Meet The Lionesses: The England Women's Football Team Are Going For Gold

A few weeks ago, the SSE Women's FA Cup final was held. Over 35,000 people attended the match between Manchester City and Birmingham. It was a record for the event. Just three years ago, the same cup final drew fewer than 5,000 fans.
So what's changed? Well, for starters, the FA Cup final was held this year, as it has been for the last two years, at Wembley. Rather than a much smaller stadium in Doncaster.
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Secondly, interest in the women's sport has skyrocketed. Since 2010, investment in women's football has tripled. In 2015, it was estimated that in England alone, 27,324 women were affiliated with women's football and, across the UK, at Premier League level, players are finally experiencing full-time training, access to state-of-the-art facilities and, crucially, full-time wages. It is one of the fastest-growing sports in the UK.
Photographed by Luke & Nik.
When it comes to the international stage, 2015 saw England's Lionesses experience their best ever result, coming third in the World Cup. It was an incredible success and the team is now ranked fourth in the world.
This summer, the Lionesses are in with a real chance of nailing the European Championship, held in the Netherlands. Germany are currently the favourites to win but the Lionesses have been given odds of 7/1, just behind France.
We spoke to some of the players ahead of the opening game against Scotland on 19th July to find out how women's football has changed over the course of their careers and what their hopes are for the next generation.
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Alex Scott

Alex Scott, 32, is a defender for Arsenal. She previously played for Birmingham City and the Boston Breakers in the US. She has made 138 appearances for England. She works with the Women’s Football Academy at Kingston College to find and nurture young players.
Photographed by Luke & Nik.
On the World Cup
It was an amazing achievement for the team. I don’t think anyone besides us had the belief that this England team could achieve such a thing and walk away with a bronze medal on the world stage. It has elevated women’s football in this country. If we can just take it one step further this summer…
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On the misconceptions people have about her job
I think it’s the attitude that’s the main thing. You do still get that one guy being like “Oh women’s football? That’s not good.” But then you find they come to a game and they’re so surprised! And they come back and they come back. It’s easy to talk about women's football but when you’ve actually seen it, then your whole perception of it changes.
On how team sports can boost self-esteem
People take for granted the confidence you can gain from being in a team – dealing with different personalities, figuring out how to communicate… These are everyday skills you need. You have to be so resilient [to be in a football team]; the stuff you have to come through like adversity, not being selected, injuries, not winning. You learn to bounce back from things.
On countering negative thoughts
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I always remind myself how lucky I am to be doing what I do. For me, it could have been a completely different path with my upbringing, where I’ve come from, so I never take anything for granted. I’m so grateful for what football has given me and people I’ve met along the way; I’ve travelled the world. There’s not one thing I can moan about.

Jodie Taylor

Jodie, 31, currently plays for Arsenal as a striker but has spent most of her career playing abroad in Australia, Sweden and the United States. She has appeared for England 24 times.
On sacrifice
Things are going in the right direction and are getting better [with women’s football], we’re now privileged enough to be full-time and have a salary but there is still a level of sacrifice that we have to give. At Arsenal we get really good access to the facilities now but it's not like the men's [sport] yet.
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On the differences between the UK and the US
I’ve spent a lot of my career abroad, I went to college on a scholarship to the States when I was 18 because it was full-time training, which you couldn’t get here then. The facilities were phenomenal. When I came back in 2012 with a hope to make the national team again, we were training twice, three times a week in the evening at like 8pm. Financially it was terrible, fortunately I had my family there to support me. But fast-forward a few years and see where we’re at now and it’s full-time wage, you don’t have to work on top of it, there’s been an increase in the standard and that’s why I think we are more successful now than we were. It’s a step in the right direction.
Photographed by Luke & Nik.
On inspiring young girls
In the States it was insane. There were avid young girls at every single game. When I was at Washington Spirit there were these same couple of girls who would be at every team signing or event we had. They were there trying to get into sessions with the girls, they’d bring cakes on people’s birthdays. I don’t think I’ve really seen that in the UK yet but we’re starting to get a good fanbase at Arsenal. It would be great to get to that point!
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On getting motivated
Coffee! Coffee is a big one, especially when I’m tired in the morning. I think on the low days it’s about the bigger picture. Last year I was struggling with an injury and the focus on these Euros really got me through a lot of the days. For me it’s about what the end goal is and certainly focussing on having a successful summer has been the driving force for the last few months.

Fran Kirby

Fran, 23, plays for Chelsea as a striker. She is one of the youngest members of the England team and has appeared for them 19 times.
On being someone to look up to
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We have to see ourselves as role models, as hard as it is. I would never consider myself to be one but you have to take on that role.
When I do see a young girl kicking a football about in a park, I try to go over and say hi and get involved. It’s really important for us to try and encourage [them] to play. With us playing full-time they can look up to us and be like, “That’s what I want to do”, they can see there is a career for them in women’s football.
On the fitness revolution
The interest in football is increasing – obviously a lot of people do just go to the park and play football for fitness purposes. It’s a fun game you can play with your friends so if you do want to get fit and healthy, go and play a five-a-side game in the evening with your friends. You do get a good workout from it! I think if you see the England women on TV doing well, looking fit and healthy, a lot of people will be like, “I want to be fit, I want to be healthy.”
On motivation
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It’s always so easy to think of the negatives in your life but try and take the smallest positives out of everything, like you just made a cup of tea and it’s the best cup of tea you’ve ever made. Do you know what I mean? Little positives like that. It does give you that incentive to go on and try and have a good day.

Fara Williams

Fara, 34, plays midfield for Arsenal and has previously played for Liverpool, Everton, Chelsea and Charlton Athletic. In 2014, she became the most capped England player ever. She has racked up 162 international appearances.
Photographed by Luke & Nik.
On the first match of the Euros
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I think Scotland is going to be a big one just because of who it is. I’ve got old teammates in that team. I think the group stage for us is going to be difficult and it just makes it more exciting that the opening game is Scotland.
On making the 2017 squad
I was nervous! The older you get the less opportunities you’re going to get, what with age and good younger players coming through. We’ve got a big squad of players that are more than capable of being here, both on and off the pitch, so I was nervous. I didn’t sleep too well the night before so I was relieved when I got that email.
On her early career
I wasn’t aware of any support as a young player getting into a team. I played on the streets for a long time and I was probably one of the later ones to get in a team at 12. Some girls started as Under 9s and Under 8s so I probably missed a few years of playing but now there’s loads of support.
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On appreciating what you have
There’s lots of people out there that I know would want to be in the position that I am and I think because it has come so late in my career, I’m really appreciative of it and what opportunities I have. Sometimes as female footballers, we forget where we come from – like training in a park where dogs are chasing you! I find it hard that people would struggle or be de-motivated to get out of bed on those cold and horrible mornings. I think if that time was to come for me, I think that would be time for me to go “Actually, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.”

Fixtures

England kick-off their Euro 2017 campaign against Scotland in Utrecht on Wednesday 19th July live on Channel 4. You can join the conversation using #Lionesses and for more information visit thefa.com/forgirls.
19th July 2017 England v Scotland Utrecht, Netherlands, 8.45pm
23rd July 2017 England v Spain Breda, Netherlands, 8.45pm
27th July 2017 England v Portugal, Tilburg, Netherlands, 8.45pm
Further dates to come after the group stages...
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