Yankey: ‘This may change the whole of female sport’

Thursday, 4th August — By Catherine Etoe

Rachel Yankey

Rachel Yankey

EURO 2022 was a groundbreaking tournament for England, but it was a world away from 2001 when a side coached by Hope Powell lost to Germany on their way to a group stage exit.

This newspaper reported on that tournament and the contribution of England’s three Arsenal players.

But 21 years ago, we were in the minority and, in truth, Euro 2001 barely registered in the national consciousness.

Former Hampstead School pupil Rachel Yankey was in the squad out in Germany that summer. And the ex-England and Arsenal winger, who won 129 caps for her country, says the youthfulness of the two sides is their only similarity.

“The two worlds are totally different in terms of resources, the opportunity, the kit, the way [women’s football] is viewed,” she said.

“I’ll always credit Hope because of the battles she must have gone through at the FA, saying we need more funding to push it and drive it here.

“People didn’t really care, let’s be honest, so I think what we did, it was all leading to this day. It would’ve been nice to get here a bit quicker, but it shows where we’re at.

“Hopefully this is a moment where it will really change for the whole of female sport and women will be as valued as much as male sports stars.

“If we can make sure that happens then that’s a massive improvement.”

Yankey, who lit up pitches herself in her heyday with fast and skilful wing play, believes England now has the players to hold the nation’s interest.

And she hailed former teammate Chloe Kelly, 24 – scorer of England’s winning goal in the Euros final – who was just a teenager when she signed for Arsenal in 2015, leaving two years later to seek first-team chances.

“You could see then she was so talented on the ball,” said Yankey. “She could quite easily have stayed at Arsenal, but she wanted first-team football, she wanted to push herself.

“So fair play to her, she followed her desire to want to start, and look where it’s taken her.

“You need these kinds of players in women’s football. They will get the fans coming back and off their feet and cheering – Chloe, Lauren Hemp, they’re exciting.”

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