Feature image photos by Getty as follows: Lynne Cameron, The FA / Marc Atkins / Tullio M. Puglia / ANP
July kicks off a busy summer of football across the globe, with all but one regional federation holding international tournaments, largely in pursuit of qualification to next year’s World Cup.
The women’s Euros is a little bit different because the tournament is a major competition in its own right, with no bearing on World Cup places. That being said, it’s a great preview of a lot of the teams you’d expect to be heading to Australia and New Zealand next year, with Europe arguably providing the most competitive set of nations – six out of the top ten ranked teams in the world are European. Also, these teams are arguably the gayest which, let’s face it, is probably why you are reading this.
The competition returns to my home country of England and, with 17 years since it was last held here, a lot of the pre-tournament buzz has centred on the growth of the women’s game in recent years. It is shocking to think that in 2005 most players were still part-timers, and the professionalisation of the game across Europe means I’m expecting the most competitive and high-profile edition of the tournament yet.
Ironically, it’s the failure to anticipate the sport’s popularity that has led to the obligatory controversy about stadiums that seems to affect every major women’s tournament (remember the astroturf debacle in Canada 2015, anyone?). Members of Iceland’s team rightly called out the embarrassment of their group games being staged at what are essentially men’s training grounds, with a capacity of only a few thousand. After two record-breaking 90,000+ crowds at Barcelona earlier this year, the Euros organisers’ lack of ambition has been somewhat shown up. Nevertheless, over half a million tickets have been sold so far, including sell-outs for the semis and final at Wembley.
But which team is going to be claiming the glory? Let’s take a whirlwind tour through the top teams and all the out players, to see who may be lighting up this summer’s tournament. As well as the officially out players, of course there’s a large contingent of “obviously gay if you look at their Instagram,” but I won’t include those on account of not wanting to get shouted at.
After a few years of consistently making the semi-finals of major competitions, England have looked like they were in danger of stalling before making the breakthrough needed to be one of the world’s very top teams. There’s every indication this could be the competition where they make that leap to victors: not only do they have a massive home team advantage, their squad depth is perhaps the best thanks to the way the FAWSL has grown in leaps and bounds in the past few years. Crucially, they have a new head lesbian in charge that’s a proven winner, having poached the Netherlands’ Sarina Wiegmann a year ago, off the back of victory at the last Euros and a final appearance at the 2019 World Cup.
England’s squad has a fresh look to it, with a new captain in Leah Williamson and attacking threat from Lauren Hemp, Beth England and others to augment the guaranteed goals from Ellen White. What’s more, with 7 out players, they have queerest squad of the competition. Their prospects look great, but with their faces plastered over billboards and posters throughout the land, will the pressure get to them? Going by their unconvincing victory against Austria in the opening match, it’s looking like they have some nerves to work through.
Spain are a team in ascendence. For such a football-obsessed nation, it was always puzzling that the women’s side rarely made a dent in international standings, with their first qualification for a World Cup not coming until 2015. Finally, that’s all changed. As always in women’s football, it was a case of lack of money rather than lack of talent holding them back, and it’s no surprise that Barcelona’s decision to professionalise and invest heavily in their women’s side has not only reaped the rewards of a historic treble and first Champion’s League win last year for the club, but also set the national side on a path to success. Only last month the Spanish football federation equalised pay for both the men’s and women’s teams.
With FIFA Women’s Footballer of the Year Alexia Putellas among a crop of established and emerging stars, including super-gay super-tough defender Mapi Leon among a five-strong queer contingent, their prospects looked great. However, with Putellas suffering an ACL injury just days before Spain’s first match, the team will need to find an extra gear to make it through the toughest group of the draw.
As reigning Euros champs and losing finalists to the US at the last World Cup, the Netherlands are owed a place as strong contenders to retain their title. If I have any concerns about their team, it’s that after breaking the record as the gayest-ever team at an Olympics last year, the Dutch side are down from 8 to 5 out players.
Mostly shockingly of all to fans of gay hair, Shanice Van Der Sanden is not in the squad, although she will still be a reserve. While we all recover from this, let us remember that the Dutch will still be bringing wonder-striker (and my current fave) Vivienne Miedema among their out players, so you really can’t rule them out.
Technically the top team in Europe thanks to their #2 FIFA rank behind the USA, Sweden aren’t to be underestimated. They have an experienced (and gay) spine running through the team from stalwart goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl, defender Magda Eriksson (one half of that snog), captain Caroline Seger and forward Lina Hurtug. Defensively, they look far more solid than most other teams in the competition, and their resilience really showed in their run to the gold medal match at last year’s Olympics. With their depth and experience, you’d have to see them get at least as far as the semi-finals.
As six-time Euro champions, it’s something of a surprise that the Germans aren’t attracting as much buzz for this year’s competition. Their last major international victory was their gold medal at the 2016 Olympics, with their subsequent quarter final exits in the most recent World Cup and Euro 2017 marking something of a fall from grace. While they have struggled for consistency recently and have a tough group to get through, there’s definitely enough talent in their squad to challenge their in-form rivals on their day, and a reasonably sufficient four out players.
It’s always been a mystery why France’s women’s team are perennial underachievers at major tournaments. Lyon won the Champion’s League yet again this year, to cement their status as the most successful club in European football. Yet despite plenty of stars in the squad throughout the years, plus plenty of talent at PSG among other French clubs, this never seems to translate to international success.
I’m going to go for the obvious reason for this: lack of gays. Shockingly, it was less than two years ago that goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin came out as the first openly gay player for the national team. I hope Megan Rapinoe’s assertion that you can’t win a championship without gays is ringing in the French team’s ears, though maybe now there’s at least one out player they have an outside chance? That aside, any squad that can boast the experience of Wendy Renard alongside the explosive potential of Marie-Antoinette Katoto is going to cause their opponents a lot of trouble.
Looking at the best of the rest, Norway have to be in contention purely because of the return of superstar Ada Hegerberg. Now her self-imposed exile from international competition in protest at inequalities between Norway’s men’s and women’s teams has ended, Norway will have extra firepower that should see them get out of their group with no trouble.
Denmark are another Nordic nation adversely affected by equal pay disputes; shortly after their run to the Euro 2017 final, they walked out on a friendly match against the Netherlands in protest at their poor deal in comparison to the men’s team. That resulted in them forfeiting a World Cup qualifier, which is why we didn’t see them in France in 2019. A victory against either Spain or Germany in their group could be a major disruptive influence on the whole tournament, and with top goalscorer and gay legend Pernille Harder as captain, you wouldn’t put it past them.
In group D, Italy, Iceland and Belgium each have a shot of making it through to the knockout stages, alongside France as the seeded team, though progress beyond the quarter-finals would have to count as an upset. As for the rest of the teams, it would be a real shock to see debutants such as Portugal and Northern Ireland make it out of their groups, and tough draws for Finland, Austria and Switzerland put them at a real disadvantage.
Ingrid Syrstad Engen (Norway)
Pernlle Harder (Denmark)
Kassie Missipo (Belgium)
Tine de Cagny (Belgium)
Gunnhildur Yrsa Jónsdóttir (Iceland)
Tinja-Riikka Korpela (Finland)
Viktoria Schnaderbeck (Austria)
Sarah Puntigam (Austria)
Manuela Giugliano (Italy)
Elena Linari (Italy)
Ramona Bachmann (Switzerland)
Marissa Callaghan (Northern Ireland)
Which team and players will you be rooting for?