Rachel Yankey smiles next to the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 trophy.

‘Normalise women’s football’, says ex-England player Rachel Yankey ahead of Women’s Euro 2022 final

Former England player Rachel Yankey, OBE, launched the Women’s Euro 2022 trophy presentation in Southwark before England faces Germany at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Amid the buzz at the George pub, Rachel Yankey grinned next to the beaming UEFA Women’s Euro trophy, brushing off calls to give it a kiss, instead preferring to keep her cool.

Yankey showed her collectedness when asked about her performance as an England player on the world-stage, having represented England on 129 occasions, and Team GB in the 2012 Olympics.

“You enjoy the moment, but once you’re on the pitch and the game starts, you’re fully focused on your game and what you’re doing.”

Yankey, 42, will be supporting from the stadium stands on Sunday along with a record crowd of almost 90,000 fans – of which a minority will be cheering for Germany, as the two teams face off in what will be a blockbuster match on home soil.

Yankey told SE Londoner: “At Wembley, the team will want to go out and shine. They’ll want to give the fans a spectacle that hopefully they won’t forget.”

Akin to Wembley-goes, pubs and clubs up and down the country will be alight with anticipation during the televised match.

But wide-reaching media coverage and support for women’s football has only accelerated in recent years.

Yankey said: “Being in an environment where you can watch a game of football with your mates, just like you would with a men’s game – that to me is what’s changed about this tournament and women’s football, and hopefully will continue in the future.

“If you can normalise it, the same way we view men’s football, people won’t have the bias.”

Yankey said she hopes future generations will grow up in a culture equally enriched by women’s and men’s football, and emphasised the importance of big brands investing in the Women’s Super League if it is to maintain this level of momentum.

Starting out playing for a boys’ team in her youth, Yankey notes the extent to which women’s football has progressed. From its ban by the FA between 1921-1971, to the lack of exposure, resources and funding compared to that of men’s football, it has come long way.

Greater still, England’s stellar run in this year’s tournament has ignited a fervour for women’s football that is near impossible to ignore, culminating in a spectacular 4-0 victory over Sweden in Tuesday’s semi-final at Bramall Lane.

If the Lionesses win on Sunday, it would counter the 6-2 defeat they suffered against Germany in the 2009 Women’s Euro final. 

Not being selected for the 2009 squad represented a setback in Yankey’s career, she said, which she overcame by knowing who she was and believing in her abilities.

“There was a lot said about me at the time, but I knew that I trained hard. I knew I was in a really good place. It proved it for me with the season I had with Arsenal.”

Arsenal Ladies voted Yankey as player’s player that season. Two years prior, the team celebrated a coveted quadruple win.

As well as the players in this year’s tournament, Yankey credited those that have worked tirelessly to get women’s football to where it is today, laying the path for younger generations to follow.

Yankey said: “This is a big moment for everyone. We need to acknowledge that for different people it will bring different emotions.

“We all knew that getting to a final would break down barriers if you win, it would open up doors and opportunities for other people.

“Unfortunately, we never got to do it. This crop of players have got the opportunity to. Fingers crossed they can do it.”

Sunday at Wembley may well see England triumph, but irrespective of who takes home the trophy, the resounding support from fans and players seen in this tournament is a victory in itself for women’s football.

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