There will never be a year quite like 2022. Of that, I am quite certain.
As I sit here reflecting into the early hours of New Year’s Eve, I occasionally have to pinch myself to remember it happened. As with all memories, they fade to the point where they can sometimes feel like a dream. That’s what this year, and this summer in particular, really were…a dream.
You will have to excuse the sappy tinge to this piece. But I can’t think about the 31st July and not get emotional all over again. I watch endless videos from that day, stored permanently on my phone, with tears falling down my face. In fact, if I had one wish, I would be able to replay it. I wouldn’t change a thing but I just want to feel every minute of it all over again. The anticipation on Wembley Way, the elation when Ella Toone lobbed Merle Frohms, the despair at the equaliser, that indescribable feeling of watching Chloe Kelly wheel away with her shirt spinning around her head…and the dancing in BoxPark. Now I do not dance. I have no moves to speak of. But on that evening, filled with elation, I could not have cared less as we danced the night away with some of our closest colleagues and friends.
As a football fan, I have experienced the joy of winning many a time but nothing will ever compare. I know Rachel feels it too. Sarina Wiegman and the Lionesses will honestly never really know our gratitude for what they did that day. It was the culmination of a decade of hard work, of backing a sport and its players that frustratingly got so little but we knew deserved so much more. It has honestly felt like we’re hitting our heads off brick walls at times. And we are relative newbies compared to the OGs – the likes of Jen O’Neill, Catherine Etoe and Tony Leighton who have been dedicated to this game way before our time. I wish I had been able to seek them out on the final whistle and give them a hug. For they were as much as part of this journey as anyone else.
When working in a press box, there is a consensus [or a tradition, I don’t really know] that you should hide your emotions. I’ve never really understood it because, while I am there to do a serious job, there is no way I could work in this game and not be passionate about it. For Rachel and I, it is our career but it is also a passion project – one that for nine years no one paid us a penny to do. My point… my story from that day was finding myself sat next to a big football writer from the men’s game. As he sat down, I asked him if he was excited and his response was along the lines of “I am here to work”. Internally, I was like “Oh shit, he is not going to be happy with me and my emotions over the next 90-odd minutes”. Anyway, we had a good conversation throughout and I just about avoided punching the air as Toone scored. As the final whistle blew, he turned to me and, seeing tears in my eyes, said, “Make sure you enjoy every minute of this”. It was a sweet touch from a man who had obviously come to understand the significance of this moment.
If there is one regret I have from that day, it is not being able to witness it alongside Rachel. We literally do everything together – we live together, work together, and we have been on this decade long journey together. It felt weird that she wasn’t the first one I could turn to to share that moment. We hugged it out, of course, on a deserted Wembley Way under the light of the arch but it wasn’t quite the same.
In amongst the 141 games, there have been of course many other highlights over the last 12 months. Being at Camp Nou for that record-breaking encounter between Barcelona and Real Madrid – the noise of that crowd will never leave me. The FA Cup Final at Wembley in May, covering the U19 Euros in the Czech Republic, our trip to North Macedonia, the Arnold Clark Cup, the whole of Euro 2022…the list continues.
And of course, for Rachel, in particular, being there in Glasgow to see her nation, the Republic of Ireland, reach the World Cup for the very first time. I know it is a day she will never forget. I, for one, as an honorary Irish, cannot wait to join her in following them across Australia next summer.
2022 has truly felt like a pivotal moment for women’s football and women’s sport. A point of no return as we move into 2023. Yes, there are still plenty of issues – injuries, parity, equality and more – but it truly has reached a level I would have struggled to believe possible in so short a time.
So the last thing to say is thank you. Thank you for falling in love with this sport. The more people that lift it up, the harder it is for anyone to ignore. And on a more personal note, thank you for following our journey. We will see you in 2023 with lots more adventures and content to come.