The Lionesses drew an average of 4.6 million viewers during their World Cup semi-final, yet fans are disappointed that councils have failed to respond to the team’s success by putting on free public viewing parties for the final.
The BBC said a peak audience of 7.3 million tuned in to watch England beat Australia 3-1 on Wednesday, despite the time zone difference resulting in an 11am kick-off time.
Many more are expected to watch the team in the final against Spain on Sunday, again at 11am BST, hoping to witness England’s first World Cup victory since the men triumphed in 1966.
The peak audience for the Euros final in 2022, which the Lionesses won, was 17.4 million, while 11.7 million viewers tuned in for the Lionesses’ previous World Cup semi-final in 2019.
However, few cities appear to be hosting public viewing events that would make it cheaper and more accessible for families to watch the final.
The Greater London Authority said it was unable to host a public event in Trafalgar Square because of essential maintenance work, and is promoting a screening run by the All Points East festival in Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets.
Birmingham city council said all events would be hosted in local bars and restaurants. Newcastle city council said the NE1 initiative, which is funded through local business rates, will put on a public viewing screen in the city centre.
Manchester is one of the few cities to put on a council-run and funded screening event, with a first come, first served 6,000 capacity fan zone in Piccadilly Gardens announced on Thursday. However, Bristol city council said it had no screening facility available to show the game as the one in Millennium Square was out of action.
Stacey Pope, associate professor at Durham University’s department for sport and exercise, said her research had shown that people became fans of women’s football because it was seen as “welcoming to women and children … safer, with less vulgarity, drunkenness and physical aggression” than the men’s game.
“It would be a real shame if we don’t capitalise on this opportunity and provide as many spaces as possible to watch the final that are safe and inclusive,” she said.
“We have seen how screening matches helps to bring people together, celebrating as a communal event and fostering a sense of national pride and identity.
“It is taken for granted that men’s England matches will be widely screened, so there needs to be some level of parity here. Otherwise, not only is this potentially a missed opportunity but it also downplays the importance of the England women’s team.”
Grassroots football clubs said they were organising their own events to fill the void. Sara Sanders, who coaches girls aged four to 14 at Stockport Dynamos, has hired a venue to provide a safe space for the girls. “We’ve got too many to fit anywhere else,” she said.
She was grateful to a local retailer, Sokker Girls, for reserving tables in a bar, enabling girls to attend without having to buy food or drinks, but felt that the local authority could have done more.
“It’s a shame there’s not more locally, centrally organised,” she said. “We’ve got big open spaces that can be utilised.”
Shahid Malji, who runs the grassroots Super5 league in east London, recalled that there were a huge number of open events for the men’s Euro 2020 final against Italy.
“I haven’t seen the same effect for the women’s World Cup games. For families who love watching football together and a fanbase environment, this is a bit disappointing.”
Players in the Women’s National League, representing the third to sixth divisions in female football, have launched a petition, which has gained more than 1,000 signatures, urging their clubs to postpone afternoon matches so they can watch the final.
One regional league player, who asked for anonymity, said: “Everyone’s onboard, supporting the Lionesses, but players, fans and volunteers in women’s football are the ones that are being isolated.
“There’s such a gap with how the men’s team are treated. Imagine if we win the World Cup, we can’t celebrate even though we’ve just made history – that’s insane.”
Ahead of Sunday’s final, the three Boxpark fan zones in London – Croydon, Wembley and Shoreditch – sold all their 2,500 tickets in just eight minutes.
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) has called on the government to loosen licensing rules for opening hours and alcohol sales for the final, as most are unable to serve alcohol until 11am and some are restricted until midday.
On Thursday evening, the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, said he had written to the leaders of all the councils in England asking them to do everything they could to help pubs that want to open for the final.
“The whole nation is ready to get behind the Lionesses this Sunday in what is England’s biggest game since 1966,” he said.
“I’ve asked councils to do everything they can to help pubs get open earlier on Sunday, so people can come together and enjoy a drink before kick-off for this special occasion.”
A senior bishop from the Church of England said it was “fine” for churches to move morning services to accommodate the final. The Right Reverend Libby Lane, Bishop of Derby and the Church of England’s lead bishop for sport, said people should choose the service that is “right for them” in order to watch it.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has also called for a celebratory bank holiday if England win. The government said it was not planning an extra bank holiday, but would find a “right way to celebrate”.