The cubs who became the pride of England: Your guide to the women who have captured nation’s hearts

The cubs who became the pride of England: Your guide to the women who have captured the nation’s hearts – and hopes

England qualified for the first Euros final since 2009 on Wednesday night, as they demolished Sweden 4-0 at Bramall Lane.

They will now play in the Euro 2022 in front of a packed home crowd at Wembley Stadium on Sunday against Germany.

And here is your guide to the women who have captured the nation’s hearts – and hopes…

Alessia Russo, 23, Manchester United. Of Sicilian descent, Alessia has football in her blood. Dad Mario says it was ‘non-negotiable’ that she would join her brothers on the pitch as a little girl

Alessia Russo, 23, Manchester United. Of Sicilian descent, Alessia has football in her blood. Dad Mario says it was ‘non-negotiable’ that she would join her brothers on the pitch as a little girl

Supersub with killer backheel

Alessia Russo, 23, Manchester United

Of Sicilian descent, Alessia has football in her blood. Dad Mario says it was ‘non-negotiable’ that she would join her brothers on the pitch as a little girl. Her mind-blowing backheeled goal as a substitute was the highlight of England’s 4-0 semi-final win against Sweden.

Has been dubbed ‘Lessi’ by fans, as a nod to Argentinian legend Lionel Messi.

Scored the fastest ever hat-trick by an England player — 11 minutes — in November last year.

Lauren Hemp, 21, Manchester City. Wanted to be a dancer and practised her routines on the sidelines when watching older sister Amy play

Lauren Hemp, 21, Manchester City. Wanted to be a dancer and practised her routines on the sidelines when watching older sister Amy play

The dancing queen goal machine

Lauren Hemp, 21, Manchester City

Wanted to be a dancer and practised her routines on the sidelines when watching older sister Amy play. Credits fierce sibling rivalry playing games in their grandparents’ back garden for driving her to win.

Played for the boys’ team at North Walsham High School in Norfolk where she was the stand-out star.

Her former coach, Josh Roper, says he always knew she would play for England. She has the Olympic rings tattooed on her wrist.

Mary Earps, 29, Manchester United. Has a degree in information management and business studies from Loughborough University

 Mary Earps, 29, Manchester United. Has a degree in information management and business studies from Loughborough University

Practical joker with a big brain

Mary Earps, 29, Manchester United

Has a degree in information management and business studies from Loughborough University. She studied German while playing with VfL Wolfsburg 2018-19. A practical joker, she responded to social media trolls who suggested that a woman’s place was in the kitchen by filming herself serving a plate of dog food.

Beth Mead, 27, Arsenal. Taken by her parents for a kickabout with the boys aged five ‘to burn off some energy’

Beth Mead, 27, Arsenal. Taken by her parents for a kickabout with the boys aged five ‘to burn off some energy’

The Hinderwell hotshot

Beth Mead, 27, Arsenal

Taken by her parents for a kickabout with the boys aged five ‘to burn off some energy’. Coach worried she’d get knocked around — but she did the knocking around herself. Brought up in Hinderwell, a tiny village in the middle of Yorkshire Moors where locals supported her career with coffee mornings and raffles. An effigy of her, in England kit, appeared in the village’s annual scarecrow competition in 2019. Significant other is chocolate spaniel Rona.

Ella Toone, 22, Manchester United. As a newborn baby, she was taken to a game at Hindsford Football Club in Greater Manchester by dad Nick

Ella Toone, 22, Manchester United. As a newborn baby, she was taken to a game at Hindsford Football Club in Greater Manchester by dad Nick

Star of the Toone army

Ella Toone, 22, Manchester United

As a newborn baby, she was taken to a game at Hindsford Football Club in Greater Manchester by dad Nick. A ball landed in her pram and knocked it over. ‘That was the day she decided to play football,’ he said.

Honed her skills playing football in the street with the boys and watching Cristiano Ronaldo videos. Good at water polo: her dad is a men’s champion.

