The England team ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in Australia and New Zealand. Image: VINCE MIGNOTT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Fara Williams, England’s most capped footballer, has said that more needs to be done to ensure the rewards from the Lionesses recent success improves the domestic game.
Williams played for England from the age of 17, winning 172 caps (plus five for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics) over the next 19 years and scoring 40 goals – including the extra-time winner against Germany that secured third place for the Lionesses at the 2015 World Cup.
In a new interview for The Big Issue, Williams talked about how her impossible childhood dream of becoming a professional footballer came true and reflected on the years she spent homeless and living in hostels during the start of her England career.
Just because the Lionesses are comfortable, that doesn’t mean the whole of the women’s game is
With focus on the women’s game at an all-time high as the World Cup begins in Australia and New Zealand, Williams also considered the surging popularity of the women’s game.
“All I ever wanted to do was play football. But I thought my love of football would lead me nowhere,” she said. “I knew I was never going to be a footballer because I’m not a boy. That’s how it felt. So my teenage self would be so excited by where the women’s game is now.
“For me to think of being a professional footballer was crazy. So I’m excited for the future generation that they have those opportunities to dream. And for those dreams to be realities.”
Williams retired from playing at the end of the 2020-21 season after an illustrious career, in which she played for her beloved Chelsea, Charlton Athletic, Everton, Liverpool and Reading and won every major domestic trophy.
While the domestic game is stronger than ever, and the Lionesses recent success has won new fans, Williams said the women’s game still has a long way to go.
“They’re in a good position now. Certainly at the top of the game, financially, players are in a much more stable position. But outside of that top six certainly needs improving. Our championship needs to go full time in order to keep the game progressing.
“So as much as the Lionesses are in a really comfortable position, I’m also aware that just because the Lionesses are comfortable, that doesn’t mean the whole of the women’s game is. They are doing fantastic in terms of the success they’ve had and the financial rewards come with that. But they’re only a small, small, small percentage of the game reaping the rewards of their achievements. So there’s a lot to be done still.
“But if I was 17 now, just joining the game, I’d be absolutely buzzing to think about what can come from it and how far we can go. The fact that young girls can also dream of being a professional footballer now and it’s not just for the boys is brilliant.”
The goalscoring midfielder is one of the key players who helped the women’s game reach new levels. Little wonder that England superstars Jill Scott and Lucy Bronze ran straight over to celebrate with their former teammate when they beat Germany 2-1 in front of 87,192 fans at Wembley to win the Euros in 2022.
These days, Williams is a key part of the BBC’s squad. An obsessive student of the game from her early days playing in the football cages on her local estate, she brings deep knowledge to her punditry.
“Lucky, lucky me, right? That’s what I say,” she said.
“I never thought I’d be a professional footballer. And no way did I ever think I’d be a football pundit. I don’t remember seeing females as football pundits when I played.
“So to even consider that as an option shows the way the game has shifted and the way opportunities have opened up for women. I was lucky at the end of my career that the BBC gave me the opportunity to talk about the game that I love. I’ve always treated it as though I’m coaching, which is what I thought I’d be doing.”
England’s campaign kicks off on Saturday (22 July) against Haiti in Brisbane, before taking on Denmark and China in Group D.
“The fact that women’s football is broadcast now across the BBC is vital. Visibility is so important in terms of women’s sport. We’ve shown over the last two years that there’s really an appetite for it.
“There are also brands on board now that are prepared to sponsor the women’s game, which is really important. And it really helps when the Lionesses are winning games and winning European Championships. There is huge interest and buzz building now.”
So does that mean Williams is backing England to add the World Cup to their 2022 Euros triumph?
“You know what? I’d love to say England,” she said. “But I don’t believe they are going to win. Who’s gonna win the World Cup? Probably Germany. Sorry!”
Fara Williams is part of BBC Sport’s FIFA Women’s World Cup coverage across BBC television, iPlayer & Sounds
Read the full Letter To My Younger Self interview with Fara Williams – including how football kept her going when she was living in hostels, and joining Prince William’s project to end homelessness – in The Big Issue magazine on sale from 31 July.
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