England fans will probably remember 1996 as the year the men came so close to European Championship glory.
It’s also the year one of the most iconic players of the women’s game, Faye White, began her career as a footballer.
The world was a different place in 1996: the Gallagher brothers were friends, the internet was barely a thing and women’s football was still in its infancy.
White, the Arsenal and Lionesses legend, never got to experience the raucous scenes of Euro ’96 during a glittering career which saw her win nine FA Women’s Cups and make 90 appearances for her country.
But now, times are changing. We stayed up in our millions to watch the Lionesses come third at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.
The following season, attendances in the Women’s Super League grew by 50 per cent, and it didn’t stop there.
England’s semi-final against the Netherlands at Euro 2017 drew the biggest ever audience for a women’s football match in the UK, peaking at more than four million viewers.
And ahead of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, which begins tonight when hosts France face South Korea, there is a genuine excitement for perhaps the first time in this country.
Speaking at a William Hill pre-World Cup event, White told talkSPORT: “Has there ever been this buzz? No!”
“The media coverage for this World Cup is above and beyond anything. Each time we have thought it’s getting bigger and bigger. The last World Cup, nearly two million people were watching it at midnight.
“It’s on another level and that will only motivate the girls. Yes it’ll raise expectation, but they have those expectations themselves anyway. If anything, it’ll give them that confidence that they’re making a change now.
“It’ll give them more pride than they’ve ever felt playing in an England shirt.”
The Lionesses, fresh from their triumph in the SheBelieves Cup, are genuine contenders to become world champions for the first time in history.
Ahead of their opener against Scotland on Sunday, Phil Neville’s team enter the tournament as third favourites, behind the USA and France.
But White, England Women’s longest serving captain, knows better than anybody that the Lionesses’ history at major tournaments, much like the men’s team, is littered with heartbreak and disappointment.
The 41-year-old captained her country at two European Championships and two World Cups – and has the scars to prove it.
In 2007, White played on with a broken nose for the final ten minutes of England’s quarter-final defeat to the USA, who the Lionesses are still yet to beat in a competitive match.
Women’s World Cup on talkSPORT
talkSPORT is your home of the Women’s World Cup! Here’s what’s coming up this weekend…
- France vs South Korea (Friday, 8pm) – talkSPORT
- England vs Scotland (Sunday, 5pm) – talkSPORT
At Euro 2009, she led the women all the way to the final, only to be beaten by Germany.
And it was White who missed the all-important fifth penalty against France at the 2011 World Cup, as the Lionesses went crashing out in the quarter-finals.
But the former centre-back believes the pain of the past will make the current team stronger – and now could be the perfect time for them to win it.
“I think they have a great chance of going all the way. They’ve had that experience of going so close. Yes we need a bit of fortune in terms of results as you always do,” White added.
“I think we’ve seen a progressive increase in media coverage over the years and certainly since 2009 when we got to the Euro final.
“Each tournament has shown a rise and there is a feel-good feeling around the game and that results in increased attendances.
“The big thing is if we win it, it would go to a completely different level. I do believe now is the time.
“It would be a perfect time to catapult it to bigger than it’s ever been.”
The Lionesses are 7/1 with William Hill to win the Women’s World Cup.
Listen to every England game live on talkSPORT – and tune in for France vs South Korea tonight at 8pm.