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Milestone match lights up Wembley

77,000 fans see historic England women’s fixture – but German stars fail to read the script

14 November, 2019 — By Catherine Etoe

The Wembley Stadium scoreboard displays the attendance for the England v Germany friendly match

WITH a record crowd predicted before a ball had been kicked, England’s clash with Germany at Wembley was billed as one of the most momentous days in the history of the women’s game in this country.

And with packed stands, a “legends” lap of honour, a missed penalty, a disallowed goal and a last-gasp winner, Saturday certainly had it all – even if 2-1 winners Germany had failed to read the script that such a special day in English football demanded.

Yet while Klara Buhl’s precision finish at the death silenced a stadium of 77,768 spectators – a record for an England match – and fuelled the ongoing debate over the coaching talent of Phil Neville, who had just overseen a fifth defeat in seven matches, there was more to this friendly than the result.

It was also viewed as another landmark for a sport that now boasts a fully professional top-flight league, as well as a chance to celebrate those amateur England internationals who had blazed a trail for the game in the decades since the FA ­lifted its 50-year ban on women playing on its affiliated grounds.

Former Arsenal and England internationals, Rachel Yankey, Angela Banks and Kirsty Pealling

So it was out with the new and in with the old as Neville’s professionals left the pitch at half-time – having levelled through a Ellen White strike but with Nikita Parris’s missed penalty to agonise over – and more than 60 former England internationals stepped into the Wembley spotlight for a deserved lap of honour.

Among their number were many old Arsenal favourites including Rachel Yankey, – a Hampstead School old girl – and Kirsty Pealling, a Camden Council community sport and physical activity officer who spent a trophy-laden 20 years at the club and earned 15 England caps before her retirement in 2006.

“The atmosphere was the best I’ve ever experienced at a women’s game,” Kirsty told the New Journal. “It gave me goosebumps to be honest. I knew it would grow eventually, but I didn’t think it would get to more or less a sell-out crowd at Wembley.”

Pealling, who runs Camden Youth FC, said the quality of the FA Women’s Super League and the TV exposure that female footballers and pundits are now gaining has had a positive impact on the numbers of girls in the borough who want to play, although there is still work to do.

“Credit to the FA and the clubs that have taken on professionalism, the way the game is developing, I think we’ve the best league in the world,” she said.

“Certainly for our programme there’s been much wider interest, particularly from the younger age group – but there is still a way to go at grassroots level as that’s where the next ­generation of players are going to come from.”

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