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Toni Duggan: Women’s football brings such a buzz that sucks people in

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Euro 2022 captured the imagination of the country last summer, showcasing women’s football on a bigger platform than ever before as England swept to victory on home soil.

Now, as the 2023 Women’s World Cup picks up pace, national attention is once more on the Lionesses. Things are a little different with the team in action so far from home this time, p

Just Eat opened The Queen’s Header, a popup pub in Shoreditch that only shows women’s football, for England’s first game against Haiti. Before it closes, fans fortunate enough to get hold of tickets that have sold out will gather for a second time when the Lionesses play Denmark on Friday morning. All week, punters have been able to combine World Cup games with delivered breakfasts.

Toni Duggan and Fran Kirby were both present for the grand opening.

Duggan, a veteran of two previous World Cup with England in 2015 and 2019, answers 90min‘s questions about the importance people being able to watch women’s football together, the Lionesses’ chances in Australia and her earliest memories of the competition…

How important is it for people to be able to come together to watch women’s football in the same way they have for men’s football for decades?

“Many haven’t been able to watch women’s football on TV until relatively recently, but off the back of the Euros we saw the game thrusted into the spotlight, with so many girls and women across the country inspired to get on a pitch and play. Matches are increasingly sold out and the amount of people watching on TV continues to rise so there is clearly a strong appetite for the game.”

“Football is a group sport and is best watched with friends, family and other fans. This is even more important this summer given the location of the tournament, and the early kick-offs. Having a space solely dedicated to screening women’s football like Just Eat’s new pop-up pub, The Queen’s Header is just what fans want and need. Without Just Eat, most fans would have to watch at home and without the amazing atmosphere women’s football is renowned for.”

Can communal watching attract more fans because of the atmosphere it creates?

“100%! Women’s football is such an inclusive space and welcomes everyone and anyone – it sucks you in and brings such a buzz that you then want to keep it going. When we opened The Queen’s Header for England’s match against Haiti, the atmosphere was amazing. Everyone was there to support the Lionesses and celebrate women’s football and it really felt like we were one big team. I think fans like that element and being surrounded by like-minded people.”

The Queen's Header is a place for fans to watch the 2023 Women's World Cup together

The Queen’s Header is a place for fans to watch the 2023 Women’s World Cup together / Just Eat/Mischief PR

When did you first see women’s football on TV?

“I remember it vividly – it was the FA Cup final and the only women’s game shown throughout the year. You’d never catch it on at the pub or get a brand like Just Eat bringing it to the masses. It goes to show how far the game has come.”

What is your earliest memory of the Women’s World Cup specifically?

“To be honest, just playing in it! While I know some tournaments were televised, there was never as much hype or buzz surrounding it as the men’s. This has changed massively since the Euros and it’s great to see this summer’s matches on a lot more people’s radars.”

What can fans expect from England at this World Cup given the changes to the team since Euro 2022 in a relatively short period of time?

“This England team is still full of great talent. Of course the girls are missing some big players but there are a lot of exciting youngsters coming through that can scare and test the opposition. Off the back of a massive Euros win, the Lionesses have to be one of the favourites and I am supporting them all the way!”

“The Lionesses have to be one of the favourites for the World Cup”

– Toni Duggan

With a void still to fill since Ellen White retired, who would you choose as your starting ‘number nine’ – Alessia Russo, Bethany England, Rachel Daly?

“This is a difficult one for me to answer – they all bring different qualities! Rachel Daly’s goal tally this year has been brilliant. She’s also versatile and consistently does a good job so it may be that she is required in a different position. Alessia is hugely talented and was a real focal point when she played for Man United. I think Beth England has also proven what she can do over the past few years. There are big boots to fill but Sarina has great options.”

Toni Duggan is backing England to do well this summer

Toni Duggan is backing England to do well this summer / Just Eat/Mischief PR

Which of the England players at their first major tournament – Lauren James, Katie Zelem, Laura Coombs, Niamh Charles, Katie Robinson – do you envisage having the most impact?

“All the talk has been about Lauren James and rightly so – she has had a great year for Chelsea. I know she can have a big impact on this team as she is so unique, and with Fran Kirby unfortunately missing, it’s a great chance for her to step in and show the world what she can do.”

What do you consider England’s biggest strengths & weaknesses?

“Having the title of European Champions will be their biggest strength. Winning breeds winning and I know opponents will have seen the Lionesses at the Euros and fear them as opponents.

“The girls have had three semi-finals prior to their winning Euros final, so their confidence will be high. We have less of an experienced group compared to past tournaments due to injuries but it’s also a massive opportunity for others to make a name for themselves.”

Do disappointing results in warm-up games matter? Or does it all change as soon as the first game of the actual tournament begins?

“I don’t think so, no. Naturally you want to win every game and be in top form heading into a big tournament, but tournaments can be so unpredictable. The team knows what is required of them and I have no doubt players will step up on the big stage.”

Having been in Canada in 2015, what’s it like playing at a World Cup with such a big time difference from home?

“It’s a lot different for sure – not only are you adapting to different times and routines, but fans have to adapt too. One thing the team needs is support, wherever they are and with the location of this year’s tournament it means early kick-offs and limited opportunities to watch as a group.

“The women’s game has such an amazing atmosphere and, even though kick-offs are quite early, we should still be encouraging people to get behind the Lionesses and come together. The Queen’s Header is brilliant for this as they’re providing a space solely dedicated to screening women’s football.

“Fans can cheer on their teams whilst they tuck into breakfast, and even better is that supporting the pub means you’re supporting grassroots football. All ticket sales from The Queen’s Header are going to Just Eat’s ‘Feed the Game’ fund, alongside a £50,000 investment which aims to help keep the 101 girl’s and women’s teams they kick-started last summer playing football. It’s a win-win!”

Sticking with 2015, how did you cope with traveling large distances to games in such a big country like the current players are facing in Australia?

“It’s difficult but incredible! I hated packing up my suitcase all the time but it was much better than packing it up to come home! Plus you get to see so much of the country it’s a wonderful experience.”

What kind of impact do you think the World Cup will have on the 2023/24 WSL season in terms of further growth? Is it important England do well in that respect?

“After every major tournament we see the impact it has on the WSL, especially after the girls’ success in the Euros, it just snowballs! Tournaments like this amplify the buzz around women’s football and hopefully we’ll see those following the tournament, also following the league!”

WATCH THE LATEST WORLD CUP EDITION OF 90MIN TALKS

Shebahn Aherne is joined by Girls on the BallChloe Morgan and 90min’s Lizzy Becherano to review the World Cup’s opening fixtures. England’s narrow win over an impressive Haiti is also analysed, as are the Lionesses’ attacking concerns going forward.

If you can’t see this embed, click here to watch the podcast!





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