Fran Kirby hopes England semi-final brings joy amid cost of living crisis | Women’s Euro 2022
Fran Kirby hopes England can give the public a break from the cost of living crisis and rising fuel prices as they prepare to face Sweden in the semi-finals of Euro 2022 on Tuesday .
The Lionesses take on the tournament’s top-ranked European team in a fourth straight major semi-final and the home crowd quickly became aware of the team’s exploits at home after the thrilling win over Spain in the previous round.
“If we are lucky enough to win in the semi-finals and make it to the final, I think it will be amazing for the people of this country to have something to celebrate and appreciate,” Kirby said.
“As much as we want to win, we want to put a smile on people’s faces. They may be going through a tough time with rising fuel prices and the cost of living right now. I hope we can give people an escape for 90+ minutes when they turn on their TVs, they’ll have something to cheer about and see how passionately we play for this country. I hope it gives them a sense of pride and they can disconnect from whatever is going on.
Kirby set up Beth Mead for England’s winning goal in their opener against Austria and scored in Northern Ireland’s 5-0 group stage loss, but the striker Chelsea were replaced by Ella Toone in the quarter-finals with Sarina Wiegman’s side trailing 1-0. Toone’s late equalizer and a brilliant extra-time winner from Georgia Stanway saw the hosts complete an emotional return to Brighton and Kirby said they felt the love from the home crowd.
“It didn’t start at the start, but as the tournament grew,” Kirby said. “I’ve seen incredible videos of people celebrating at Box Park and going crazy when we scored against Spain. It just shows that the country has our backs, that people want us to succeed. We’re going for a walk and people cheering for us when we walk past it’s never happened before especially since all the tournaments have been away before so being able to have it at home and get that buzz from the nation makes you excited and ready to leave for the next game.
“It’s kind of surreal when you’re walking down the street and people are cheering for you from the window. I hope that means we make people proud, inspire them and show them what women’s football can do in this country.
England have failed to make it past the semi-finals at the last three major tournaments, having reached the last four at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups and the European Championship in 2017. Kirby, who was part of the three teams, admitted that there is additional pressure to do better.
“It’s tough because we’ve been here before and done it before, so you can tell there’s that expectation there. For us, and me personally, I know how tough tournaments are and how tough it is. I wouldn’t say there’s an expectation on our part to get there, even though people expect it of us. The level of women’s football is increasing every year.
“We know when we beat a team like Norway like we did [8-0 in the group stage] that people will start talking about us to win the tournament.
There is, however, a chance for the team to win England’s first major tournament since winning the men’s World Cup in 1966. “Of course, that’s why we’re here,” said Kirby. “We want to win trophies for England, I want to win trophies for England. Of course we would like to end this tournament with the trophy, but it’s not that easy.
“All the remaining teams in this tournament will give you the same answer: they want to win. So for us it’s about focusing on being in the best position going into the final, winning the semi-final. To be classified as a good team, it is not necessary to win a trophy. We know what our ambitions are as a team and that is to win the tournament. I don’t want to be another player who loses in the semi-finals and doesn’t reach the final of a major tournament with England.
Kirby also said the impact of reaching the final and lifting the silverware could be colossal, especially on the national game. “I hope so. We want to play in front of crowds like this week in and week out. I hope people don’t say, ‘Oh, what amazing euros.’ WSL are good and talk about how many people come to the games, that’s what we strive for.
“I’m not saying the opening game of the WSL will be 40,000 people, but to make it grow we have to build and show that women’s football is a sport that people should watch and hopefully we can bring that in the WSL. With the crowds coming to games, it shows that the will is there and hopefully becomes more normal rather than just, ‘Wasn’t this summer amazing?’