524 days is how long England U19s coach, Lydia Bedford, has calculated since her group of young footballers had an international fixture. It is a large amount of time by any stretch, but particularly so in the cycle of youth football that prepares the next generation for their senior careers.
The Lionesses are on the road for the first time since March 2020. Tonight, they travel to Caen to take on a notoriously tough, if depleted, French side. It will be a first chance for interim head coach, Hege Riise, to see her new charges take on a tier one opposition. Her squad announcement included a couple of surprises, with Karen Bardsley and Carly Telford returning to the fold. Niamh Charles was also called up, while Esme Morgan and Nikita Parris joined late. Captain Steph Houghton misses out through injury.
Riise spoke to the press before the game on a number of key areas:
Just under two years ago, Ella Toone was preparing to travel out to Sweden with the England U21s. The latest Nordic tournament awaited a squad who, under the watchful eye of Mo Marley, were trying to gain all the experience they could as they attempted to make the step up to senior international football.
To say it has been a long time since a competitive England fixture is somewhat of an understatement. 349 days (502,560 minutes or 5,584 games in case you were wondering!) since they faced Spain in the SheBelieves Cup, they will finally line up tomorrow lunch time to face Northern Ireland.
If it feels like we’ve been here before, then you are right. But once again, we can say…500 days to go! Euro 2022 is starting to become a very real and exciting prospect. Sitting in Wembley this time last year, listening to the plans for the tournament, it was hard not to be enthusiastic about the upcoming competition. And now, after the toughest of years, the sight of this celebration of the women’s game on the horizon is anticipated more eagerly than ever.
Football, as with any walk of life, is made up of a multitude of characters. The naturally skilled; the hard workers; the energisers; the personalities – these attributes are not mutually exclusive, but they are all part of why we follow the game passionately.
Every so often, you come across a footballer who encapsulates the lot. Jill Scott is one such individual – a skilled but tough opponent on the field with an undeniably engaging and infectious nature off it.
This time last year, we were preparing for another She Believes Cup in America, unaware of all the things 2020 was going to throw at us. For Phil Neville and England, they were struggling for form off the back of the World Cup in France, but were heading into the tournament as cup holders with hopes of a fresh start.