Despite being Scottish, there was no stopping Kim Little from supporting England in their generation-defining Women’s Euros triumph.
“I’m loyal to my Arsenal team-mates!” the Gunners captain tells Sky Sports when asked if she had mixed feelings about watching the Lionesses in the final. “I will always support them no matter what.”
Among the closest of Little’s Arsenal comrades is England attacker Beth Mead, who was not only joint-top scorer in the tournament but also won the Player of the Tournament award. Little and Mead know each other beyond football, but was the former surprised at her close friend’s success? Absolutely not.
“We were in a relationship but she still likes to call me her work wife!” says Little, smiling. “We have a good laugh and we bounce off each other. We’re often a pain in the backside for the coaches but we get the work done!
“Beth had a great season before the tournament, she scored and assisted a lot of goals at the most important times and that’s what she did for England.
“Once England got on top, they were relentless and Beth was a big part of that because of her intensity and directness. It suited her really well and it was great to see her do so well.”
Of course, there is a bigger picture to the Women’s Euros that goes beyond rivalry and support of team-mates. Popularity of the women’s game has soared to new heights after England’s success. No statistic says it better than the 38,500 supporters who have signed up to watch Arsenal’s north London derby with Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium with over three weeks of ticket sales to go.
Little, who turned 32 over the summer, has lived and breathed the game as it has grown from part-time, to professional, to now popular – but via some struggles. As a teenager, the midfielder had to travel three hours from Aberdeenshire to Edinburgh just to take part in the one weekly training session available to her so she could make her name at Hibernian.
It was a similar picture when she moved down to north London and Arsenal for the first time when she was 17. The Gunners had just a couple of two-hour training sessions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings back then – that was all the preparation Arsenal players had before their Sunday fixtures in England’s top flight. Little had to either train by herself or do extra sessions at the University of Hertfordshire in order to gain additional fitness.
Even though the game is now “like it’s your job – as it should be”, according to Little, the Arsenal captain still feels more can be done by clubs to elevate the game – on top of the success from the summer.
“I’ve played in the women’s game for a long time and I’ve seen a lot of national teams be incredibly successful like England have this summer – and it’s not had an impact on the domestic game,” she says. “The Euros can be a turning point but it has to be done with real intent.
“To a lot of people, improvement is an increase in attendances and sponsors. Those things are key and the interest is there for that. But as a player it’s to do with standards within clubs across the board in improving resources, high-performance facilities and staffing which can drive what we are on the pitch and what we can provide.
“Recovery and travel methods too – as a fan you don’t see that, but it’s not a place it should be yet. To grow the game, for it to be the best league in the world and to make the game more sustainable – that’s another huge part for me that’s gone unsaid – there needs to be investment in that alongside the marketing and attendances.”
So onto the season ahead – and Little’s Arsenal will be right up there among the front-runners for the Women’s Super League title come the end of the season. The Gunners, who were pipped to the title on the final day last season and had to settle for runners-up, not only have the Euros’ best player in Mead, but the tournament-winning captain in Leah Williamson and Vivianne Miedema, who still holds the title of the WSL’s all-time top scorer.
But this year promises to be the most competitive season yet at the top. Reigning champions Chelsea have strengthened hugely alongside third-placed Manchester City, who Arsenal play on the opening weekend, live on Sky Sports. Manchester United – led by England duo Alessia Russo and Ella Toone up front – could well challenge while Tottenham have added more substance to their squad.
Monday 12th September 5:30pm
“It’s hard to gauge,” says Little. “The league is getting more competitive and teams have more strength in depth as well which has not always been the case, especially the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham. We have to be on it in more games.”
The gauntlet has been set down by Little – and games do not get more difficult than the trip to Manchester City on matchday one.
Watch Manchester City vs Arsenal in the opening weekend of the 2022/23 Women’s Super League season live on Sky Sports Football this Sunday from 6pm; kick-off 7pm