The top ten moments from women’s football in 2023 and 2024

With battles waged both on and off the pitch, it’s been a hard-fought 12 months for women’s football (Picture: EPA/Getty Images/PA)

2023 was described as the ‘golden age’ of women’s football, and it’s only going to shine brighter in the years to come.

Fresh off the back of England’s Euros 2022 success, all eyes turned to Australia and New Zealand last year for a Women’s World Cup like no other. Stadiums sold out across the host nations while millions across the world navigated time differences to watch the games from home.

According to the Women’s Sport Trust, a record 46.7 million people watched women’s sport on television in 2023. Of that, 70% of the content watched was football.

As Metro partners with the Women’s Football Awards – nominations for this year’s ceremony are open now – we look back over some iconic moments which have shaped the women’s game over the last 12 months.

Just Do it! Big miss for Nike after Mary Earps debacle

Mary Earps superfan launches petition to demand Nike sell her shirt

In July 2023, Mary Earps super-fan Emmy kick-started a campaign for Nike to stock her idol’s kit (Picture: Emmy Somauroo/Reuters)

As fans prepared to back the Lionesses in the 2023 Women’s World Cup, they were shocked to discover it was impossible to purchase Mary Earps’ shirt.

Nike had decided to ‘look into’ stocking the goalkeeper’s kit ‘for future tournaments’ instead.

Northamptonshire teenager Emmy Somauroo took matters into her own hands. The 16-year-old launched a David vs Goliath-esque battle to urge Nike to stock Earps’ kit. Soon, the likes of Spice Girl Mel B and ex-England player Rachel Brown-Finnis had backed her calls, along with 172,000 others on change.org.

Nike’s decision was described as ‘hugely hurtful’ by Earps, who offered to pay for the shirts herself.

Eventually, as public pressure became hard to ignore, the sport brand buckled and put Earps’ green long-sleeved Lionesses shirt up for sale.

The first batch – announced in October – sold out in a matter of hours. The second lot – released in December – were gone in minutes.

World comes together to back Spain’s Jenni Hermoso

A protestor holds a sign reading 'it's over' ('se acabo') during a demonstration called by feminist associations in support to Spain's midfielder Jenni Hermoso, on Callao square in Madrid on August 28, 2023. A growing number of voices denounce the Spain's football federation president Luis Rubiales after his forced kiss on Jenni Hermoso's lips at women's World Cup final. Rubiales was provisionally suspended by FIFA for 90 days on August 26, and Spain's prosecutors opened a preliminary sex abuse probe on August 28. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP) (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images)

A woman holds a sign reading ‘it’s over’ (‘se acabo’) in Madrid on August 28, 2023 in a protest held in response to the Rubiales scandal (Picture: Oscar Del Pozo/AFP/Getty Images)

The Lionesses’ World Cup dreams were shattered bafter Olga Carmona’s sublime first-half strike cemented the victory for Spain. It marked the first-ever win for the Spaniards on a global stage.

But their win, in turn, was shattered by the Luis Rubiales controversy when the Spanish FA president kissed Jenni Hermoso during the World Cup presentation ceremony. Calls for his resignation soon followed.

Spain’s women’s team, splintered even before the World Cup due to controversial former manager Jorge Vilda, demanded ‘immediate and profound changes’. Rubiales and Vilda were, eventually, shown the door after widespread outrage and protests.

In her column for Metro, Lucy Bronze had written: ‘Winning the World Cup is a life-changing moment for Jenni but it has been tarnished. 

‘Her life has been changed more by this incident than by lifting the trophy.’

‘That could be me:’ History is made on a global stage

The defender sported the headscarf in Morocco's match against South Korea (Pictures: Getty)

The defender sported the headscarf in Morocco’s World Cup match against South Korea (Pictures: Getty)

Morocco defender Nouhaila Benzina made history as the first player to wear a hijab during a Women’s World Cup match. The 25-year-old helped her side overcome South Korea and became an overnight inspiration to young girls in the process.

FIFA previously had banned players from wearing head covers for religious purposes in matches, citing concerns over player safety. That ban was lifted in 2014.

Assmaah Helal, the Muslim Women in Sports Network co-founder, said Benzina’s ground-breaking moment during the World Cup would address diversity concerns within the women’s game.

She had said: ‘Girls will look at Benzina [and think] ‘that could be me.

‘Also the policymakers, the decision-makers, the administrators will say, ‘we need to do more in our country to create these accepting and open and inclusive spaces for women and girls to participate in the game.”’

