A dream come true”: Lost Lioness Chris Lockwood on her Euro 22 pride

Football’s coming home… nearly. Hopefully. Ahead of this weekend’s England-Germany Euro 2022 final, one of 1971’s fabled Lost Lionesses reflects on the 50-year journey of the formerly-banned women’s game.

This Sunday, England play Germany in the final of the Women’s Euro 2022. It’s been a remarkable run for the Lionesses, capped in considerable style earlier this week when the team beat Sweden in an emphatic 4 – 0 victory at Sheffield’s Bramall Lane.

The match at Wembley will be England’s first major final since Euro 2009, when they were defeated in Helsinki by… let’s see… oh, that’s right: Germany.

But, chin up! Let’s not get too panicked at the prospect of another nail-biting showdown with the country who have reliably and consistently been the jink for the men’s team. Not least, of course, because it was only last year, during Euro 2020, that Gareth Southgate’s Lions beat Joachim Löw’s squad 2 – 0.

Equally, just getting to this point is a triumph. And that’s off the pitch, too. Euro 2022 has seen the women’s game enter the national conversation like never before. In playgrounds and parks, on the sides of buses and in the gardens of pubs, in endless TV ads and all over social media, the Lionesses are the talk – and the pride – of the land.

Chris Lockwood knows better than most what a journey it’s been to get to this point. Aged 15, she was a member of 1971’s Lost Lionesses. They were the unofficial”, 14-strong squad of schoolgirls, teenage workers and early twentysomethings, put together by Luton-based coach Harry Batt, who travelled to Mexico to take on Argentina, France and the host nation in the Women’s World Cup.

But due to the FA bureaucracy of the time – and, frankly, institutional sexism in British sport – the team weren’t lionised on their return to the UK. On the contrary: they were banned from football, the game’s overlords taking a dim view of Batt’s gung-ho, disruptive determination to elevate his young players and the women’s game in Britain to the international stage.

Last year, Martine Rose foregrounded and lifted up Lockwood and her fellow Lost Lionesses in a football shirt the designer created for Euro 2022. And THE FACE was only too happy to join in this belated and well-deserved celebration of these young women’s achievements, a half century later, with our cover story and interviews with Lockwood and teammate Janice Emms.

This Sunday afternoon, Lockwood will be in the stands with some of her other former teammates, cheering on her – our – team. But before the 66-year-old retired IT worker gets there, she reflects on the 51-year journey from Azteca Stadium to Wembley Stadium, from banning orders to primetime TV, from Lost Lionesses to national heroines.

The semi-final against Sweden was just fantastic. Sweden have a good pedigree, and in the first 15 minutes, we were a bit slow starting. We’ve been like that in a few games in the tournament, but that’s not always a bad thing. And once we got that first goal, we never looked back. We took control of the match.

I think our game mentality has been excellent. You could see that with Alessia Russo’s cheeky back-heel goal. It just showed a brilliant football brain, and the confidence to do it. I’m sure the Swedish keeper wasn’t best pleased. But it was a brilliant goal, and now you’ll see all the kids trying it.

I’m so proud of our team. They’re astounding. I can’t believe how far we’ve come since we were in Mexico. I know it’s taken a long time, but in the last few years, the improvement has been rapid.

But for sure, we have come a very long way from 1971. In our time, the women’s game was still banned from playing on [FA-]affiliated pitches. So the only way we got together was through the love of the game. We didn’t have any support other than from each other, and we had to fundraise for ourselves.

Going to Mexico was only due to the brilliance of Harry Batt and his wife June taking us – and, luckily, because Martini Rosso, the drinks company, sponsored it. Because we couldn’t have afforded to go. We didn’t have any backing whatsoever. That’s what the times were like.

But then when we were out there in Mexico, it was much the same as it’s been here this summer for the Euros: lots of media coverage, sponsorship, the crowds were massive, we were on TV, a newspaper reporter was assigned to us. And we were only used to playing in local parks. So when we were in Mexico, we thought: this is it – the women’s game is happening.

If someone said to me, go and play on the moon with this ball’, I would have gone. Football meant more to me than anything”

CHRIS LOCKWOOD

But when we came home, there was nothing. Nothing at all. Well, I say nothing: we got banned from football. The younger ones, like me, for three months. The girls aged 16 and up, for six months. And Harry was banned for life, never allowed to be in the women’s game again. It was tough. But if I’d known I was going to be banned, I’d still have gone. If someone said to me, go and play on the moon with this ball’, I would have gone. Football meant more to me than anything.

Even at school, the silence about Mexico was deafening. I was only 15 and there wasn’t even a mention in assembly. There were three other girls from the team who were still at school, different schools, and their experience was the same: silence.

All talk of what we did in Mexico was shut down. But we didn’t have social media, obviously – we didn’t even have computers. So it was easy for the football establishment to shut us down.

We all carried on, eventually, doing what we loved, playing football competitively. And the boys I played with were great – they were all proud of me. They thought it was great what we did. But the women’s game, even though it was starting to get recognised, didn’t move very fast at all – it was another 20 years before the first FIFA Women’s World Cup happened.

Things did move on – but slowly. Some of the first official” England players, who played under the FA, had it tough, too. A lot of them had to pay their own way to get to grounds and play for their country.

It was only in the early-2000s that the women’s game here got proper backing behind it. And it’s very flattering to think that we played a small part in that. Now I’m just so pleased that all these girls can play football and be recognised properly for it, and celebrated for their skills. But I don’t know how this team cope with getting to the final in your home country. There’s a lot of pressure, but they’re doing brilliantly. The tournament has been amazing. All the women from all the teams have been amazing.

When I’m at Wembley on Sunday, I’m going to be excited, of course. Compared to 50 years ago, I don’t know how many more people now are aware of, and love, the women’s game. I’m blown away, really, and proud, about how the country at large is recognising women playing football. And I just hope now we can help grassroots football for young girls. We should all stand together and support each other.

And, for sure, there will be an element of disbelief for me. To have the Euros in your own country, and for your own country to play so well, and for all the teams to showcase what the women’s game can do: it’s like a dream come true. I couldn’t ask for more.

Well, of course, I could ask for a win over Germany. And I think we can win. We’re sky-high right now, but it’s going to be a very nervy first five, 10 minutes, and we’ll need to be on our toes. It’s going to be very physical, very tough, and the Germans are very impressive. They play like they’re in a pack. When you’ve got the ball, there’ll be three or four of them on you immediately and you think: how did they do that? But there’ll be a plan there, tactics, to deal with that.

And all that said: I do not want penalties!”

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