Bethany England is optimistic the launch of the Premier League season will not distract football fans from the Lionesses’ quest to lift a maiden World Cup.
The European champions kick off their Colombia quarter-final at 11:30am UK time on Saturday, one hour before Arsenal and Nottingham Forest begin their new campaigns at the Emirates.
The Lionesses’ last-16 clash against Nigeria was watched by over five million people on BBC TV, while tournament organisers have said they are on track to reach an audience of two billion viewers worldwide.
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) August 10, 2023
Forward England said: “It’s important that we keep, I think as we’ve seen over the last few years and since the Euros especially the amount of numbers that have grown in the women’s game and people’s interest and viewing numbers.
“I think hopefully we can still engage the fans enough to want to watch us and I know there’s a lot of people that have turned to women’s football because they’ve enjoyed watching us. It’s not just because the men aren’t playing.
“So hopefully we can continue that because we want to make sure that those viewing numbers are as high as possible, whether they choose to watch the men’s game or not.
“We can’t affect that. I think ultimately we’re going to go and try and put out our best performance and give the fans something to watch, and that they will want to keep coming back and watching us.”
England was part of Sarina Wiegman’s squad who lifted the Euro 2022 trophy last summer, a result that captivated the country and launched an unprecedented, record-breaking season of attendance and viewing figures for the Women’s Super League (WSL) and sold-out international contests at Wembley.
The European final took place on July 31, several weeks before the opening weekend of the Premier League.
England, 29, left Chelsea for Tottenham in January and finished as the WSL’s third-best goal-scorer behind only England team-mate Rachel Daly and Jamaica captain Khadija Shaw, whose side were beaten 1-0 by the Lionesses’ South American Saturday rivals Colombia.
England did enough to stand out to Wiegman, and not just to earn a ticket to Australia.
The Spurs striker has so far twice been rewarded with playing time as a substitute, and converted a critical spot-kick against Nigeria in the Lionesses’ dramatic 4-2 win on penalties.
England added: “I was in that situation last summer where I didn’t play and it was tough, but for me, this tournament has been very much different and it’s been an amazing feeling, and a very proud moment for me to have been able to have stepped onto the pitch for my national team in a major tournament.
“And I think it’s important, I remember having this conversation with some of the girls the other day, that you think it’s the end of the world because you’ve not played your part, but you’re all playing your part. And that’s exactly what I had to learn from myself last year, was that it might seem at the time like it’s really difficult but it really is worth it.”
A World Cup quarter-final seems a universe away from England’s early days.
Stronger together pic.twitter.com/SRvsCRfbUH
— Bethany England (@Bethany_Eng15) August 8, 2023
Nine years ago, still several seasons before the WSL turned professional in 2018, she was doing night shifts at the the Wellington Street chippy in Barnsley while balancing football with Doncaster Belles alongside her A-levels.
England added: “When I look back to working in the chippy, doing a shift until 5am and clearing up drunk people’s food or alcohol bottles, I’m now playing in a major tournament. That for me is very much a ‘pinch me’ moment.
“Everyone’s story is different, everyone has got their own way in which they got here. I think it’s quite special because it’s really humbling as well that with things like that you are just a normal person but then you come to a tournament like this and think ‘wow, there are millions and millions of eyes watching me in these moments’.
“I just have to make sure I’m at my best and ready because you’re always watching us no matter what we do.”