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Football

Old Trafford picked to stage grand opening of Women’s Euro 2021


The Football Association and Uefa are making an ambitious attempt to break the women’s European Championship attendance record in next year’s opening game by holding England’s first match at Old Trafford.

The Lionesses will step out in the 76,000-capacity venue on 7 July, in 500 days’ time, before completing their Group A fixtures at Brighton and Southampton. The tournament record was set when 41,301 attended the 2013 final in Sweden.

“It doesn’t get much bigger than managing your country at a home Euros and to have the opportunity to do so at a stadium that holds so many memories for me is huge,” said Phil Neville, who spent 15 years with Manchester United. “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.”

He added, with a grin: “It’s [a stadium] where they have been watching, growing up, some of the best full-backs in the world play.”

The FA drew criticism for its initial list of relatively modest stadiums for the home tournament, with none of the Premier League’s traditional Big Six involved, although Wembley will host the final.

The addition of Old Trafford reflects a willingness to expand ambitions on the basis of the increased growth in the game since the FA was awarded the finals in 2018. Four other club stadiums being used have a capacity of more than 30,000: those of Sheffield United, Southampton, Brighton and MK Dons. The other four venues range in capacity from 7,000 at Manchester City’s Academy Stadium to a projected 17,250 at Brentford’s new ground.

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Euro 2021 venues

“Thinking about the planning of the tournament, it probably started five or six years ago, and the level of the stadium we were looking at then was to get as many people as possible into a smaller type stadium and now we’re thinking Old Trafford for the first game of the Euros,” Neville said. “It is a brave and unbelievably correct decision by the FA to say the game has gone so far so let’s take it to a bigger place.”

There are 700,000 tickets available across the 31 matches, a 46% increase on the 2017 edition held in the Netherlands (480,000).

“It’s incredible,” said the Arsenal and England playmaker Jordan Nobbs. “It’s a great time for the women’s game. I’m sure the others will crack a few jokes with Phil, wondering if he pulled a few strings.”

Nobbs, who has come from playing in a girls’ team against a boys’ team in a Morrisons car park in the north‑east to the pinnacle of the women’s game, knows the impact a home tournament can have on the players’ profiles and the game generally. When she returned to Arsenal after England’s semi-final exit in 2017, she returned with four Dutch tournament winners.

“The girls even now say that the likes of Sari van Veenendaal and Shanice van de Sanden can’t walk down the streets in the Netherlands without being recognised and spotted,” Nobbs said. “That’s incredible to hear and we want to take the game to that level as well.

“It was all orange,” she added of the buildup to England’s 3-0 defeat to the eventual winners in their semi-final in Enschede. “It was absolutely incredible. The Netherlands fans all met in one place then walked to the stadium. Our bus was going one mile per hour with a sea of orange banging the bus. I was stood up on the bus looking over and seeing the crowd.“

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England hosted the women’s Euros in 2005 but circumstances were much more modest. Only 118,403 fans attended across the eight-team tournament, with England being eliminated at the group stage after defeats by Denmark and Sweden. A crowd of 21,105 watched the final, between Germany and Norway, played at Blackburn’s Ewood Park.

Uefa’s head of women’s football, Nadine Kessler, said: “To kick off at the Theatre of Dreams in Manchester, and to have the final at the iconic Wembley Stadium shows just how far the game has come. This is what women’s football deserves.”



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