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Marieanne Spacey: ‘Now there are people in pubs who want women’s football on’

Former Arsenal star reflects on World Cup – and what it means for the game

05 July, 2019 — By Catherine Etoe

Marieanne Spacey (left), at the 2001 European Championships, with former Arsenal skipper Faye White

IT was hard-fought and tearful, and with a disallowed goal, a missed penalty and a red card, it was peppered with drama. But England were unable to overcome reigning champions the USA in their Women’s World Cup semi-final showdown on Tuesday.

So instead of walking out at a dream final in Lyon, Phil Neville’s “Lionesses” need to dust themselves down to contest a fight for third place in Nice on Saturday. Such is the expectation on this England team after the unprecedented bronze medal achievement of 2015, returning home empty handed would be seen as a backward step.

Yet as the fittest, most technically proficient England side in history, this group of professionals have taken great strides forward this past month, with performances that have attracted record television audiences and wall-to-wall media attention.

“People are watching a game of football now and I think that’s the difference,” former England and Arsenal player Marieanne Spacey told the Tribune this week. “You have people in pubs wanting to turn the football on or you walk in and it’s on anyway.”

A clinical goalscorer in her prime, Spacey made 91 appearances for her country and was on the scoresheet in England’s first-ever Women’s World Cup match in Sweden back in 1995.

Then, England had only been backed by the FA for two years, yet an amateur squad featuring future manager Hope Powell and Spacey’s Arsenal colleagues Sammy Britton, Pauline Cope and Sian Williams, made it to the quarter-finals. “We didn’t really know what to expect,” recalls Spacey, currently head coach of Southampton Football Club Women.

Remarkably, those England pioneers travelled by overnight train before facing eventual champions Norway, but they beat Canada and Nigeria, finally going out 3-0 to reigning European champions Germany.

As one of the tournament’s best seven teams, they earned the right to play in the first-ever Olympic women’s football tournament, but with no Great Britain side in existence, it was a right denied.

“Back then we were devastated,” says Spacey. “Even now you look back and think what might have been if we could have played at Atlanta 1996 – how could that have driven the game even more?” It is a worthwhile point given the impact that a Steph Houghton-inspired Team GB had on the game at London 2012.

England have done enough to qualify for the Olympics once more now and that opportunity will be taken up. Let’s hope that having whetted a nation’s appetite this summer, a talented British side can move the game on even more at Tokyo 2020.

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