How Wegman changed English society with ‘The Lionesses’

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Football NOS

  • Bart Van Duijwert

    NOS Sport Editor

  • Bart Van Duijwert

    NOS Sport Editor

In the final week of 2022, we take a look back at the sport’s past year with six Dutch women who have achieved great success. Today in Episode 1: Coach Sarina Wegman, who won the European Football Championship with English women’s soccer.

The FA press officer really wants to end the press conference after the European Championship final if Sarina Wiegmann takes the floor again. The Dutch coach, who has just led England to the European title, thanks everyone who contributed to this success.

And most of all, we have changed societyWegman says, looking around the room with a satisfied look.

It was a historic night of football for England. Not only because the inventors of the world’s most popular sport won a major prize for the first time since 1966, but also because the famous Wembley Stadium was filled with more than 87,000 spectators. Never before have there been so many spectators at a European final. Not for women nor for men.

Wembley, 14 December 2022

The FA press officer received so many requests for interviews with Wegman that he decided to organize a real press day. Today is the “Sarina Wiegman event” at Wembley, although the main character herself feels uncomfortable with that name. More than forty journalists – some even from Australia – came to London to review the special year with the England national coach.

Wegman, who doesn’t like being the center of attention, walks from one reporters’ table to the next during lunch at Wembley. A hand and a chat for everyone, and sometimes a hug.

“I’m glad all this was possible in one day, otherwise you’re busy doing interviews every day,” laughs the England boss. “And in the end, everything goes so smoothly that such a day can also be interesting.”

In all interviews, she was naturally asked to look back at the European Championship final at this stadium. “Of course every time I go back to Wembley I think of the European Championship. And the long way to get here. My God, from a girl who wasn’t allowed to play football to a woman who saw Wembley as home stage she has.”

style or play

You’ve been England’s national coach for a year and a half now, and sometimes you can’t come up with a word of Dutch. Then you say Situations instead of standing. or style or playrather than playing style. And each time Wigman gently apologized for it.

The 53-year-old coach, who cut her hair short as a child so she could play soccer secretly with the boys, now has two European titles to her name and has been a World Cup finalist. However, The Hague is still very sober when it comes to the European Championship final.

“I could hardly hear that huge noise from those 87,000 people. Because your attention is like that narrowYou just play the game. It wasn’t until after the final whistle that I thought, “Woah, we just did it!”

Wegman: “Winning the European Championship had more of an impact in England than it did in Holland”

But he has a European title lionesses, as the English women’s soccer team is affectionately called, has society in England really changed, as Wigman immediately declared? “Sure, even more so than I thought six months ago,” she says now.

After Wiegmann led the Dutch women to the European title in 2017, women’s football in our country took off in a big way. But, she notes, the effect is many times greater in England.

Message

It started three days after winning the final, when the players wrote an open letter to the British government. In it they asked all the girls to take gym lessons and soccer training. “Discussions with the government are still ongoing,” Wegman says.

“The European title has given women’s football a great boost here in all kinds of areas. There are many commercial parties interested in women’s football. More and more matches in the Premier League are being played in big stadiums, and then they attract 30,000 to 45,000 spectators.”

It fills Wegman with pride when she sees how socially engaged her group of players is. “They have used the achievements of the European Championship to change society. I find that very powerful. Young girls in England and also in Holland who want to play sports are now given many opportunities. But there is still a world to be won. Because half of English girls could not Doing sports this year.

Wegman will not easily shout herself from the rooftops in the social debate, as she calls it. “That’s not who I am. I don’t always have to be in the front, I’d rather stay in the background. That’s also how I lead.”

Orange striker Miedema among the British fans at a party in London, praising Coach Wegman

“But I always said to these girls: If you want to change the world, you must first do your part. Only then will you become a topic of conversation and you will be listened to. That is why I have kept my focus on performing and getting better every day that turns into.”

Besides English society, Wegman’s life also changed after her second European title. “I myself am very humble and always do my best, but of course the world around me has changed.”

full mailbox

I get a different response. When I go to a game here now, sometimes I need help getting from Situations To come to a restaurant because there are a lot of people who want something from you. I find that difficult sometimes.”

In the week after the European Championships, her mailbox filled with about 450 applications. “You have to say ‘no’ to 95 percent, but a lot of times people don’t get it. You actually want to give everyone a normal answer, but it’s impossible.”

She carefully selected the few requests that Wegman responded to. An event organized by the Cruyff Foundation, for example. “Seeing you bring so much joy to these children is worth a lot to me.” Or a leadership meeting at KPN, where she was inspired by other principals.

But Wegman always says “no.” Because she wants to keep focus on football. “I don’t have to watch TV every week with my laughs. I’ve done a business thing or two because it’s a great plus, but I’ve never made my choices based on money. If I wanted to make a lot of money in the past, of course I could have been a football coach.” It only cost me money at first. But it was my passion.”

The dreaded tabloids

Wegman remains undefeated in 26 matches as England manager. The team will be a big favorite for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand next summer. He laughs a little awkwardly: “I’m a little popular here, yeah.”

“But I also realize that things can turn very quickly if the results are disappointing. Then the English press may be critical, or it may get personal.”

NOS

Shortly after winning the European title, Wegman accepted the bracelet that belonged to her sister.

Wegman had her first unpleasant encounter with the dreaded tabloids shortly before the European Championships, about the death of her sister, Diana. “They called my family and people from the old football club. Of course they weren’t expecting that at the time,” she says. “Then the FA took action and fortunately it stopped.”

Wegman felt great support from the FA in the period surrounding her sister’s death. The national coach was allowed to walk away from training camp. “It was very important to give me space to close it off well, so that I could then fully focus on my football again.”

Extremely proud

“Saturday was the cremation and on Monday I gave another training. I just ran. But the sadness will come again later. My sister was also my friend, my best friend. I still think of her every day. Proud that we won the European Championships.”

“It’s so sad, I would love to do fun things with her for years to come. Because of the hustle and bustle in the football world, you still keep getting ahead. Now at Christmas you finally have time to deal with the sadness, and also to think about the good things, because I still don’t I fully realize that I managed to become European champion again.

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