The European Championship in England this summer promises to be a big one. Over 500,000 tickets have been sold already, which would smash the previous attendance record of 240,000. The race for the title is wide open: it’s literally anyone’s guess as to who is going to come out top.
All in all, it is building up to be one of the greatest football tournaments in recent memory, but it would be wrong not to appreciate all the great Euros moments that led us to this place. From stunning strikes to the most bizarre moments, the Euros have always provided us with not only top-notch football but great moments of excitement. There are the icons of the game like the Germany team who won six titles in a row and the final that was decided by the now-defunct golden goal. The tournament has gone through many different iterations, with early versions featuring just four teams rather than the 16 we now have. There have been controversies and there have been gobsmacking moments.
This summer’s event may be an epic, but there is plenty of history in this tournament to savour too.
But first… some tournament history
Charting the origins of the Euros isn’t the simplest of feats. Much like with the World Cup, there wasn’t a massive interest from UEFA in running a tournament of this kind.
The Italian Football Federation ran a European competition in 1969 and 1979, but it wasn’t until 1984 that a sanctioned UEFA event — the European Competition for Women’s Football qualification — such a catchy title! — was held. England and Sweden battled it out in the final with the latter coming out top, although there were just four teams competing. It was 1997 before more teams were added and the competition was brought up to eight teams. In 2009 it increased to 12 and then from 2017 to now, 16 teams have competed.
This year’s tournament marks the second time England have hosted the officially sanctioned event, with the tournament also happening there in 2005. While this year’s tournament will see teams travelling across the country, the 2005 edition was held in just Lancashire and Cheshire. England were eliminated in the group stages — they went into the tournament as the fourth-best team in Europe — but the English Football Association still saw the event as a massive success. The tournament attracted a combined attendance of 70,000, which is a far cry from the over half a million expected to turn up this month.
The highest attendance for any game came at the 2013 final in Sweden. More than 41,000 turned out to watch Germany beat Norway in the Friends Arena in Solna. The next-biggest turnout was for England vs. Finland at the Etihad in the 2005 group stage. It’s remarkable to think that this record could be smashed at England’s opening game this July against Austria at Old Trafford. The match is sold out and the home of Manchester United’s men’s side can host up to 74,140 people. That’s less than 6,000 short of doubling the original record. Wembley, which will host the final and is also sold out, can host 90,000.
The tournament has moved a long way from players competing in oversized jerseys with caps hand-stitched for them by friends and family rather than their national associations. Images from early tournaments show barely any spectators in the stands and media coverage was next to none. That certainly won’t be the case going forward.
Johanna Rasmussen’s rocket (Denmark vs. Sweden, 2005)
Not only was this goal the product of some remarkable individual skill from Denmark’s Johanna Rasmussen, but it was also a lovely piece of teamwork down the left-hand side by her team. Rasmussen received the ball and faked a run to the left before ducking inside the Sweden defender in front of her, taking a touch before smashing the ball with her left foot into the far top corner of the net.
Jodie Taylor completes her hat trick (England vs. Scotland, 2017)
England sent a long ball up the pitch, which was picked up by Ellen White. She headed the ball down to Jodie Taylor, who deftly chipped the ball over Gemma Fay’s head in the Scotland goal. That was Taylor’s third goal of the day in a 6-0 group stage win, and what perhaps made it most remarkable was that it was the first hat trick to be scored in the tournament for 20 years.
Super Sabatino (Sweden vs. Italy, 2017)
This 3-2 group-stage win for Italy was a good day for Daniela Sabatino, who scored twice, once in the fourth minute and again in the 37th. It was the latter goal, though, that really made the impact, with Linda Tucceri Cimini sending a floating ball toward the right post. Sabatino muscled off her defender and, rather than taking a touch, she simply volleyed the ball straight into the net from a ridiculous angle.
Antonella Carta (Italy vs. Germany, 1997)
Italy were awarded a penalty just outside the penalty box and toward the centre of the goal. Carta was fed a short horizontal ball and whipped it around the wall in front of her, into the top right corner of the net, in one sublime movement off her right foot. Italy would later be beaten by Germany in the final despite this 1-1 draw in the group stages and Italy topping the group.
Angelique Roujas (France vs. Russia, 2001)
A long ball delivered into the box by France was headed only as far as Roujas, who controlled the ball with the side of her foot before volleying it into the far left corner of the Russia net, leaving their stunned goalkeeper with nothing to do but watch it drift past her.
Birgit Prinz (Germany vs. Russia, 2001)
Let’s not kid ourselves, this entire section could just be Birgit Prinz goals considering just how dominant she was with Germany in the 1990s and 2000s. Watch any Prinz compilation on YouTube of goals from her sparkling career with Germany (128 goals in 214 appearances) and you’re guaranteed at least one absolute rocket of a goal.
This one, though, is deserving of a spot. A failed clearance from Russia sees the ball land at Prinz’s feet on the right side of the box. She takes a moment to compose herself before letting fly on a right-footed shot that sails into the net. A thing of beauty.
A final decided by the golden goal (2001)
The 2001 final between Sweden and hosts Germany makes the history books as the only final to be decided by the now-banned “golden goal” rule.
