One of the members of England’s first official women’s team has told i she is “over the moon” at confirmation she and her team-mates will be given official caps at the upcoming friendly against the USA at Wembley next month.
Lynda Hale played in the inaugural England women’s game against Scotland in 1972 and in July was one of the Original Lionesses who shared with i their anger and hurt at feeling forgotten by the Football Association, with the spotlight on the country hosting Euro 2022.
Those players shared their experiences of hitch hiking to training, paying for their own boots and being handed replica caps, handmade by Flo Bilton, an officer at the Women’s Football Association for 24 years, at the time.
After i’s reportage was mentioned in the House of Commons, with MPs calling on the FA to properly honour the 1972 Lionesses and the England players who came after them, the FA said it would give the players official bespoke caps.
That was confirmed on Friday, when it was revealed the Original Lionesses would play “a key role in proceedings, lining up with the current generation and representatives from an England development team ahead of kick-off” of the high-profile USA friendly. It added that “attendees from the 1972 team will also receive a bespoke England cap as part of a special presentation.”
Hale, 68, told i: “You push your chest out, knowing you’re going to be recognised. It’s been such a long time coming. I’m absolutely over the moon, I really am.”
All the former England women’s players in attendance will be invited on the pitch at half-time to receive recognition from the sell-out crowd, as European Champions England take on World Cup holders USA.
And, as revealed by i, for the first time the England women’s team will adopt the traditional legacy cap system, used to honour male players for 150 years, giving each player an official velvet cap on debut with a unique number marking where they come in the line of England players.
“We received letters inviting us recently but we didn’t know more details. To get a bespoke number is special,” Hale said. “I just hope I get No 7, which I played!
“On the day I’ll be nervous,” she added. “I’ve never been in front of that many people in my life, and having people looking at you for something you achieved 50 years ago. It’s amazing – a 50-year wait, but it’s worth it. With all the publicity we’ve been getting, people at my work and people I know have been following it, asking if I’ve heard anything, they were genuinely pleased. They’ve said they’ll watch it on telly.
“It’s not like when I went to work when I was 17 and 18 and you were almost embarrassed to say you played women’s football. It never had the following it has now. They knew you played football, but it was nothing, it wasn’t in a woman’s world. Now the women are taking over rugby, football, cricket, it’s brilliant.”
Hale also expressed her gratitude to i for shedding light on the issue. “If it hadn’t been for you taking it on I don’t think we’d have been here, I seriously don’t,” she said. “I’ve got so many thanks for you taking it on. It was brilliant.”
England Women’s head coach Sarina Wiegman said: “We’re all grateful to the former generation of players who have paved the way for today’s growth and success. All of them represented their country with so much talent but also fought so hard on and off the pitch to break barriers and make the women’s game what it now is.
“The players today also know the challenges they faced and appreciate everything that has been done to give them the opportunities they now have. It is great we can say thank you to the Lionesses legends.”
Kay Cossington, head of women’s technical at the FA, said: “The USA game will be a fantastic chance to celebrate and thank all the Lionesses who have worn the shirt with pride since 1972. We’re indebted to every former player, all of whom are valued members of the ‘England family’. The summer’s success and sell-out crowds at Wembley Stadium would not be possible without them and we hope they can reflect on the role they have played and they enjoy their evening.
“We are also indebted to many in the women’s football family who have helped collate this historic list. In particular, Professor Jean Williams and Patricia Gregory, who have worked tirelessly with FA colleagues to make this happen.”