England defender Demi Stokes understands her side hold a “great responsibility” to inspire the next generation during this summer’s Women’s Euro 2022.
The Lionesses are among the favorites to lift the European Championship, which is being held on home soil, and winning the tournament could have a profound effect on the women’s game.
Stokes, who has been named in Sarina Wiegman’s provisional squad, knows what is at stake if the team do well.
“It is important now, with the Euros coming up, what a way to inspire girls, and if they are watching the Euros they have got something to aim for,” she told the PA news agency.
“I think we hold a great responsibility, we know when we go out and play we want to play good football and that will naturally get more fans and get people more involved.
“The more successful we become it is going to keep the ball rolling and we are going to give not just us opportunities but also the next generation coming through.
“We understand that it is not about us in that moment, but for the women’s game it’s more important for the years to come in keeping the ball rolling in a positive way.
“It can have such a great impact when you are winning… people want to know more and that way you will get more people involved naturally.”
With no men’s tournament this summer, there will be plenty of focus on the women, especially given the tournament is being played in this country.
Stokes grants it will be a new experience for the England squad, but one they should embrace.
“I think it’s exciting, to look where the game is and was from the 2005 Euros to now, it is going to be a different kettle of fish and I don’t think any of us that are selected will have experienced the magnitude of pressure , the media and expectation that is going to come with it,” she admitted.
“Previous tournaments have been in different countries so it has been diluted. It’s so exciting and it is going to be such a good buzz around the tournament.
“We have got experienced players who have been to many tournaments, so it is about using that experience, embracing it, enjoying it and not letting the experience pass you by.
“It will put us in a very good position to do the best we can. We have a very good squad, very good individuals, we are in a good place and going into a tournament we will give it our best shot.
“It is about doing what we can as a team we have got great depth, great individuals and great players, it is about doing what we have done and pushing on.”
Stokes was speaking after supporting the launch of McDonald’s New Fun Football programme, which will provide one million children aged 5-11 access to free football coaching sessions over the next four years.
She said: “It’s about getting as many girls participating in football and making it fun. We want it to be real low-level pressure and aiming over the next four years to get a million-plus girls if they can.
“It is about low expectations, having fun and there’s no judgement. It is really important to keep building pathways for young girls, giving them opportunities and from that avenue they can decide where they want to go in their path.”
McDonald’s Fun Football is offering one million kids access to FREE football over the next four years as part of the largest grassroots football program in the UK. Start your kids football journey by visiting McDonalds.co.uk/Football
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.