After 90 minutes, neither side had scored, which meant the game would be decided by whichever team managed to score first. Often controversial as a rule — which is what led to it being removed entirely by IFAB in 2004 — it was a tough end for Sweden, who had lost 3-1 to Germany in the group stage but managed to hold them scoreless in the final. Instead, Germany worked the ball up from their own goal line and eventually, it was slipped through to substitute Claudia Muller, who slid the ball through the legs of Caroline Jonsson in goal from close range.
It’s a dramatic way to win, of course, but what about the spectacle?
Denmark end Germany’s 22-year reign of the Euros
Germany’s record in the Euros is beyond impressive. They’ve won eight titles — Norway is the next closest, with two — and went on a run of winning six titles in a row. However, the 2017 tournament saw their bid for a seventh consecutive title come crashing down in the quarterfinal stage, where they were beaten by Denmark 2-1 in Rotterdam.
The loss ended their 22-year reign — or, to be precise, 22 years, four months and four days — over the competition and started a period of difficulty in major tournaments for the once-dominant country. Before the Denmark defeat, their last loss in a knockout match came in July 1993 against the same opposition.
Germany started the game brightly with a goal from Isabel Kerschowski in the third minute, but Denmark came back in the second half with goals from Nadia Nadim and Theresa Nielsen to send the favourites out and blow the competition wide open.
Toni Duggan disrupts burglary after (briefly) saving England’s 2013 campaign
England’s 2013 Euro campaign is one many will want to forget. The Lionesses side came into the competition, hosted by Sweden, as the fourth-best team in Europe, but were dumped out at the group stages after defeats to Spain and France either side of a draw vs. Russia. Before all hope was lost, substitute Toni Duggan scored a 93rd-minute equaliser against Russia to keep England’s hopes alive until the final group game against France.
Hours later, she was unable to sleep and heard someone breaking into the ice cream shop beside the team hotel. The team had developed a bond with the owner and had given him flags and a ticket to one of their games. She called the police and the burglars were caught. A dramatic day for the then 21-year-old.
Birgit Prinz signs off from the Euros with 2009 final brace
Let’s not beat around the bush here: Prinz’s career alone could be the moment, but in the interest of picking a specific one, her signing off with a brace in the 2009 final against England is up there with one of her all-time great performances. She lasted another two years after that final but didn’t play in another Euros. Instead, she signed off as (and remains) the player who has appeared in the most finals, the player who has won the most finals, the tournament’s third top overall scorer and the player who has the most appearances in the tournament excluding qualifying.
Germany’s win on the day was their fifth successive Euros triumph and they did it in remarkable fashion, beating England 6-2.
Uh, where’s the prize money?
UEFA announced in September 2021 that it was doubling the prize money for the tournament, bringing the total cash pot to be split between competing teams to a whopping … €16 million. Yes, that’s €16m to be split between 16 teams — it equates to 4.3% of the money that is available to those competing in the men’s tournament, which boasts a prize pot of €371m and the eventual winners alone getting €34m.
Part of the UEFA announcement also included the introduction of a system whereby club sides would be remunerated for the release of players from a fund of €4.5m. Not only was this just introduced, but the men’s equivalent is at least €200m.
The changes from UEFA are similar to those that FIFA has put in place ahead of the 2019 World Cup and pledged to continue since, but it still leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Not many will argue that the same €371m should be given to both competitions, but providing less than 5% to the women reeks of a disregard for properly valuing the game.
Women’s football has come a long way since it was literally banned in England for 50 years, but there’s still a long path to tread in terms of equality.
The pitch for the first final in 1984
While it’s hard to find any actual criticism of it at the time — such was the lack of coverage around it — the pitch on which Sweden beat England in the first Euros final was a quagmire. A photo from before the match shows England captain Carol Thomas and Sweden captain Anette Borjessen shaking hands in what’s simply a circle of mud at Kenilworth Road. Three officials stand awkwardly behind them, shifting so as not to get stuck.
The game went to penalties and pictures of nervous Swedish players watching the kicks go on show them looking more like rugby players on a wet day rather than footballers, their boots impossible to see because they’re so deep in the dirt. Hope Powell, who played in the game as a 17-year-old and went on to be one of the most influential figures in English football, has said since that the game should have been called off, such was the state of the pitch.
Meanwhile, the caps for players (awarded for each international appearance) were stitched by former player Flo Bilton at the time so that the internationals would have an experience similar to the men’s side. It’s hard to imagine such scenes this July when England host the tournament again.
Amandine Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer left out of French squad
Corinne Diacre’s reign over France has often been marred by controversy, and the announcement of her 2022 squad was no different.
Despite being favourites and hosting a home World Cup in 2019, divisions existed between senior players and her, and she openly criticised players like Amandine Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer. It seems that this animosity has continued into this month’s Euros, with both players left out of the squad despite Henry scoring what UEFA deemed “Goal of the Season” and Le Sommer being France’s all-time top scorer.
Not only do the players lose out due to this in-fighting and controversy, but so do the fans, who are missing out on seeing some of Europe’s top players in the spotlight they deserve.