Lionesses And The Tournament Start With A Bang

Impetus’ Kris Goman and Darrell Allen focus in on different aspects of England’s opening night win over Austria at Euro 2022. Kris is our nationwide roving reporter at games the length and breadth of England and she highlights the fans-eye experience from Old Trafford, whilst Darrell reviews the on-pitch action (7/7/22).

Above: England celebrate Beth Mead’s opening goal. Photo: Lionesses.

The Fans-Eye View At Old Trafford

by Kris Goman

So, after a long, long trip from Sydney to Manchester, I found my way to Old Trafford. This ground is literally the stuff of legends and I’d been looking forward to this on so many levels.

It’s a decent walk from the tram station and you go past Old Trafford Cricket Ground, home of Lancashire CCC which is much closer to the tram stop. Along the way, there’s a heap of touts selling match scarves, hats, and flags and numerous food vans are set up selling burgers, fish and chips, pies, hot dogs, etc. 

In the car park opposite is the fan event. I gotta say it’s a bit of a disappointment. It’s really just a lot of people queuing and set up mostly for kids, with the exception of the bars, which have the longest queues. It seems mostly face painting, kicking balls, entering competitions, and having your photo taken. There’s nothing for sale except the from the bar, so a quick walk around was more than enough.

I was on the hunt for souvenirs and the UEFA vans were around the ground along with more food vans. I’d seen from the map there were three vans and my entrance was further around in the Alex Ferguson stand. Despite being there quite early (three hours before kick-off) the queues for the first van were very long. I checked out the merch and then went to the next van which only had a couple of people lining up.

Now, to the merch. I can’t begin to describe how bad it is. The one half-decent t-shirt which had all the flags of the nations involved and is dark blue, was only available in kid’s sizes. The single black t-shirt is only available in women’s sizes. The only t-shirt in men’s sizes that might possibly fit a larger lady is white. I don’t do white t-shirts. And the design was terrible. In fact, all the designs are terrible. It’s a women’s comp so it’s important to have pink over everything, right?!

It seems the main colour for the comp is dark purple which is quite nice but the logo is a pale pink and light blue and it’s insipid. All the volunteers are in this dark purple and it looks really good but there’s nothing like this for sale. I bought a grey hoodie but again the logo is terrible in the pink and blue and you can barely see it on the hoodie. The match scarf was the dark purple colour and this was quite good but why don’t they have a t-shirt like this, for the love of God?

Above: Scenes outside Old Trafford ahead of kick-off. Photo: Kris Goman.

The guy at the stand told me they had a bigger range online. Well, that’s great but I’m travelling around the country for matches and can’t really get something delivered. And I’m certainly not the only one. Please, whoever is doing the marketing for the World Cup don’t make this mistake. How hard is it to have all designs in all sizes, have plenty of darker t-shirts, stop making everything pink, and have all stock available at all sale sites? I would have spent a lot more. Just saying.

Anyhoo, rant over and it’s time to queue to get inside. I get in a queue and I look over to the slightly shorter queue next to me and move to that. Two people in front there’s a familiar outline and it looks like Hayley Raso. As she turns, it’s definitely Hayley and she’s with Manchester City teammate Ruby Mace. It’s an opportunity too good to miss so I say g’day. They are both lovely, impressed I’ve come from Sydney, and Hayley notices the Aussie signatures on my Arsenal cap. They let me take photos with them and then I get to the end of the queue again. No one else seems to recognise them, which I find amazing, especially in Manchester although Ruby has her hair quite different from when she’s playing.

We squeeze through the skinniest turnstiles I’ve ever seen into the area under the stands. There are multiple kiosks selling pies, crisps, sweets, drinks including beer. I haven’t had a beer since I’d arrived and was looking forward to enjoying the match with a beer instead of being on the field and taking photos. So, one Heineken please. They pour the giant can into a giant cup and I ponder whether I should have got two so I don’t have to come back. I walk towards the stadium entrance and notice the sign that says no alcohol in the stadium. I back up, thinking, “That’s weird”.

