Sport

‘Football brings people together’: Manchester fans celebrate Lionesses’ victory

There were wild celebrations in Manchester’s fan zone at the final whistle on Sunday evening as more than 2,000 people, some of whom had arrived three hours before kick-off to queue for a seat, celebrated England’s Euros victory.

Fans, including the former Lioness Stacey Copeland, gathered in the Piccadilly Gardens venue at the end of a watershed tournament that began against Austria just a few miles east, at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium. .

The organisers of Manchester Piccadilly’s fan zone made the decision to double capacity for the event and add a second screen. On the day, the screening, beamed live from a packed Wembley stadium, was enjoyed by more than 2,000 people, with hundreds more craning to watch from surrounding pavements, grassy verges and picnic benches.

Copeland, who presents for BBC Radio Manchester, described the moment as “phenomenal” and said: “The power of sport is so enormous that the progress we make is vital – and it manifests in other aspects of society beyond football, informing the way we perceive women.

“When that player strikes that ball, those couple of seconds are such a rush – and it doesn’t matter if it’s a woman’s foot or a man’s.”

As the Lionesses held up the trophy, attender Dan Madden said: “The team who have played best throughout the tournament won it. Any squad that can sub its all-time top scorer [Ellen White] off and still go from strength to strength is something pretty special.”

David Shanahan, one of 35 volunteers helping run the event, said: “It’s the perfect end to a truly fantastic few weeks … so well deserved”.

Michael Talbot was also there with his children and young grandson, all wearing England kits and St George’s Cross face paint. “My grandson has been following the Lionesses closely,” he said. “For him, this has been as exciting as any big tournament I recall.”

Luca Ciornea, originally from Romania, said she felt the same. She was joined by friends from Italy, Poland and the UK, who had queued since 2pm to secure a seat. “We were here for the other games too. We’re all from different places but we all love football – it brings people together.”

Stacey Copeland, right, is a professional boxer and former England youth football player.
Stacey Copeland, right, is a professional boxer and former England youth football player. Photograph: Mark Waugh/The Guardian

Larry Ormod from Knutsford, Cheshire, also arrived three hours early. “I support [Manchester] City – including City Women’s. My granddaughter is eight and has just started playing football. She’s got some fantastic role models in these girls and hopes to play for City one day.”

Jaq, a teacher from Oldham, said: “This is such an important moment for young people. It’s been great to see so many girls getting into football in a big way. One of my students has just been selected for her local team, and is buzzing about it.”

Kenny and Ruby Clayton were one of numerous father-daughter duos in attendance. They came from Wigan to watch the match on the big screen.

Like many, he said he enjoyed watching the women’s game more than the men’s: “It hasn’t been corrupted by money, or mired in accusations of misconduct or toxic fan culture,” he said.

“I’ve taken Ruby to watch [Manchester] United’s women’s side several times. The quality of play is exceptional, and shouldn’t be compared to the men’s because it’s different and in a lot of ways, actually far more enjoyable to watch.”

Kirsty Talbot from Rochdale watching the closely fought match with her stepson Eden Goodall, eight.
Kirsty Talbot from Rochdale watching the closely fought match with her stepson Eden Goodall, eight. Photograph: Mark Waugh/The Guardian

Throughout the tournament, thousands of people from across Manchester flocked to the free-of-charge fan zone – to watch screenings of matches and to take part in a host of football-related activities, as well as face painting and sampling cuisine from around the world.

The match also drew in the biggest home TV audience on record for a women’s football match, with the win over Germany sealing England’s first triumph in a major football tournament since the men’s team in 1966.

The Lionesses beat Austria, Norway and Northern Ireland in the group stages and went on to beat Spain in the quarter-final, and Sweden in the semis last week.

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Kelly Simmons, FA director for the women’s game, said: “It has been an incredible moment for the game, and I’ve loved how the public have got behind the team.”

John Hacking, the executive member for leisure at Manchester city council, said: “Manchester has been a footballing city for as long as most of us can remember, and it’s brilliant to see the women’s game finally taking centre stage at last”

The fanzone at the moment of victory.
The fanzone at the moment of victory. Photograph: Mark Waugh/The Guardian

Other celebratory events taking place today included an all-female RAF flypast, which graced the skies above Wembley as the stadium hit a new attendance record for any Euro final tournament match.

Surveying the crowd as the sun set over Manchester, a teary Copeland was moved to comment on how far the sport has come in her lifetime alone: “Looking at all these youngsters in their kits, I can’t help but feel emotional knowing this is forming their early memories of sport. The British public have taken the Lionesses into their hearts and it’s a delight to see.”

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