Lucy Bronze, 30, Barcelona. Half-Portuguese, she spent her early childhood on the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne, where her grandparents lived

Lucy Bronze, 30, Barcelona. Half-Portuguese, she spent her early childhood on the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne, where her grandparents lived

Tough name, tough nature

Lucy Bronze, 30, Barcelona

Half-Portuguese, she spent her early childhood on the Northumbrian island of Lindisfarne, where her grandparents lived. Middle name is Tough — her mother Diane’s maiden name, not, she says, because she ‘smashes people’. Aged four, her mother refused to let her cut her hair — so she got her brother to do it. Pictured here aged 12, she later juggled football and summer camps in the U.S. with a Domino’s Pizza job.

Ellen White, 33, Manchester City. Ellen (pictured with her aunt) is within a goal of Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 goals for England

Ellen White, 33, Manchester City. Ellen (pictured with her aunt) is within a goal of Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 goals for England

Rooney’s crown contender

Ellen White, 33, Manchester City

Ellen (pictured with her aunt) is within a goal of Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 goals for England. Dad Jon tried to put a bet on her playing for England one day but was turned down by bookies. Met her husband, Callum, at Loughborough where she studied sports science. Stands up to critics who say she should be in the kitchen. ‘My husband does all the cooking . . . it doesn’t really work like that in my household,’ she says.

Fran Kirby, 29, Chelsea. Kirby almost quit football for ever after the death of her mother, Denise, when she was 14 plunged her into depression years later

Fran Kirby, 29, Chelsea. Kirby almost quit football for ever after the death of her mother, Denise, when she was 14 plunged her into depression years later

Reading’s mini Messi

Fran Kirby, 29, Chelsea

Kirby almost quit football for ever after the death of her mother, Denise, when she was 14 plunged her into depression years later. Credits her mum for forcing to go to training when she whinged about the rain. At 5 ft 2 in she was dubbed ‘Mini Messi’ by former England coach Mark Sampson. The Reading-born star was given an honorary doctorate from Winchester University for her work supporting mental health.

Georgia Stanway, 23, Bayern Munich. She was forced to play football by her brothers — and booted them in the shins at every opportunity

Georgia Stanway, 23, Bayern Munich. She was forced to play football by her brothers — and booted them in the shins at every opportunity

Alan Shearer’s biggest fan

Georgia Stanway, 23, Bayern Munich

She was forced to play football by her brothers — and booted them in the shins at every opportunity. Comes from a family of ardent Newcastle United supporters, and carries her late grandmother’s prized Match Attax card of Alan Shearer with her for luck. Dating Toulouse Olympique rugby league player Olly Ashall-Bott. They share a dog, Milo, who bolts in terror when Mummy’s matches are on the TV, as Daddy shouts so loudly!

Forget trashy reality stars (and the preening prima donnas of the men’s game), the Lionesses are a perfect example of real girl power… And that’s why BEL MOONEY’s roaring her approval 

By Bel Mooney 

Victory tomorrow or not, what wonders our mighty squad of Lionesses are achieving for the nation.

Their incredible performance has surely changed sclerotic attitudes to women’s football.

Former Arsenal star (turned superb TV presenter) Alex Scott recognised this when she commented: ‘It’s hard for me not to get emotional right now because the amount of investment which has gone into the women’s game is for a moment like this.

‘For this team to get to Wembley . . . they are creating something special and deserve every accolade which is coming their way.’

While, unbelievably, there are still some men who patronise the women’s game, is there really much of a difference in energy, style and skill?

Victory tomorrow or not, what wonders our mighty squad of Lionesses are achieving for the nation

Victory tomorrow or not, what wonders our mighty squad of Lionesses are achieving for the nation

A male friend with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game described Alessia Russo’s cheeky back-heel shot as ‘a thing of beauty’ before adding: ‘They’re doing amazing things for women’s football and sport in general.’

