Losing a third successive semi-final suggests there has been no progress for the women’s national team. But nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, in pure tournament terms the Lionesses have come up short again and that needs addressing but the impact they’ve made during this World Cup, far surpasses anything they’ve managed before.
Aided by free-to-air coverage, which has attracted record television audiences in the UK (11 million plus watching last night’s match would have been unthinkable a few years ago) they have raised the profile of women’s football and women’s sport too. Watching the women’s game seems normal now, not a curiosity. This has not always been the case.
- FA's head of women's football, Baroness Sue Campbell, said she was "proud" of England's performance, along with their behaviour on and off the pitch during their World Cup campaign
The Lionesses have been the top story on network news bulletins and filled acres of space in newspapers. This has not always been the case.
What’s more once the tournament was underway this coverage addressed football alone, tactics, team selection relative skills and limitations; it was all about the football. This has not always been the case.
If they weren’t household names before Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze and Ellen White certainly are now, they have given the game in England a whole new profile and now it is up to those who run it to capitalise on that.
There will be two direct consequences of what the Lionesses have achieved in France and both need to be exploited. It is impossible to quantify right now of course but it is inevitable that participation in girl’s football will rise. Amateur clubs need to be given support, advice and even cash to accommodate this, to ensure the interest is maintained. The ambition must be a lasting legacy not temporary spike.
- Baroness Sue Cambell on USA striker Alex Morgan's "tea drinking" celebration against England
There is also likely to be a new fascination with the women’s professional game in England. A chance to see many of the Lionesses in action week in week out in the Super League will be irresistible to many converts. Here lies another opportunity and again, it’s all about turning the interest into something that sticks.
How do you persuade the new fans going through the turn-styles that they should come back for every game of the season and beyond? That is one challenge.
Another should be more straight forward and that is attracting new sponsors to the game or getting current ones to inflate their commitment. What about new TV deals and other creative ideas to package the game, like two games on one day at one of the ‘Big Club’ stadia?
Will the Premier League, and its unrivalled marketing machine, finally take over the Women’s Super League as has been mooted for some time now?
The women’s game in America passed this point along time ago. So much so that Nike announced this week the American women’s team shirt was the best-selling piece of football clothing of all time. Men’s or women’s.
England is a long, long way from here but it must be an ambition. The FA has already sold 20 thousand plus tickets for the Lionesses match against Germany in November. It must push to smash the current record crowd for a women’s international involving England of 54 thousand.
By then we’ll have a much clearer picture of how high the game has managed to launch itself, propelled by the spring-board built by the Lionesses over the past month in France.
Also by then, Phil Neville will have had a little more time to turn his squad from perennial bridesmaids into a side that when they next meet the American’s will make last night’s goal match winner Alex Morgan choke on her imaginary cup of tea.