For as long as England has played in men’s World Cups, the nation has expected to win them. Every four years, no matter how good the team is — or isn’t — fans flock across the globe to cover stadiums with red-and-white flags. They sing “Football’s coming home!" and invoke Horatio Nelson’s centuries-old battle cry: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”
It hasn’t worked. England hasn’t won the World Cup, or any major international trophy, since 1966.
Meanwhile, England’s women’s team has mostly been outside the spotlight. For all the Premier League’s riches, its clubs spent decades without spending big money on the women’s game. The country’s notoriously masochistic sports media routinely ignored the sport too, and the aforementioned fans followed suit.
But at long last, the tide has turned. In the last few years, English clubs and the sport’s governing body have made significant investments in women’s soccer, and media and fans have started paying real attention. And the Three Lionesses have delivered on the field, reaching the semifinals of the 2015 World Cup and 2017 European championships.
Now they are not just one of the world’s top teams — ranked No. 4 in FIFA’s global standings — but one of the favorites to win this summer’s World Cup.
“You look back at four years ago, the last World Cup, I don’t think anyone imagined us to get bronze and make it as far as we did,” said England forward Jodie Taylor, who plays her club soccer for the NWSL’s Reign FC in suburban Seattle. “Heading into this tournament, there is that expectation, and that’s something that we’re thriving on. We’ve come a long way.”
England will get a taste of the big stage this week in the SheBelieves Cup, which starts Wednesday at Talen Energy Stadium. The Three Lionesses face Brazil in the first game of the evening’s doubleheader (4 p.m., live video at ussoccer.com), with the U.S. playing Japan in the nightcap (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1). England will then play the U.S. in Nashville on Saturday (4:30 p.m., Fox), and Japan in Tampa, Fla., next Tuesday (5:15 p.m., ussoccer.com).
Taylor and her teammates are dreaming big, and they aren’t afraid to say so.
“We thrive off that type of pressure,” veteran forward Ellen White said. “We want to prove we are the best team, and these types of tournaments like the SheBelieves Cup really help us in the preparation. … We want people to be looking at us and fearing us.”
They’ll definitely be looked at when they step on to the biggest stage of all in France. And with home just a train ride under the English Channel away, it will be easy for fans to go to games. According to FIFA’s latest ticket sales data, England trails only host France and the United States among nations buying World Cup tickets. (The U.S. has accounted for a mammoth 25 percent of all sales so far.)
And by the way, England’s tournament opener is against perennial archrival Scotland. That should do even more to spike interest back home.