Here we come to the real, symbolic significance of our victories over Spain and Sweden, and the unbelievable excitement of reaching Wembley to face the old enemy, Germany. I’d sum it up as a two-fold pride.

The brilliant Lionesses are inspirational role models for new generations of women and girls and they are uniting us all in a justifiable pride in the ancient flag of England. These two things matter so much.

Did you see all the cutaway shots of young girls dancing with delight, waving flags, singing Sweet Caroline and cheering fit to bust?

Like their big sisters, neighbours, mothers and aunts, they were celebrating just one more achievement for the female sex.

It comes at a time when we may soon have our third female prime minister, and when women have had stupendous success in the services and sport, as well as the arts. I reckon the Lionesses have caught the imagination of the nation because they show women that they can aspire to be the best.

Like lionesses in the wild, they are icons of fierce, fit beauty. It’s not just that these footballers can play with verve and skill, it’s that they do so with grace. By that, I mean no deliberate fouls, no histrionics (such as rolling around on the ground), no ill temper — all of which can make the men’s game so ugly at times.

Their incredible performance has surely changed sclerotic attitudes to women’s football

Their incredible performance has surely changed sclerotic attitudes to women’s football

Watching as a keen, uninformed ‘amateur’ I see a group of women clearly enjoying themselves hugely as equals and cleverly working together — just like female lions who, lighter and more agile than the males, do the hunting.

The females co-operate with each other, switching roles in the hunt in order to kill prey effectively. Yes, real lionesses instinctively understand the importance of the teamwork that makes them so powerful.

And power — and empowerment — is their message to all the girls and women watching. We live in a society still marred by misogyny, in which far too many teenage girls will state their life ambition is to be an ‘influencer’ or ‘YouTube star’.

It makes my heart leap to realise that our Lionesses are firing the imagination of ten-year-olds who jump and dance for joy and say: ‘I want to be like them.’

Two decades ago, the popular film Bend It Like Beckham, starring Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra, threw a spotlight on how infatuated with football a girl can become, willing to challenge all obstacles in order to play.

Yet there is still resistance to the radical notion that football is a game for girls. Only 44 per cent of secondary schools offer football as a choice for girls — and now that has to change.

Ian Wright nailed it when he said, after the Lionesses trounced the Swedes, ‘If there’s no legacy to this, like there was with the Olympics, then what are we doing?

‘If girls are not allowed to play football just like the boys can, what are we doing? All the girls who have longed to play football can point to the Lionesses and say, “Now you have to let me!” ’

When I watch the crowds cheering I find a lump in my throat, not just at the sheer verve and joy of the match, but because these great sporting events allow us to express love of our country.

While, unbelievably, there are still some men who patronise the women’s game, is there really much of a difference in energy, style and skill?

While, unbelievably, there are still some men who patronise the women’s game, is there really much of a difference in energy, style and skill?

Why do people drape themselves in the St George flag? Why did the Swedish fans paint their faces yellow and blue like their country’s flag? Because when the internet is full of rancour and Leftist loathing of patriotism, football allows us to show our shared passion, our sense of belonging.

It’s such a great unifier and leveller — when the university lecturer and the manual worker and the children are all wanting the same thing. It transcends politics and race because proudly yelling ‘Come on England!’ is all about the red and white — nothing else.

When we watch our glorious Lionesses we witness sisterhood, grace, power and patriotism all rolled up into one joyful spectacle. There it will be on our TV screens on Sunday night, and once again we will be sharing all that is possible within a country proud of itself. What a great feeling to be part of a whole.

We thrive best when grounded in a sense of love and belonging with family, neighbours, locality, region, country.

This joy tells all those who despise our country to just … well, get lost.

And (whisper it) victory? Das ist ein Katzensprung, as the Germans say, meaning it’s just a cat spring away. And just like the big cats, our Lionesses will leap to triumph. Just you wait for the roar.

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