When a football documentary is really great, it makes you root for and admire the players even though they are normally your opponents. As a long time USWNT fan since WWC 1999, I thought I would watch this docu and maybe learn a few things about England’s WNT, also known as the Lionesses. Instead, I came away a fan of these women.
But I also perceived that the Lionesses’ culture is so much more self-effacing than that of the USWNT.
Lionesses: How Football Came Home covers the Women’s Euro tournament during the summer of 2022 in England. Director Poppy de Villeneuve weaves together the political context of the time, the history of the women’s game in England, the background of several players, and footage from all of the games. And all in 1 hour and 16 minutes. I doubt there has ever been a better summary of a moment of time and culture in football, communicating and preserving the angst and joy of a successful run.
Williamson talks of her childhood and how angry boys’ parents would be if they lost to her team. Mary Earps recounts the sacrifices her parents made to drive her around the country for football. She also mentions how she and Williamson never got in a game at WWC 2019. Fran Kirby mentions her parents’ support of her football. Nikita Parris discusses being an inner-city kid and provides the quote of the film:
“Jill [Scott] told me this. She said, there’s always moments in a tournament. Not every game are you gonna play, but there’s always time to have a big moment. You never know when you’re required. You have to be ready.”Nikita Parris
The young women’s stories are interwoven with tales from Carol Thomas and Hope Powell, who played in the final of the 1984 Euro, also known as The Battle of the Kenilworth Bog. The video of that mud bath is truly remarkable and is one of several examples of the failure of the English FA to take womens football seriously for decades.
Manager Sarina Wiegman is not interviewed for this documentary. The film notes that she had won Euro 2017 with the Netherlands, is direct and brings a different kind of ruthlessness to the team.
Having watched so many soccer documentaries, the differences in culture between the USWNT and the Lionesses were intriguing, although subtle.
First of all, it is a little strange for me to hear modern English females talk about how, early on, they played on boys teams because there was nowhere else to play. That was 100% the situation for the USWNT 99ers, which was the first American generation to benefit from Title IX. Passed in 1972, that Act of Congress required that womens sports be funded equally with mens if a school were to receive federal funding. It was the beginning of change for US womens soccer.
But hearing these stories from the Lionesses told me that England might have been 20 years behind the USA. The Euro 2022 win and the huge crowds they drew shows how much progress they have made and how quickly.
Secondly, I was struck by the self-effacing quality throughout the modern player interviews. Whereas in the USA, the mantra for business and sport is often that winning is everything, and losing is not an option. Within the USWNT, there has been an ethos where one is trained to win because you can’t fail and break the chain of all those who preceded you. Winning is so important to Americans, that at least half of them will follow someone like Donald Trump, who promotes himself as a winner, even though his competence and morality are clearly lacking.
With the Lionesses though, winning feels more like a hope, or a practical event that will bring in more fans, or something you strive for in order to honor the past. Even someone as revered as Jill Scott is not sure she will be selected for the Euro roster. I don’t know if the film creators simply chose the nicest and most likable women on the team to interview, or if most of the players’ self-belief is driven by external motivators — family, friends, and fans. The only exception is GK Mary Earps, who radiates confidence and directness. I was just struck by how different this team comes across from what I know of the USWNT.
The BBC Write-up
The film shows you the crowds that supported the Lionesses at Euro 2022, on home soil. The joy is infectious. But if you don’t have time to watch the film, this screenshot from the BBC’s writeup of that game says it in a few short words.
The 2023 Womens World Cup
After this film, the Lionesses went to WWC 2023 in New Zealand-Australia. I enjoyed watching England play, as their skill level was so high, and Mary Earps was so intimidating on the field. England made it to the Final but lost to Spain.
Not knowing England’s players, I wasn’t sure if the women in this docu — other than Mary Earps — had been there. It turns out that of the 5 players, only Earps went to WWC 2023, where she won the Golden Glove (i.e. best GK). Leah Williamson (ACL) and Fran Kirby (knee) were both injured beforehand. Jill Scott retired from playing and owns Boxx2Boxx Coffee in Manchester. Nikita Parris was gutted when she found out she was not selected.
Lionesses: How Football Came Home makes me believe that England’s female football future is bright. If the country can recover from the economic problems brought on by Brexit and the pandemic, female football could be a major source of salvation, good will, and hope.
By the end of this film, you really believe that the players did this for all the female footballers who came before them, and all the ones who will come after them. What greater good is there than to honor your past and inspire your future?
On top of that, these women provide glowing moments like this video, where the ladies invade manager Sarina’s press conference. How can you not love the Lionesses?
And finally, let me reiterate that Director Poppy de Villeneuve has done an excellent job making this a story for everyone to enjoy.
10 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 10