The biggest football tournament England has hosted in over a quarter of a century kicks off in twenty days' time, and this July will be dominated by images of some of the world’s greatest sportswomen competing for the title of European Football Champions in packed-out stadiums up and down this land.
Sunderland AFC’s alumni will take centre stage for our national team, with four senior members of the squad having come through the ranks at our club over the past two decades. As will be the case when Jordan Pickford and Jordan Henderson line up for the Three Lions in Qatar in November and December, these former Lasses will no doubt make us proud and capture the imaginations of the football-loving people of Wearside.
Jill Scott, Demi Stokes, Lucy Bronze and, of course, Beth Mead will need no introduction to many people in the north east - they’re some of the biggest names in the game, reaching levels of fame that many would have considered unthinkable for female footballers only a few years ago.
The 2019 World Cup in France was a turning point for the Lionesses' exposure to the limelight, over eleven million people in the UK tuned in to watch them valiantly take on the mighty USA and almost come away victorious.
Since then, the WSL has gone from strength to strength with the TV deal with Sky and the BBC resulting in a 300% increase in viewers this season. And, as Roker Report readers will know, Sunderland are on their way to recovering their place in the upper echelons of the game that was cruelly taken away because of Martin Bain and Ellis Short’s abandonment of the side in 2017-18.
Sarina Wiegman’s squad announcement yesterday afternoon was preceded by a flurry of speculation and hot takes from women’s football fans and pundits wondering if Durham-born former Lasses defender Steph Houghton would make the cut for the final 23-player squad.
She was, until recently, the national team captain and one of the most experienced campaigners in the country, but an achilles injury picked up playing for Manchester City in January meant that, for many observers, she was a surprise inclusion in the provisional squad.
Despite having done everything asked of her by Wiegman in trying to get back up to speed, she will have to sit out this summer’s action, and the in-form Arsenal centre-back Lotte Wubben-Moy and Chelsea’s Jess Carter have overtaken her in the pecking order.
Another former Sunderland star, Lucy Staniforth of Manchester United, was also disappointed by the announcements, with the reinvigoration of the uniquely gifted Fran Kirby - once the scourge of Wearside in our WSL days - probably decisive in that choice.
Hartlepool-born Jordan Nobbs would also have been in the running for that same attacking midfield slot had she not picked up a knee injury late in Arsenal’s season, meaning yet again she’s not able to show her world-class skills off on the biggest stage.
There can be no argument with the inclusion of the prolific Beth Mead. We’ve been running out of superlatives to describe the former Sunderland forward’s form for Arsenal, who has taken the disappointment of missing out on the Team GB Olympic squad and turned it into arguably her best form since she left Eppleton in 2017. She’s now the complete modern footballer - powerful in the press, lethal in front of goal, as happy assisting as she is scoring.
It is undoubtedly the case that players from the Champions League sides - Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City - dominate the selections. South Shield lass Demi Stokes, the latest former Sunderland footballer to be depicted in a Frank Styles mural, retains her place alongside the experienced north eastern duo recently released from the Etihad Campus - Lucy Bronze and Jill Scott.
This has caused a great deal of debate within the women’s football community, with everyone making the case for the inclusion of their own favourite players from the likes of challenger clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton.
International tournament experience, and experience playing against the best players in France, Spain and Germany in club football, seems to have won the day in terms of squad selections, with some in-form players from lower-ranked WSL sides missing.
This is no bad thing, in my opinion. The family-like nature of the Lionesses squad is extraordinarily valuable, the fact that Stokes and Scott, for example, are best mates and have known one another for decades on and off the pitch is important.
In those moments in big games, in front of 80,000 at Old Trafford or - if all goes well - 90,000 at Wembley in the Final, it’s those relationships and that deep understanding that could be the difference between winning and losing.
Scott in particular will be hoping to go out on a high. Although it’s not something she’s mentioned publicly, at 35 this is surely the midfielder’s last big tournament for the Lionesses. The most capped footballer from our city of all time, and someone honoured by the club that raised her in 2020, she is the defining character of the last 15 years of English women’s football.
The rangy playmaker sits at the centre of everything the squad does - literally and metaphorically - an infectious personality whose long career means she’s the one consistent in the squad around whom the rest have assembled. Scott is also a gifted coach whose knowledge of the game will be an invaluable asset to Wiegman even if she may be starting many games from the bench this summer.
If this is to be Crouchy’s goodbye tour before she makes way for the next generation of Lionesses, then I think everyone with a love for football in the city of Sunderland should be with her all the way.
But there’ll certainly be scope for at least one more dance in club football from the coffee-loving girl from Monkwearmouth, though, after two successive loans away from City in the last in two seasons, this is likely to be at a lower level than she’s been used to since leaving Sunderland for Everton back in 2006.
The only disappointment for football in our region is that none of the Euro 2022 games will be played nearby, with Rotherham United’s New York Stadium and Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane being the closest venues to Sunderland. Manchester will be a hub too, with the Academy Stadium, Leigh Sports Village and Old Trafford hosting fixtures.
Our dedicated team of women’s football writers and podcasters, as well as some special guest contributors, will be keeping you up to date with all the latest from the Euros throughout July with special articles on this website, podcasts, and videos on our TikTok and Instagram channels.
The Lionesses warm-up for the tournament with three games in the next two weeks, starting with Belgium at Moleniaux at 8 pm this evening with the game broadcast live on ITV4.