For the past few weeks a nation has been gripped by the performance, heart and determination of an England squad, who not only performed at a World Cup tournament, but excelled.
The England Lionesses made history claiming bronze at a tournament in which they overcame the hosts Canada, beat the Germans (courtesy of a penalty by Fara Williams) and out played the reigning champions, Japan.
With players such as Lucy Bronze, Karen Carney and Toni Duggan becoming household names overnight, the England squad not only made history, they reignited pride and passion for football fans across the country and proved once and for all – we can play.
Gillingham Ladies manager Jack Wheeler believes the women’s game is in its strongest position ever.
“It’s been a pleasure to watch England play in this World Cup. The management, staff and squad have demonstrated how far the women’s game in this country has come. After the Olympics there was a window of opportunity to promote and galvanise women’s football. The team’s record breaking achievement is reward for a lot of work from grass roots to elite level.”
England’s route to the third place play off against rivals Germany presented a display of all the highs and lows of the game. With England just seconds from taking the Japanese to extra time in the semi-final, Wheeler reflected on the tournament as a whole.
“After the opening group game loss to France, questions were asked of Mark Sampson and his squad. Their performances and application from that point illustrated the depth in quality and talent within our elite set up. The team had to perform in some hostile environments and to beat Canada on their own turf was a real highlight. To go on and be the highest placed European team is an achievement to be proud of.”
“The fact so many people were enraged when we conceded a penalty against Japan, delighted when we had a slice of luck to bring it back and devastated when Laura Bassett scored what will be forever engrained in our football history as the unluckiest own goal of all time, is testament to how far we’ve come – there’s no stopping women’s football now!”
Now the players have returned to a heroes welcome back in England, Wheeler firmly believes more positives will follow.
“The development of our domestic pyramid has led to improvements for our national team. I hope and believe The FA will continue to invest and improve our league structure so we can develop talented players to become the next Steph Houghton, Casey Stoney and so on.”
“At Gillingham FC we’re lucky our men’s club have supported us for the last couple of seasons and see us as part of their future going forward. As the leading team in Kent, there is certainly a responsibility on us to keep driving forward the game in this county.”
“Our players have proven to be inspirational at a local level and that’s reflected in the highest number of players wanting to join our Centre of Excellence this summer. The numbers are rising rapidly and the standard of talent is noticeably increasing. That’s fantastic news for us as we continue to build the club to reach its goal of playing in the FA WSL.”
“We hope the positive impact of the Lionesses performance over the past few weeks will filter down to clubs like us, where more football fans are encouraged to go along and watch their local women’s team. Women’s football no longer lives in the shadow of the men’s team; rightly so, it now has a properly established platform of its own.”
The excitement around the women’s game in England currently, coincides with a pre-season buzz around Priestfield, as Wheeler and joint manager Darren Hare prepare the Gills Ladies squad for the upcoming season.
Wheeler said; “I’ve loved every minute of being back at the club. Working with Darren and within the structure at the club is brilliant. The club has managed to attract and retain some really talented, hard working players who want to improve and be successful for the football club.”
“We’re working the girls hard on the training ground and in the gym as we look to be sharp and focused ahead of our pre-season fixture schedule. There’s a great atmosphere around the club as a whole at the moment and I’m looking forward to the Lionesses’ inspiring us to some success this year.”
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