Brave Lionesses have inspired a new generation… when I captained England we had to pay to play and washed our own kits


IT is hard to believe how much the Lionesses have lifted the game of football in this country.

When I captained England to victory in an unofficial world cup in Italy in 1985 the Women’s Football Association couldn’t even afford to pay for a replica of the trophy for each of us.

AlamyThe Lionesses have lifted the game of football in England[/caption]

GettyMaya Jama watches the team at Victoria Park[/caption]

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hits the bar for the match

A decade earlier females were still banned from playing the beautiful game on affiliated grounds.

Today, thanks to our team of heroes, the whole of the nation has got behind these inspirational young women.

It is their brave performances on the field and dignified spirit off it that has raised the sport so far.

Not only did manager Sarina Wiegman’s side become European champions last summer, they went onto become the first England women’s team to reach a World Cup final.

At the final whistle the Lionesses slumped to the ground, heads in hands and teary eyed.

Their sense of devastation is understandable, because they have given so much to reach the pinnacle of the game.

But they should leave Australia with their heads held high.

The women got kicked and got back up again, there was no rolling about.

Our defender Alex Greenwood took a nasty cut over her eye and played on with her head bandaged.

It was all genuine effort.

Our goalkeeper Mary Earps was distraught at the end, but she was a real hero making save after save.

Stopping that penalty gave us hope right up until the end.

And the superb goals scored earlier in the tournament will live long in the memory of fans.

It will inspire a generation of young talent.

At school I was only able to get a kickabout at lunch time with the boys, because during PE lessons it was hockey or netball for the girls.

When I started playing the beautiful game as an adult, the Football Association still banned females from competing on affiliated football grounds.

We could only kick-off in parks or on work’s team pitches.

It cost me money to represent my country when I was first selected to play for England in 1974.

We had to wash our kits and pay for our travel to the airport.

The first official tournament was the UEFA championship from 1982 to 1984, which saw us get to the final against Sweden.

I felt the taste of defeat then, losing over two legs on penalties.

But I felt proud picking up my runners-up medals and so should the Lionesses.

We went one better when we took part in the Mundialito – which translates as ‘little world cup.’

In 1985 I captained the side that played four times in seven days, going on to beat the hosts Italy in the final 3-1 in a tournament not recognised by FIFA.

Just to represent your country is such an honour, but to lead England to victory is incredible.

Rather than the 80,000 capacity stadium in Australia that Sarina’s team played in, it was a small ground without stands on most sides.

We came home and I disappeared back to my job in the office at Northern Dairies in Hull without any fanfare at all.

That is what is so wonderful about this World Cup.

They have rightly been congratulated by the Prime Minister and King Charles and should return to a heroes welcome.

Spain played really well, pressuring the Lionesses and not giving them any time on the ball.

They didn’t allow us to get into our usual rhythm and England were unable to reach tip top form.

There is no doubting the dedication and effort of the Lionesses, though.

England have not complained about going from the Euros last summer to the World Cup a year later, or about the injuries to key players or jet lag.

We have got used to winning, with this defeat to Spain being only Sarina’s second ever defeat as manager of England.

It is going to be tough to get over the hurt of losing a World Cup final, but Sarina and her staff will be able to pick them up.

There are lots of young players in this team and they will have another opportunity to lift the World Cup.

The Lionesses have proved that for the women’s game there are no limits to what they can achieve.

EPAProud Lioness fans sport their hats outside the Oz stadium[/caption]

ReutersThey think it’s all agony as the final whistle is blown and fans are in tears[/caption]

Carol Thomas, centre, is a former England Women’s CaptainRex

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