Some people walk by me with beers so I wait to see what happens. They get turned around and told it’s an offence. They all got two beers each. So now everyone is standing around in the foyer area drinking their beers and I’m very thankful I only got one. More and more people buy beers and get turned around. It’s like a comedy, remembering England are playing Austria which is a big beer-drinking nation. And there’s a lot of people buying two and clearly no one is mentioning it at the bar.

I finally finish my giant beer and go into the stadium proper. It’s magnificent. Proper rectangle stadium with grass-like carpet. Every seat is a good one but mine are particularly good. I’m in row QQ which I thought might be far back but it’s right near the entrance and only about ten rows from the pitch at the top of the box. Perfect and just where I like to sit. I’ve bought two tickets and couldn’t find anyone to take the other ticket after my partner couldn’t come so I’ve got plenty of room as I’m also at the end of a row. I don’t need to ask anyone to get up and can get to the loos and kiosk quickly and easily.

The crowds are pouring in and I’m pretty close to the Austrian supporters. Given the tickets were a ballot and I had no choice in seat selection, I’m very happy. People dressed in white come onto the pitch for the opening ceremony and they all get given flags or hold a big circle of material. Just before it’s about to start and after the team warmups they head onto the field. They start their routines as the players come onto the field and line up for the national anthems.

Above: A smoke-filled Old Trafford ahead of kick-off. Photo: Kris Goman.

On each seat in the Alex Ferguson stand is a bit of coloured plastic for us to hold up just before the national anthems to obviously form a graphic of some sort. Fireworks start going off as well as flame throwers. The fireworks cause a fair bit of smoke. In fact, they cause so much smoke, at one stage it’s hard to see the field. Not sure they did a dress rehearsal of this part. It’s actually hilarious as we now can’t see the other side of the pitch, the performers, or the teams. We hold up the plastic bits but I’m genuinely not sure if the cameras can even see the stand, let alone the image we are making. Being part of it means you have no idea what it looks like. I’m going to have to watch a replay to check it out.  Eventually, the smoke clears, the anthems play and the starting whistle goes.

It starts out quite frantic and Austria get an early attack in before England settle in and take ownership of the game. The Beth Mead goal sees the stadium erupt and the euphoria is tangible. First goal of the Euros and turns out the match-winning, three-point scoring goal too. It’s up my end so I get to see all the celebrations. Lauren Hemp is also on my side in the first half so I get to witness her runs up close and personal. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve seen all these players, except Rachel Daly, play live and it’s thrilling after watching so many hours on TV and on my phone.

Above: Austria players thank their fans after the match. Photo: Kris Goman.

The match ends with jubilation for the English fans, which includes me. Players from both teams do a lap of the field but aren’t signing autographs, unfortunately. The Austrian players spend quite a bit of time in my corner with the Austrian supporters who’ve been vocal throughout the match despite being outnumbered significantly. But it’s been a great atmosphere and very friendly crowd with no ill will either way. And that’s what I love about women’s football. There’s a genuine comradery regardless of who you go for and you never feel unsafe or threatened.

The walk back to the tram station is a long slow one as nearly 69 thousand people disgorge. But it’s well organised and we all get to where we’re going eventually.
It was a great start to this tournament and bodes well for the progress of the English team in front of their home supporters. 17 matches to go for me.  

A Winning Start

by Darrell Allen

As far as tournament openers go that was a job very well done by England. Three points, a clean sheet, and success against a very hard-working Austria side who were set up to frustrate and spoil the opening night party. 

They didn’t succeed and this was a vital win for Sarina Weigman and her team to shape their destiny with three points to start their home Euros the right way and live up to their Group A favourites tag.

With the opening night assignment dealt with successfully hope will be confidence and momentum now grows and England can go all the way in this tournament. 

IT’S AN ARSENAL AFFAIR 

Above: Beth Mead celebrates her goal. Photo: Lionesses.

