Hope Powell takes her England squad to the women’s European Championship in Sweden next month knowing that the gap between Europe’s top nations is starting to close. England are not favourites for Euro 2013, but Powell – who announced her squad of 23 on Monday - is confident that she is dragging the women’s game in the right direction.
The favourites, as ever, are France – England’s third Group C opponent - Germany and Sweden. Women’s football, in all of those countries, far exceeds the coverage, resources and infrastructure it has in England. But Powell believes things are starting to change.
“They weren’t always where they are,” Powell said of Germany. “Remember that 20 years ago they were in the same position we were 10 years ago. We recognise it does take time. They have invested, but the FA has invested too – arguably it could be more, but it is what it is.”
“We have made strides forward. It is challenging, we recognise that men’s football is all-consuming. But we are moving in the right direction. Germany didn’t happen overnight.”
Powell sees fighting for change as part of her role. “The players keep you motivated but so does the game as a whole in England. I think we’re that close, there’s still a lot of work to do, but more importantly lower down in the grass-roots. So I’m working across the board, my main job is the senior team but I’m pretty hands-on.”
“Yes we can argue about money, and I am the biggest critic. Part of my responsibility is to get more for the girls. I’m not saying it’s easy. 15 years ago when I was a player I slept on the gym floor before international matches. So it’s better than it was. Do we want to be better? Of course we do.”
Increased media coverage is one of the signs that women’s football is progressing, and Powell was delighted that the BBC will be covering Euro 2013.
“It’s absolutely fantastic for us that the BBC are taking it on board. The girls embrace that, I think they play better knowing there’s an audience, which will help them and help their performance. And the fact that it’s terrestrial television, the fact that it is accessible to more people, hopefully they will get behind it. Women’s football is a good product and worthy of their support.”
Powell has included veterans Casey Stoney, Rachel Yankey and Kelly Smith as well as uncapped Gemma Bonner and Lucy Bronze.
“It will be difficult,” Powell admitted, “France are the favourites, Spain are very, very gifted and Russia are a tournament team. We want to win every match we play, but the priority is we get out of our group.”