It wasn’t just Benzina making history. Morocco became the first Arab or North African nation to reach a Women’s World Cup.

USA legend retires, but football legacy will live on

FILE - Megan Rapinoe waves to fans following the team's international friendly soccer match against Colombia, June 28, 2022, in Sandy, Utah. President Joe Biden will present the nation???s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to 17 people, at the White House next week. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Megan Rapinoe became the fourth player in US football history to reach 200 caps at the 2023 World Cup (Picture: AP)

2023 marked the last year of service for American legend Megan Rapinoe. The 38-year-old’s playing career is interwoven with the growth of women’s football worldwide.

While the USA’s World Cup journey ended with penalty woe in Australia, Rapinoe has a wealth of positive memories to look back on. Among her 63 goals for her country, her most iconic celebration perhaps comes in the 2011 Women’s World Cup.

After scoring in the second half against Columbia, Rapinoe darted to the corner flag where she stumbled upon an unattended TV microphone. She picked it up and belted ‘Born in the USA’ by Bruce Springsteen. 

Since coming out as gay in 2012 – Rapinoe is married to basketball icon Sue Bird – she has been a staunch advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. Rapinoe was also the first white athlete and first female to kneel during the national anthem in solidarity with football player Colin Kaepernick.

‘Megan Rapinoe is one of the most important players in women’s soccer history,” said U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Vlatko Andonovski, adding: ‘She has produced so many memorable moments for her team and the fans on the field that will be remembered for a very long time, but her impact on people as a human being may be even more important.’

Government backs Carney review

Karen Carney's review into women's football sets out a bold vision for the women's game (Picture: James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images)

Karen Carney’s review sets out a bold vision for the women’s game (Picture: James Baylis – AMA/Getty Images)

In July, England legend Karen Carney declared that women’s football could be a ‘billion pound industry’ in the next ten years. The prediction prompted backlash from an array of anonymous social media accounts.

But, with growth at both elite and grassroot levels, it is possible. 

The UK government had commissioned Carney to come up with a series of recommendations that could realistically grow the standards of women’s football in England.

Five months after the former Lioness released her findings, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer confirmed the review had been accepted by the Government.

Carney’s recommendations included the need for clear pathways to lead future Lionesses to greatness, action on the lack of diversity in the women’s game and provision of equal access to school sports for girls.

Football’s governing bodies have been urged to work with broadcasters to create a new dedicated time slot for women’s matches, to avoid clashes with men’s games. 

Beth Mead returns from 330-day-long ACL ordeal

Arsenal FC v Aston Villa - Barclays Women´s Super League

Alessia Russo celebrates her goal with Katie McCabe, Kim Little and Beth Mead on October 15, 2023 (Picture: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Mead’s ACL agony came back in November 2022, in the final minutes of a Women’s Super League (WSL) defeat by Manchester United. Over the next four months, her teammates Vivianne Miedema, Leah Williamson and Laura Wienrother suffered the same fate. 

Mead’s ACL injury ruled her out of the World Cup, and she later told Metro that ‘incredible fans’ had motivated her through recovery and that she was ready to start ‘afresh’.

The 28-year-old’s grand return to Arsenal came in October 2023, when she was substituted on against Aston Villa in the 87th minute. At that point, the teams were tied 1-1. 

Minutes later, in front of a 35,000-strong crowd at the Emirates, Mead swiftly assisted Alessia Russo’s stoppage time winner as Lionesses boss Sarina Wiegman watched on from the stands.

Emma Hayes’s landmark move to the US

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes at Kingsmeadow stadium with Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert (Picture: PA)

Chelsea manager Emma Hayes said it was her ‘dream’ to manage the USA national team (Picture: PA)

Less than two months after Beth Mead celebrated her return to the WSL, Emma Hayes announced her plans to bid adieu to the league. Under her 11-year tenure as Chelsea manager, the club has amassed 13 major trophies. 

In May, after the WSL season comes to a close, Hayes will become the new manager of the United States women’s national team. It’s been confirmed that, in doing so, she’ll become ‘the highest paid women’s soccer coach in the world.’ It’s thought that the 47-year-old’s salary will match, or perhaps surpass, that of US men’s team boss Gregg Berhalter’s – which stands at $1.6m (£1.3m).

Hayes’ first target in her new gig will be to win the 2024 Olympics in Paris, and she will have just four matches – two in June and two in July – to prepare for the tournament.

Speaking in November, the outgoing Chelsea boss said: ‘This is a huge honour to be given the opportunity to coach the most incredible team in world football history.

