‘It’s only going upwards’: Gabby Logan on the Lionesses and the rise of women’s football

Sport

It wasn’t until Alessia Russo’s already legendary back heel third goal during England’s 4-0 semi-final defeat of Sweden on Tuesday that Gabby Logan dared to believe “we’ve got a final on our hands”.

The presenter, the BBC’s face of Euro 2022, told the Observer she believes Sunday’s final at Wembley could be a “hockey-stick moment” for the evolution of women’s football in England.

“In terms of records being smashed, from attendances in the grounds to the amount of eyeballs on the games to the participation at grassroots, everything is going up. So, if you’re looking at it as a graph, it’s only going upwards and it feels like, as they say in business speak, it could be a hockey stick moment.”

Not a single match has been “uncontested or dull”, she said, including when England beat former European champions Norway 8-0, describing the match as “incredible”.

During England’s 4-0 semi-final defeat of Sweden on Tuesday, it wasn’t until Alessia Russo’s already legendary back heel third goal that Logan dared to believe “we’ve got a final on our hands”.

After the fourth goal, the overriding emotion in the studio, where she watched with co-hosts Alex Scott and Ian Wright, was one of “complete disbelief”. “I actually couldn’t quite comprehend the scale of what they’d just done,” she said. “Because Sweden had never conceded more than two goals in a European championship going back to 1984, when they first won it.”

For Logan, 49, football has always been an integral part of her life. Her father, Terry Yorath, played for Leeds United, Coventry City and Tottenham Hotspur, and represented Wales both as a player and manager. But the women’s game is about far more than “just kicking a football on a pitch,” she said.

As the most high profile of women’s sports in England, and the fastest growing, she said the potential of women’s football is “enormous”. “For me, it’s about the possibilities in women’s sport, and also within the world and society, and how we are treated and how society reflects its values.”

Having a double female commentary team for England games has helped ensure that the broadcasts are “not just a shop window for a few women playing football,” she said. “This is about reflecting society. And that bleeds down to all areas of what we’re doing. So that has been another shift in the alchemy of the success of the tournament.”

Many women in football have not had the opportunity to grow their careers until recently, she said, meaning they have had to get up to speed very fast. “But they’re doing brilliantly and there are more opportunities out there for them now than ever before because there are more platforms, more interest, more female football writers.”

But on the pitch, representation issues loom large for England and its stark lack of racial diversity. Following England’s match against Norway, BBC presenter Eilidh Barbour said: “All starting 11 players and the five substitutes that came on to the pitch were white. And that does point towards a lack of diversity in the women’s game in England.”

While Logan said that, in the past, England has had many black players and a black manager – Hope Powell was the first black and female coach of an England side – “in this current starting 11 that isn’t the case”.

The problem lies, she said, with the development of academies, which she said have “squeezed out” some children, who may previously have been scouted like her co-host and former England defender Scott was, playing in a football cage in Tower Hamlets. “What the academies have got to be mindful of is that they are not just taking in kids who turn up and they are making sure that kids with talent, who can’t get to academies for whatever reason, are not excluded.”

The reason this does not happen in the men’s game, she added, is because young boys are viewed as “very valuable commodities” which means academies do what it takes to find the most talented boys to train with them.

The FA’s appointment of Dutch former player and manager Sarina Wiegman, who started as England manager last September, was “genius”, said Logan, describing her as “an extraordinary leader”. She said Wiegman, who led the Netherlands to victory at the 2017 Euros, “didn’t need to prove herself to those players, they knew she was absolutely the best in the business”.

“She’s clearly somebody with a high EQ [emotional quotient], and yet she doesn’t let sentimentality or nostalgia get in the way of those decisions.”

Reaching the final opens the door to more sponsorship and brand involvement for the Lionesses and she hopes it will lead to greater support for the WSL and women’s clubs. The success of the tournament will make it a “blueprint” for other sports. “Hopefully a record attendance, record TV audience, it just all keeps on [with] that growth,” she said. “And those Lionesses who have worked so hard, and those who have blazed the trail before them as well, the pioneers of the sport. It will be, I imagine, very emotional actually.”