OLD TRAFFORD, the 74,879-capacity Theatre of Dreams, will host the Lionesses' opening match of the Uefa Women's Euro on Wednesday July 7 2021. The FA hope that the 13th edition of the tournament will kick-off with a record attendance which will set a benchmark for the rest of the tournament played across eight other venues in England, culminating with the final at the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium on Sunday August 1.
The 110-year-old home of Manchester United, Old Trafford last staged a women's football match in 2012, when the United States defeated Canada 4-3 in a dramatic Olympic semi-final in front of 26,630 fans.
Former Manchester United player Phil Neville will lead his country out at the stadium where he played for 11 seasons. "It doesn't get much bigger than managing your country at a home Euro and to have the opportunity to do so at a stadium that holds so many memories for me is huge. Old Trafford has a special place in my heart, but it is also one of the country's most iconic football grounds, so today's announcement is a significant one for the tournament.”
Natalie Burrell, founder of Manchester United Women's supporters group, Barmy Army, is confident that the demand for women's football from fans living in the city will fill the stadium. "Every time I go to Old Trafford, people are saying to me: 'I see what you're doing with the girls, when is it coming here?' People are waiting for it.”
As well as Manchester and Wembley, matches will also be played at Brentford, Brighton, Milton Keynes, Rotherham, Sheffield, Southampton and Wigan and Leigh.
The FA's Director of Women's Football Baroness Sue Campbell declared: "We’d like to welcome fans from all over Europe, we hope they will come. We’d like to work with our European colleagues to help develop the women’s game across Europe.”
Hoping to build on the huge television viewing figures generated during last summer's Women's World Cup and this season's burgeoning WSL attendances, she added that "we want to excite everyone in this country to come out and watch the women's game, even if they’ve never watched before.
“Euro 2021 is an opportunity. We want to raise the bar yet again for the women's game in England. More fans watching, more women playing, more women coaching, more women refereeing, and an outstanding Women's Super League, to make it the best league in Europe.”
The record attendance for a Women's Euro match was set in Solna, Sweden when 41,301 people watched Germany defeat Norway in the 2013 Final.
Now Uefa's Head of Women's Football, Nadine Kessler was a member of that German side and describes it as the highlight of her career. "I think it makes all the difference to give players and teams the stage they deserve. I think it is a completely different experience, a different pressure you have to handle but also a different excitement and motivation.”
In December 2018, Kessler helped negotiate the deal which saw Visa become Uefa's first exclusive sponsor of women's football. They have since been joined by Nike, who will supply the official match ball for the tournament and Espirit, who will design the uniforms for tournament staff and volunteers.
Kessler believes more big-name sponsors will follow. “It was a very important step we took. There are more sponsors on board. Every cent Uefa will gain from partners will go back into the game. It’s very important to show that women’s football has its own value and partners, and that the media and everybody is interested in the women's game on its own. It will most certainly be our strategy to further enhance this.”
The tournament's Head of Delivery Chris Bryant previously worked in the same capacity on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games as well as the 2015 Rugby World Cup and was realistic about the goals the tournament should be looking to achieve. "We should be doing everything we can to seize on the opportunity that we've got in hosting what is an elite football tournament. It's a phenomenal time for women's football in general.
“The UK has a fantastic tradition of delivering major events. We've got a very high-skilled team working on the men's Euro who will role straight over to deliver the women's Euros.”
The eight cities chosen in December to host the tournament do not include any in the south-west or north-east of the country.
“Whilst we are not everywhere, we are relatively comfortable that we are in a good enough spread of venues across the country,” said Bryant. "We will of course engage with the wider country through our marketing campaign. We know people will travel for big events, we know people will travel to go and watch England. That’s very much part of our plan as well.”
In 2017, each of the seven host cities in the Netherlands set up city-centre fan zones where 72,916 fans congregated to watch matches on big screens. Bryant is open to the idea but remains unsure if the demand is there.
“Our first priority is to try and sell as many tickets and get people in the stadium if possible. For Euro 2020 in London we’re setting up additional screenings because there’s only 90,000 seats and the ticket demand for England games in the men’s Euro is phenomenal.
“That’s not quite the same for the women’s Euros. If there is demand in host cities, we’d love to talk to them about fan zones. We need to be quite realistic about the budgets that the cities have and where our priorities are.
“Absolutely we are talking to host cities about, be it a fan march, a meeting point, a fan zone, a screening, they’re all on the table but we need to be quite realistic about what will be delivered and where our focus should be and that’s driving attendance to stadia to give the teams that full stadium experience.”
A common inducement during previous tournaments, free city-centre transport for supporters will not be offered to ticket-holders as Bryant explained. “Hosting the event already puts a significant strain on host cities in order to provide security and transport infrastructure.
“What we will do is focus on those cities where potentially you might need a transport solution that doesn’t already exist. We will work the local councils to potentially put on shuttle buses to try and move fans from the city centre to the venue.
“We’re not going to do what the men’s Euros did and offer free public transport with every ticket. It’s incredible costly and it’s incredibly difficult to deliver and we believe our priorities and focus are best elsewhere.”
Burrell, who travels from Didsbury to another of the Euro 2021 venues, the Leigh Sports Village, to watch Manchester United hopes that one tournament legacy will be to improve infrastructure around the LSV Stadium.
"You'll see better transport links then, which hopefully then we can take advantage of. It's got great facilities. I'd encourage people to go to Leigh.”
Over 700,000 tickets will be made available for the tournament compared to the record 240,045 tickets sold at Euro 2017.
“That's a huge jump in the available number of tickets that we want to sell,” admits Bryant. “Across the board, we want to try and sell as many tickets as possible. We’ll look at doing that through accessible tickets, but also through working with local communities to ensure that schools and universities have the opportunities to come to the games as well.”
How the FA will generate interest in games not involving England remains to be seen as Bryant explains. “We know that some games are going to be more attractive than others, therefore how do we manage that balance across the country to try and give all of the teams the same experience of having full stadiums?
“That certainly has been a challenge. We bid before the World Cup in France and that certainly changed how people viewed the tournament, and maybe how we viewed the tournament with some of our venue selections.
“Really it was that led to our inclusion of Old Trafford as the opening venue. We sensed there was an opportunity here maybe to try and open the tournament with a special bang. I think it's really exciting.
“This is elite sport. This is a big major event, a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend a football tournament in your own country. It’s a rare occasion and therefore people should embrace that, people should embrace those games in their host cities and everyone should try and be a part of it.
“A big part of our marketing campaign is to not just look at football fans but ‘big eventers,’ people that want to be part of something special which we believe this tournament can be.
“We want it to be remembered as a tournament, a major event, that gripped the country, that everyone felt part of, that everyone was reminiscing about, a fantastic summer in which everyone had a great time going to the tournament.”
To register for tickets, competitions and volunteering opportunities visit TheFA.com/WEuro2021