The FA announced on Thursday that the England Women will be playing their forthcoming World Cup Qualifier against Austria at the Stadium Of Light on 27th November, and it’s an important development for the growth of women’s football in the North East of England.
The Lionesses have played in Sunderland once before, in 1995, when they drew 1-1 against Italy. A young Kelly Smith made her England debut that day and, after an excellent career, she went on to become England’s all-time record goalscorer with 46 international goals.
Since then, the Lionesses have only played in the North East twice in 15 years. In 2014, they played in front of a sold-out crowd of 4,547 at Hartlepool United and in 2019 they played in front of another sold-out crowd of 30,178 at the Riverside in Middlesbrough.
It’s well known that Sunderland have had a massive influence in the women’s game. For instance, the 2021 Team GB Olympic Women’s football team featured five former SAFC players; captain Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze (the 2020 Winner of “The Best FIFA Women’s Player”), Jill Scott, Demi Stokes, and Carly Telford.
The 2019 England World Cup squad also featured former club captain, Lucy Staniforth and Sunderland Ladies legend, Beth Mead. Hopefully, it will be an incredible homecoming for those players who came through at the club who are involved.
The Austria game is sure to be an important one for the Lionesses, as they have got off to a perfect start under new head coach Sarina Wiegman. They sit at the top of Group D after picking up an 8-0 win at home to North Macedonia, and a 10-0 away win to Luxembourg.
Austria are currently second in the group, having also had the perfect start with an opening win of 8-1 vs Latvia and a 6-0 win against North Macedonia. This will be a showdown for control of the qualifying group as both sides look to secure a place at the 2023 championships in Australia and New Zealand.
With the exception of Wembley, this will be the biggest stadium the Lionesses have played in for a home World Cup qualifier, and hopefully, the local fans can provide an atmosphere to match. After a difficult couple of years for Sunderland Ladies, this is a massive step forward from both the FA and the club and a chance itself to show how important the growth of women’s football is within the region.
This is an incredible opportunity for absolutely everyone involved, and if done the right way, in could be absolutely massive for Sunderland AFC overall. The club need to work closely with the FA to promote the match within our region, attracting as many families to the ground on the day as possible from the northeast and beyond, and take full advantage of what will hopefully be a big crowd to promote interest in Sunderland Ladies.
We should at least expect to see posters in the concourse advertising the Lasses’ fixtures, as well as fun and engaging content on social media that highlights both club’s contribution to developing the current squad and the fantastic young squad that’s currently doing so well in the FA Women’s Championship under Mel Reay.
With the club’s renewed commitment to supporting the women’s section as an integral part of our future under Kristjaan Speakman’s overall leadership, there’s not been a better time in recent years for this special event to come along.
Hopefully, as a result of this major sporting event coming to the city, we will see an increase in ticket sales for the Sunderland Ladies home games vs Aston Villa (5/12/21) and Liverpool (15/12/21) that follow shortly after the international.