted into a distant dream, the nation seemed to forget that England actually last reached the semi-final of the World Cup three years ago – at the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Right now, the women’s game has never been stronger. Following the Lionesses’ outstanding performance in the 2015 World Cup, where the national side stormed to the semi-finals for the first time since Paul Gascoigne’s tears in Turin at Italia ’90, the nation descended into a football frenzy akin to the spectacular scenes on show this summer. The performance ensured that stars such as Alex Scott, Fara Williams and Casey Stoney became national icons and cemented women’s football in the mainstream.
This success did not happen overnight. Players, coaches and fans have all had to battle to attain the sky-high reputation of the women’s game. Williams, England’s most capped player ever, was homeless for the first six years of her international career. Scott - who was part of the BBC’s coverage of the 2018 World Cup and will be a regular fixture on Sky Sports this season - has had to navigate the patronising field of punditry, with current England manager Phil Neville criticised for copying her analysis during a group stage game this summer.
And yet, it is Stoney who will have the greatest impact on the women’s game as she takes the helm of the biggest club in world football: earlier this year, Manchester United Women Football Club joined the party, and about time too.
But why has it taken so long for this corporate behemoth to form a women’s team? United’s rivals dominate the Women’s Super League; Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have all won the top trophy in English football in the last six seasons. Local rivals City operate to the same professional level as their male counterparts, the reigning champions of the Premier League. Moreover, the vast majority of England’s world cup heroines were part of one of the ‘big four’.
The potential for Manchester United WFC is seemingly infinite. With a die-hard fan base of an estimated 659 million and a net worth of $412 billion, the sky is the limit for the Old Trafford club who look set to smash through the glass ceiling of the Theatre of Dreams. The club have already amassed nearly 100,000 followers on social media in a matter of months and look set to attract sell-out crowds this season.
United’s reputation alone has allowed them to attract Stoney, a vital cog in England’s current national setup, as well as Lionesses Alex Greenwood and Siobhan Chamberlain. Reflecting on her new squad, Stoney beamed: “We’ve gone young, we’ve gone exciting, we’ve gone entertaining”. It is paramount, therefore, that the England legend passes on her experience of international success to a new breed of professional players hungry to wear the world famous red strip.
The Red Devils will start this season in the Championship – the second tier of English football - and are expected to be promoted to the Women’s Super League at the first time of asking, before looking to contest for national glory with their fierce rivals. Until then, keep an eye out for Stoney’s “exciting” and “entertaining” young side, fuelled by a mix of national pride combined with the global superstardom of Manchester United. Whether you prefer tales of myth or beast, this partnership is only the beginning of a golden generation of Lioness and Devil.