SJA Sports Team of the Year: The case for England’s Lionesses

SJA members can vote now to decide the winners of three major categories at the Awards, to be held at The Kia Oval in London on Thursday 7 December; Jake Wightman, Beth Mead and the Lionesses claimed the equivalent 2022 honours; who will take the top prizes this year? Voting deadline is 15 November…

By Ben Coneybeare

The Lionesses only needed 29 of the 365 days under consideration to inspire a nation from half a world away.

For just under one glorious month in the summer, England stole the headlines and rode the support of a captivated country to within an inch of the ultimate prize. 

Though they fell at the final hurdle on the pitch in Sydney, it was the heart, soul and character they showed to get there that embodied that best of British sport in 2023.

From the first woman in the squad to the 23rd, each one of them played with a fire and togetherness that more than honoured the white shirts they wore.

On its own, that World Cup run could be enough to make them the Team of the Year, yet when looked at in totality, the 2023 Lionesses only become more impressive. 

This year began in the afterglow of the last one, with a victory over Copa America champions Brazil in the Finalissima in February.

That glow couldn’t last forever though and England saw their dazzling 30-game unbeaten streak finally come to an end against Australia. 

That loss, and the pair of draws that followed, may have cracked their aura of invincibility, but this was a team waiting to catch fire at the perfect moment.

When they did, the blaze was truly awe-inspiring to behold. 

As they marched through some of the best teams in the world, the Lionesses continued their meteoric rise to household names.

Their soaring popularity was epitomised by the clamouring demand for goalkeeper shirts with Mary Earps’ name on them, which sold out almost immediately.

With each new triumph more eyes were drawn in and the next generation of female athletes were inspired.

It is no coincidence that even last year Sport England found that 100,000 more girls play football now than they did in 2017.

Even at their lowest, in the immediate aftermath of that final loss, it was clear the Lionesses had already achieved greatness beyond any mere match victory.

It led Sarina Wiegman to reflect: “What we have done, how we have shown ourselves, who we are and how we want to play as a team, overcoming so many challenges, I think we can be very proud of ourselves.”

As the most successful England football team since the 1960s and the team of 2023, they most certainly should be.

Sports journalist Ben Coneybeare is a member of the SJA Academy – find out more about membership here.