It’s almost upon us. England in the final of a European Championships on home soil against their greatest footballing rival. It is poetry you could only dream of writing. The occasion will be momentous. Millie Bright will show no mercy, Mary Earps will swaddle the ball, Fran Kirby will be a nuisance, Alessia Russo will have the audacity, Beth Mead will be on fire, and Leah Williamson, well, let’s reserve her final starring role for Sunday.
This is the moment advocates of the women’s game have been waiting for. The moment they knew would come. After patiently biding their time, they are relishing with the knowledge that others are finally catching up to what they knew all along.
Pride can swallow you whole. It can overtake and manifest into raw, ugly emotion, but on this occasion, we should absolutely allow it to. In fact, we should urge it to. For the longstanding supporters, families, reporters, staff, former players, this moment is as much for them as it is for the 23 players that will make their mark under Wembley’s arch..
This moment is for us.
Before Lauren Hemp was thundering up the left wing, Rachel Yankey was scoring from outrageous wide angles. Before Lucy Bronze whipped up the overlap, Alex Scott held down the right hand side. Before Keira Walsh sprayed her trademark passes, Marieanne Spacey dominated the midfield. And before Leah Williamson wore the armband, Sheila Parker led the pride in their first ever international.
These are the players who came before. The players who led from the front, unwavering despite the hordes of obstacles and adversity thrown their way. Today, we celebrate them.
Sheila Parker – England’s first captain, Sheila Parker. At 24, Parker led England to victory in their first official match against Scotland in 1972, a match they eventually won 3-2. Parker was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in May 2013.
Carol Thomas (below) – The first captain to lead England to a European final, and as her handle would suggest, the first woman to earn 50 caps. Thomas was selected for the national side at 19 and was handed the armband just two years later.
Debbie Bampton – Box-to-box midfielder Bampton earned a total of 95 caps for England, wearing the captain’s armband in two separate stints during this time. Bampton led England to their first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1995.
Kerry Davis – As the first Black woman to play in an official England international, Davis served as her country’s most prolific goalscorer throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Davis scored record 44 goals in 82 appearances, a record that remained until 2010.
Gillian Coultard – Captain between 1991-1995 and 1997-2000, midfielder Coultard became the first woman to reach 100 caps for England. She scored a total of 30 goals in 119 appearances before hanging up her international boots in 2000.
Marieanne Spacey-Cale (below) – Finishing with 76 caps to her name, midfielder Marieanne Spacey was recalled to the national side by Hope Powell to make a further 15 appearances, scoring a total of 28 goals. The player of a generation.
Karen Walker – Renowned aerial specialist Karen Walker was England’s most formidable attacking threat for over a decade. Retiring from international football in 2003, Walker ended her England career with a huge 40 goals in 83 appearances.
Hope Powell – A true pioneer who remains integral to the game. Powell has achieved success as both and player and coach. Powell ended her international career with 35 goals in 66 appearances. She went on to become the youngest ever England coach at 31.
Mary Phillip – Versatile defender Phillip became the first Black woman to captain England and earned a total of 66 caps. Later, as manager of Peckham Town, Phillip became the first female manager of a men’s team to win a cup in English football history.
Faye White – Widely regarded as one of England’s greatest defenders, White is also their longest serving captain having worn the armband for 10 years. White led England to the quarter-finals of the 2007 and 2011 WC and to two Euros, including the final in 2009.
Rachel Yankey (below) – Dynamic winger Yankey was the very first woman to sign a professional football contract in England. She became the second woman to make a century of appearances for England and ended her career with 129 international caps.
Kelly Smith – Icon of the game and arguably one of the most gifted players to have ever worn an England shirt, Smith ended her colossal international career with 117 caps and 46 goals. Only Ellen White has scored more for the Lionesses.
Alex Scott (below) – Before she was paving the way for women’s sports in the mainstream media, Scott was a key figure for the @Lionesses and should first and foremost be known as one of their greatest ever right backs. Seven major international tournaments, 140 caps, 12 goals.
Rachel Brown-Finnis – Ever-steady between the sticks, Brown made 82 appearances for her country and served as England’s first choice goalkeeper at the 2007 World Cup and 2009 Euro’s.
Eni Aluko – Formidable forward Aluko made a total of 102 appearances for England, scoring 33 goals. Aluko played a key role in several major international tournaments including the 2007, 2011 and 2015 World Cups, 2009 and 2013 Euro’s.
Casey Stoney – A versatile yet solid defender, Stoney was appointed England captain in 2012 and skippered Team GB through the London Olympics. Stoney earned 130 caps for her country and has gone on to successfully manage top division teams.
Karen Carney – Carney is widely, and rightly, regarded as one of the finest midfielders to have ever worn the three lions. Carney played in ten major tournaments and is one of only four players to have earned more than 140 caps for the Lionesses.
Karen Bardsley – England’s trusty number one for several years, Bardsley has only recently hung up her boots. Earning a total of 82 caps for her country, Bardsley is in the history books as one of England’s most valued goalkeepers.
Steph Houghton – Whilst her international career isn’t over yet, we can’t talk about key figures in the Lionesses without mentioning Houghton. Eight years of captaincy, 121 appearances so far, two Olympic games, outstanding.
Fara Williams (above) – With 172 appearances to her name, technically gifted midfielder Williams is England’s most capped player. Williams now has roles both within the media and in coaching. Known as a set-piece specialist and true reader of the game, Williams will go down in history as one of the all-time greats.
Anita Asante (below) – No-nonsense centre-back Asante earned 71 caps for England. No-nonsense centre-back Asante earned 71 caps for her country representing England in numerous World Cups and Euros. Asante has only recently retired from professional football and has already become a valued media pundit.