As England gears up to host Euro 2022, ardent women’s football fans will recall similar preparations in 2005.
Blackpool, Manchester, Blackburn and Preston were among the cities to host matches during the two-week tournament, which was eventually won by Germany.
England were unable to take advantage of the home advantage and finished bottom of their group. But despite the disappointing showing, a 17-year-old Karen Carney was still able to make a name for herself.
The teenager scored the winning goal in a thrilling 3-2 victory against Finland, an encounter which took place in front of nearly 30,000 spectators at the City of Manchester Stadium.
This is an impressive attendance figure even by today’s standards, but Carney told GiveMeSport Women that the women’s game has come on by leaps and bounds since she played at Euro 2005.
“I think the broadcast deals, the way sponsors have jumped in and supported the game, has been magnificent,” she enthused.
“I think there’s more awareness of the tournament coming up. There’s more acceptance around women playing. In 2005 we probably weren’t quite there yet.
“The Women’s Super League has been really great this season, really exciting, and the Champions League has been really good as well. I think that’ll just make Euro 2022 even more exciting.
“I think we will break crowd records, and it should be the biggest women’s sport event in England since 2012. So, it’s one to be really excited about and I think everyone will get behind it.”
England’s final position at Euro 2022 should also be in stark contrast to 2005. The Lionesses are one of the favourites to win the title. Indeed, Carney believes the side are among “four or five” teams who could lift the trophy.
“I think England are up there, they’ve got a great chance, they’ve got a good squad,” she said.
“Sometimes I just worry about where our goals are coming from against the big nations, but I think they’re in the mix. Hopefully the momentum goes in our favour as the tournament goes on.”
It is set to be a new-look England competing at Euro 2022. The Lionesses will be managed by former Netherlands coach Sarina Wiegman, who has named Arsenal defender Leah Williamson as captain.
Carney praised the decision to hand Williamson the captaincy, describing the 25-year-old as one of the standout players in the WSL this season.
“She’s got the whole package really in terms of an England captain. So it’s a really good decision. And I’m sure everyone in the team will support her.”
After her breakout performance at Euro 2005, Carney went on to win numerous domestic honours for several clubs, including Birmingham, Arsenal and Chelsea. She also represented both England and Team GB on the international stage.
Teammates included Megan Rapinoe and Kelly Smith, with Carney citing the latter as the best player she ever shared a pitch with. But as a result of such an illustrious career, the 34-year-old found it difficult to select her greatest achievement.
“It’s tough, because if you look at it from a playing perspective, just by winning, it would be the quadruple at Arsenal,” Carney said.
“But if I look at what’s more meaningful to me as a person, it’s earning my first cap for England or winning the FA Cup with Birmingham, because I was there from age 11.
“Or, being a professional in America when I never ever thought I’d be a professional footballer, or playing for Chelsea, or playing in the Olympics.
“Without being too arrogant, there’s a lot of things I’ve been able to do. It just depends on what mood I’m in, and which one I want to pick.”
Carney announced her retirement in July 2019, and she soon followed former teammate Alex Scott into punditry.
She began her broadcast career at the BBC and BT Sport, and is now across Sky Sports football output as the lead pundit for the WSL.
Carney is also part of the matchday team for the Premier League and the EFL, providing expert analysis on various games from the studio.
“It was quite hard to learn how to be on TV,” she revealed. “I’ve never really done it before. I’ve had to work hard at it and to try and improve. It looks easy but it’s actually quite challenging.
“You’re there to analyse a game, but it’s a show at the end of the day, so you’ve got to make it good for the audience. The hardest shift was definitely learning more about TV, but I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Carney has also had to deal with social media abuse, the worst of which came after she was mocked on Twitter by Premier League club Leeds United in December 2020.
The barrage of abusive messages, many of which were sexist in nature, prompted Carney to delete her Twitter account.
The football legend did not let this situation deter her from punditry, however, and she is now one of the most high-profile women in sports broadcasting. But Carney declined to be considered an inspiration.
“I just want to do my job and be the best at it. I know there have been barriers, and I’ve been through situations myself where it’s quite challenging,” she said.
“But I don’t look at myself as an inspiration, and I didn’t when I played either. I think just do your job as a player or as a pundit, and just do the best that you can. And just enjoy it and see where that goes.”
Aside from punditry, Carney is also interested in the business side of football, and has nearly completed her MBA.
“I’ve got one module and then my thesis to do, and I’ll be finished. And I already work for Visa, on a career development programme called the Second Half, where we provide career transition opportunities for players within the WSL, current and retired.
“So, I’m doing stuff already in the corporate world and I’m really enjoying it to be honest. But equally I wouldn’t mind eventually being a director or CEO of a football club one day, who’s to say.
“But right now, I’m pretty busy with punditry and studying, and doing other bits and bobs as well.”
Carney’s post-playing career is looking just as successful as her time on the pitch. Whether in front of the TV cameras or running a club, the star will be sure to have a lasting impact on football.