#SJA2022: The case for England’s Lionesses

Ahead of the members vote for the Sports Journalists’ Association British Sports Awards, we asked members of the SJA Academy to make their case for contenders to win sportsman, sportswoman and team of the year. DOM SMITH with the case for Sarina Wiegman’s Euro winners.

It is not hyperbolic to say that 2022 could scarcely have been a more successful year for the England women’s football team. 

This was the year in which England won a major tournament at senior level for the first time since 1966 — but unlike the men’s team 56 years ago, the Lionesses were comfortably the best team at the tournament.

A European Championships on home soil served as a golden opportunity to win their maiden major title, and led by the engaging and ambitious Sarina Wiegman, they did just that.

After scraping past Austria in the Old Trafford mizzle in their opener, England suddenly seemed buoyed by the fervent support of their young fanbase. From their base in Teddington, they conquered temperatures of 37°C to mount their title challenge. 

They hammered previously fancied Norway in the biggest victory in Euros history, before battering neighbours Northern Ireland. Spain proved a predictably stern quarter-final test, but England progressed before thrashing a Sweden side ranked second in the world 4–0.

England versus Germany in a sold-out Wembley final just felt right. The Lionesses were taken to extra-time before Chloe Kelly’s late winner triggered delirium inside the stadium and across the nation. Leah Williamson lifted the trophy aloft to confirm England were European champions.

Beth Mead was the tournament’s Golden Ball winner for best player, as well as Golden Boot winner as top scorer. Since Wiegman came in as manager in September 2021, Mead has 20 goals and 17 assists in 19 caps — and she isn’t even a striker.

The Lionesses are still yet to lose in Wiegman’s 24 matches in charge and began the year in impressive fashion, winning the Arnold Clark Cup — a round robin tournament on home soil. England drew with Canada and Spain before beating Germany in their final match to win the inaugural edition. It was a sign of things to come.

They also completed qualification for next summer’s FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in devastating fashion. Qualifying saw them win all ten matches, scoring an incredible 80 goals and conceding none. No European national team — women’s or men’s — have ever qualified for a major tournament with a better record.

2022 was also the Lionesses’ 50th anniversary, with their first recognised international taking place in 1972, 100 years after the men. The Football Association set up a commemorative friendly between European champions England and world champions the United States at Wembley in October. Wiegman and England extended their unbeaten run with a 2–1 win.

While the Lionesses were immensely impressive on the pitch, they were also highly influential off it. Thanks to enhanced media access, the public were given an insight into the players’ likeable personalities and the strength of the team’s bond. 

And in society more generally, their triumphant Euros campaign and the victories that bookended it evoked immense pride from every profile of English football fan — including a generation of young girls whose role models now have winners medals to cherish.

Full members can vote here for their full choice.