This was no easy win and there’s still a long way to go

Former Tribune sports editor Catherine Etoe reflects on an incredible journey

Friday, 5th August — By Catherine Etoe

Catherine Etoe

Catherine Etoe

IF Wembley Stadium had a roof, it would have been raised to the heavens on Sunday as a packed house roared England on to the most precious of victories in the final of Euro 2022 against Germany.

And as thousands crooned “Sweet Caroline” and the players danced around the pitch, hugging and crying in turn, it took every ounce of self-control not to sit down in my press seat and weep.

It is 21 years since our late editor Eric Gordon encouraged me to travel to Germany for my first European Championship.

“Why not just go?” he said as I stood in his office mulling over my options.

One hastily penned fax to UEFA later, I was on my way.

There was no glory attached to covering England in those days.

They were but a minnow in a sea of European giants, the players still working full-time, and manager Hope Powell spending her days fighting the FA suits for scraps.

Journalists fared little better, a minuscule press pack battling for space in a world dominated by men’s football. Yet I always knew my reports would have a place in this newspaper.

In fact, there was space for women’s football here before I was sent by Eric to cover my first Arsenal match in 1999, but I was given free rein to up the ante. It may have seemed bizarre to some – a local paper giving airtime to an England football team that so few people knew or even cared about.

But this wasn’t self-indulgence. Our paper has never followed the pack when it comes to sport and we knew that women’s football had value to our readers and deserved its platform. It was just that nobody else had realised it yet.

They all realise it now, of course, now that a fully professional England side packed with flair and character have sparkled in a home Euros to become the darlings of the nation and newsworthy subjects for the national press.

This England’s achievement means something to me, too, and I felt the breath pull out of my lungs and sobbed openly as I watched thousands throng along Wembley Way to support them on Sunday.

I’m so happy we have come to this, but it has been no easy win. The 1921 ban on women playing football on FA grounds lasted 50 years, set our sport back decades, and there is still a long way to go.

But for now, we can look back on a tournament well played. Football came home this week, we are told.

I’m proud to say women’s football has always had one at this newspaper.

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