‘I’ve dreamed about coaching the USA for a long time so to get this opportunity is a dream come true.’

World record transfer fees kick off 2024

Chelsea v Everton - Barclays Women's Super League - Kingsmeadow Stadium

Chelsea’s Mayra Ramirez in action during the Barclays Women’s Super League match at Kingsmeadow (Picture: PA)

In January 2024, Chelsea Women signed Colombian striker Mayra Ramirez for a British-record fee of £385,000. She made her debut on January 27 and, just weeks later, netted her first goal for the Blues in an FA Cup clash against Crystal Palace.

If you watched the Women’s World Cup this year, you may have noticed Ramirez cause the Lionesses some trouble in the England v Colombia quarter-final. Despite her efforts, it was Sarina Wiegman’s squad who came out victorious.

Ramirez will get her chance to seek revenge when Chelsea next take on Arsenal on March 15. There, she’ll come face to face with Alessia Russo, who scored England’s winning goal against Columbia.

The Ramirez signing was not only a WSL record – but also a world record, albeit briefly. In February Racheal Kundananji, of Zambia, nabbed the top spot when she signed for newly-formed United States club Bay FC from Madrid CFF. Her transfer fee? A neat £625,000. 

Kundananji is also the first African player to break a world transfer record – in men’s or women’s football.

Gooners gather at the Emirates

A new Women’s Super League attendance record was set on Saturday February 17, 2024. (Picture: Tom West)

A Women’s Super League attendance record was set on Saturday February 17, 2024 (Picture: Tom West)

For the first time in their history, Arsenal Women sold out the Emirates for a WSL match. After a brisk Sunday morning fan walk, thousands took to the stands to watch Jonas Eidevall’s side play Manchester United on February 17.

The match marked the second time Arsenal has sold out the Emirates, the first being their semi-final UEFA Women’s Champions League clash with Wolfsburg in May 2023.

Arsenal Women’s home ground isn’t actually in London, but at the humble Meadow Park stadium in the Hertfordshire town of Borehamwood. It has a capacity of 4,500.

Long term, Arsenal hopes to move permanently to the Emirates for WSL fixtures. Doing so could inspire similar growth in top-level teams.

Arsenal CEO Vinai Venkatesham has previously said: ‘The next step is delivering this on a consistent basis – not just at Emirates Stadium but across the league.

‘We must continue to nurture this audience and deliver sustainable growth for the whole women’s game.’

England win the battle, but not the war

Scotland v England - UEFA Womens Nations League

Mary Earps and Alex Greenwood of England ahead of their Nations League match against Scotland (Picture: Naomi Baker/The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

The Lionesses had all to play for in their final Nations League game, which took them to Hampden Park in Glasgow in December. England had to, ironically, beat Scotland if Team GB were to be guaranteed a place at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. 

By half time, the visitors were 4-0, courtesy of goals from Alex Greenwood, Beth Mead and Lauren James. Fran Kirby added a fifth shortly after the break and, in dramatic fashion, Lucy Bronze added her own goal to the tally in the final minutes of the game.

Unbeknownst to the players on the pitch however, over in Tilburg the Netherlands had sealed a late goal in their game against Belgium, where the final scoreline stood at 4-0. 

As a result, England’s 6-0 win over Scotland simply wasn’t enough on goal difference to guarantee a trip to Paris.

Sarina Wiegman, who had been teed up to manage Team GB, later said she had ‘unfinished business’ with her pack of Lionesses.

After extending her contract deal as England boss, despite speculation she may be enticed by the men’s team, she said: ‘I am so happy to have the chance to lead England through to 2027 after an incredible two and a half years.

England Women Squad Announcement - St. George's Park

The Lionesses have ‘unfinished business’, according to Sarina Wiegman (Picture: PA)

‘Looking forward, we have unfinished business and I know we are capable of even more, although nothing will come easy. Our game is becoming so competitive at the top level.’

The Lionesses still have their chance to shine in a series of international friendlies this year. The squad is currently in sunny Spain to take on on Austria on Friday, February 23 and Italy on Tuesday, February 27.

Metro partners with the Women’s Football Awards

Launched in 2023, the Women’s Football Awards are the biggest awards event in women’s football and Metro is proud to be a partner.

They celebrate the players, people, brands and organisations who are helping to grow the sport – from World Cup heroes to broadcasters to those working at grassroots level.

Last year’s winners included Arsenal forward Alessia Russo, Chelsea star Lauren James and Barcelona’s Keira Walsh.

Nominations for the 2024 awards ceremony are now open.


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