As a die-hard football fan, I hope the Euros will be a turning point for women’s football | Bryony Rowan

My first football match took place when I was only a day old. My dad ran a local club and I was brought with me for good luck. My family says I’ve been a fan ever since.

I have attended hundreds of matches and attended 40 of the 92 pitches in the English league. I attended the Asian Super Cup final in Japan, as well as matches in China, Germany and Poland. But there is something unique about seeing our England Lionesses reach the Euro final.

“Some of my fondest childhood memories are watching my mum play for Bradford City.”

I come from a footballing family, so it’s no surprise that I’m such a passionate supporter. My mum and dad have an English flag hanging proudly outside their bedroom window for the game this weekend, and I tried for five hours – ultimately, unsuccessfully – to get a ticket to Wembley.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are watching my mum play for Bradford City, a top team at a time when ‘professional’ women’s football didn’t exist. My dad also played for Crewe’s development team, so we’ve all always seen football as a sport for everyone. When I was 10, I remember discussing tactics with my dad’s friends, and my opinion mattered as much as anyone else’s.

But I recognize that my experience was at odds with my peers. Growing up, my dad used to take me to Huddersfield Town games. I was completely swept away by the buzz of the crowd and the camaraderie between the fans. But even though there were sometimes other girls present with their dads, I rarely saw moms or groups of women. When we went to watch my mum play, even though Bradford City was in the domestic division of the Women’s Premier League – the top tier of women’s football at the time – there wasn’t the fan culture that you usually associate to professional sports. The supporters were friends and family. But the men’s games seemed to cultivate the most loyal, even obscure, supporters. At school, even though I was crazy about the game, I never bothered to discuss football with the boys; I knew I would be disrespected despite my encyclopedic knowledge.

I know how excluding football can be for women and girls. For that reason alone, it’s impossible to overstate just how important Sunday’s Euro final will be. This could be the watershed moment fans and players have been waiting for, as the UK is finally forced to wake up en masse to the fact that football is for women too.

Millions of people will be tuning in, including men who never really acknowledged the existence of women’s teams before, let alone supported them. Anecdotally, the reason seems to be simple: the truth is that the talent of the Lionesses is impossible to ignore. The team shows good old-fashioned sportsmanship at its best. They have conceded one goal since the group stage; in their game against Norway, they scored six goals in one half, which had never been done before at the Euros. These women are breaking records, they have the skill level, the professionalism, the personalities – what’s the excuse for not support them at this stage?

Bryony Rowan with her father
“Growing up, my dad used to take me to Huddersfield Town games.”

Too many girls still grow up believing that football is a boy’s sport. But now, whatever messages they might receive, the girls will be able to watch the women play from the stands or at home. You can’t overstate how seismic it will be. If girls can see it, they can be. I am a huge supporter of Huddersfield, which has always been a family club, and as a child (and now a young woman) I always felt welcomed as a supporter. This makes a huge difference, because formative experiences matter.

It’s hard to describe how good it feels to be swept up in a summer of football frenzy with women at the heart of our national pride. The Euros could be our opportunity to create a lasting legacy that will transform the way women’s sport is received at all levels. But to be successful, we need to understand that change isn’t based on positive feelings alone.

Women’s football urgently needs investment, strategy and planning. We need resources not only to get women into football, but also to keep them there. It’s no longer a men’s sport and we have to recognize that there are already some great players, coaches and physios out there who don’t get the recognition they deserve. And I’m not just talking about sponsorship. It is also vital that we make women’s matches more accessible and affordable if we are to increase attendance – ticket prices and match venues need to be better considered if there is any hope of turning football into a game for all.

The Lionesses captured the hearts and imaginations of girls across the country. I hope their dedication sets us on the path to unstoppable change that shows everyone that the women’s game is just as dignified as the men’s – and worth shouting from the rooftops.

James C. Tibbs