Beth Mead the Arsenal forward who was the hero. She scored the opening night’s only goal to make it 15 in 15 for herself when she picked up Fran Kirby’s perfect ball, controlled beautifully, and finished well over club teammate Manuela Zinsberger. VAR subsequently confirmed the ball had crossed the line to the relief of Mead, the record crowd for a European Championship match of 68,871 and the 3.9 million watching on BBC One. 

MAGIC MILLIE

The player of the match for me was magic Millie Bright of Chelsea. Last night she was on the finest of form.

After Leah Williamson got away with a sloppy pass early on in the game, Bright seemed to take ownership of the back line with her calm but authorative way to ensure there was no repeat.

England settled after the goal and Bright with Williamson alongside was an absolute rock in ensuring Austria only huffed and puffed but couldn’t blow the England House down. 

The Chelsea star didn’t do anything wrong all evening with vital blocks and headers made on the limited occasions when Austria did get the ball in the box.

The Bright and Williamson partnership being on song will be critical if the trophy is to be won on 31st July.

A SAFE PAIR OF HANDS 

Above: Mary Earps – a safe pair of hands for England. Photo: Alamy.

Mary Earps loved the opening night in the city where she plays her domestic football for Manchester United. The beaming smile in the build-up and as the teams took to the field just emphasised this.

The defence kept her relatively well protected but Earps was required late on to superbly deny Barbara Dunst an equaliser. 

HOME PRESSURE HANDLED WELL

An expectant crowd but a supportive crowd was in attendance on the night as a strong 68,871 was in attendance to get the tournament underway. 

Austria started as the better side and there were nerves early on but the crowd roared them through the difficult moments. Once Mead opened the scoring, there looked little to worry about as despite not finding a second goal the night was dealt with in a calm and mature way.

The crowd would have liked a second goal and that will inevitably be required in greater tests to come but this is tournament football and it’s about winning games and this was the perfect way to start.

I said in my previously published preview that If England got through the opening night unscathed they would go on to win it and that’s part one done. 

England won’t play in front of a crowd of that size again until the final at the earliest so they have proved already pressure can be dealt with ahead of matches in smaller stadia to come.

NEXT UP NORWAY

Focus now switches to the second group game on Monday night when England face Norway at the American Express Community Stadium in Brighton. 

The task against Norway promises to be the greatest assignment of the group stage on paper as they boast an array of talent including former Ballon D’or winner and Olympique Lyonnais striker Ada Hegerberg.

However, with Weigman’s philosophy and the extra day recovery between the opening night and Norway only playing 24 hours later against Northern Ireland, the odds will once again be in England’s favour, and there is no reason why they can’t get another three points on the board.

PLAYER IN FOCUS – FRAN KIRBY

After the recent few months that Fran Kirby has had, it was wonderful to see her start this opening night assignment against Austria and she well and truly justified Sarina Wiegman’s decision to take her to the tournament. 

The Chelsea hero lit up this game for the 64 minutes she was on the pitch to the joy of the Old Trafford crowd. 

Kirby’s highlight was when she displayed technical genius to pick out Beth Mead with a superb diagonal pass which found Mead who finished to get the game’s opening goal.

The hope will be for the nation that this form continues up to and including that 31st July date at Wembley Stadium. 

Above: The England team that started the game against Austria last night. Photo: Lionesses.

Teams: ENGLAND (4-2-3-1): Earps, Bronze, Bright, Williamson, Daly, Stanway, Walsh, Mead, Kirby, Hemp. Subs used: Kelly, Toone, Russo.

Scorer: Mead 16′.

AUSTRIA (4-1-4-1): Zinsberger, Weinroither, Wenninger, Schnaderbeck, Hanshaw, Puntigam, Dunst, Zadrazil, Feiersinger, Naschenweng, Biller. Subs used: Georgieva, Höbinger, Hickelsberger-Füller.

Referee: Marta Huerta de Aza.

Attendance: 68,871.

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