WOODS: When taxi drivers laud our Lionesses, it shows change is here

EXCLUSIVE: LAURA WOODS: When taxi drivers are lauding the Lionesses, you know change has arrived… we’re no longer watching the women’s game – we’re simply watching football

  • Laura Woods lauded England’s Lionesses after they reached the World Cup final
  • She sent Sarina Wiegman’s side a heartfelt video message to congratulate them 
  • Exclusively writing for Mail Sport, she pens her thoughts ahead of Sunday’s final

What we are seeing here isn’t women’s football. It’s just football.

An elite standard of sport that is transforming opinions, removing the excuses and creating a legacy that makes me proud to be English. This World Cup adventure has felt like the perfect tonic for a country seems divided.

It’s the taxi drivers I’ve been enjoying the most. Some begin by feigning ignorance. Others dive straight in. But they all offer an opinion on whether it should be Ella Toone or Lauren James starting in the final, on how good Japan were, how Colombia’s Linda Caicedo was a star of the tournament… and how good it is to stick it the Aussies. ‘Revenge for the Ashes,’ and all that. That’s what this team is doing.

I’ve always disliked the comparison with the men’s game. When I was growing up I loved Sally Gunnell. Nobody said she didn’t jump hurdles higher than Colin Jackson. 

You don’t watch Keely Hodgkinson and compare her to Sebastian Coe. You just enjoy them for what they are and what they are achieving. And the interest in our Lionesses is exploding!

ITV presenter Laura Woods (pictured) beamed with pride as she congratulated England’s Lionesses on reaching their first ever World Cup final in a video message on Thursday

England celebrated in style after beating Australia 3-1 in Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final

The Lionesses have succeeded in bringing fans together throughout the enthralling World Cup

The team won’t necessarily know that, as they are cocooned in their Australia base, but I am back here presenting for ITV in London. And I can really feel it. The escalating interest from the general public, the space being committed in newspapers and websites. We had more than seven million viewers for England’s quarter final win against Colombia, for a morning kick off too. It’s a monster figure.

Sarina Wiegman’s team are rightly the talk of the town. Our European champions are one game from being our World champions.

Picture this. I was covering the Lionesses for ITV in September 2021 and it was Sarina’s first game as England manager. We went to St Mary’s stadium in Southampton, where the gate was just over 8,000. England beat North Macedonia 8-0 that day, and we spent a lot of time making sure the cameras didn’t show the many empty seats. Look what’s happened since.

From 8,000 in Southampton to a full house at Wembley in two years – when England beat Brazil, the champions of South America, in the Finalissima 2023.

My first memory of watching England was at Euro 96. I was nine years old, the summer had been electric. A semi final! And me watching in the local rugby club on a small TV in the corner. We had just lost to Germany… on penalties. The cruellest way to end what was the most brilliant ride.

Lauren Hemp and her Lionesses team-mates celebrated in style after beating Australia 3-1

Wiegman (centre) is now the first ever football coach to lead two nations to a World Cup final 

Rachel Daly (right) and Mary Earps (centre) are now just one match away from World Cup glory

And as we drove home, we had Baddiel and Skinner’s ‘Three Lions’ on cassette tape blaring out the windows, in morose fashion this time, flipping it over continuously to play it on repeat in mum’s sky blue Mini Metro. There was no celebration, just an empty feeling. England were out. My earliest memories, were of despair!

I look at all the little ones in my family today, who have become Lionesses superfans over the past couple of years. And I think how lucky they are! Their first England memories so far have been quite different. Euros champions and now World Cup finalists. Wow. That’s how you create a legacy.

Even with injuries and suspensions, this England team has grown into the tournament. They have dealt with challenges and doubts and they aren’t even at their best yet.

It’s been a very different journey from their Euros triumph, when everything seemed to go their way. This team, this manager, has been tested.

She’s changed formation, she’s ignored the option of moving the WSL top scorer Rachel Daly from left full back to centre forward, she made decisions where we have reacted with a: ‘What? Really?’ But she had got every one of them right.

A huge talking point is whether Lauren James is recalled for the final against Spain on Sunday

Woods is ITV’s presenter for the Women’s World Cup and has taken on a key role at TNT Sports 

There will always be those that want to write slurs on social media and compare the women’s game to men’s football – but the Lionesses should be idolised for their incredible achievements

I have taken great heart at how they are not just being accepted across the country, they are being idolised. Now people are talking about what these Lionesses can do, rather than what they can’t.

There will always be those that want to write slurs on social media, using sport as an outlet and an excuse to express abuse. I always think it says a lot more about the author. Perhaps they’re missing something in their life? But for me, on the contrary, our Lionesses have enriched mine. And I know I’m not the only one.

Tune in on Sunday and watch something very special. I do really hope that it is indeed coming home.

Laura Woods presents ITV’s World Cup Final coverage on Sunday from 9.25am on ITV1

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