Rachel’s pride ahead of Lionesses’ historic clash
Rachel Brown-Finnis feels England’s success at the World Cup in Canada is changing the landscape of women’s football back home.
The Burnley-born former Lionesses keeper retired in January after winning 82 caps in a distinguished career, which took in six major international tournaments - playing in the final of Euro 2009 against Germany.
There will be no envy, however, at missing out on the biggest game in England’s history, when Mark Sampson’s side take on holders Japan in the World Cup semi-final in Edmonton at midnight tonight - only pride.
And Brown-Finnis insists, despite being pregnant, she will be at the airport straight after the final whistle blows should they win through to the final!
She said: “It’s brilliant for women’s football and good for the country that they have someone to back and get excited about over the summer, with the Under 21s going out with a whimper, so it’s great that the focus is on the women’s game.
“The girls are changing the landscape of women’s football, as are the rugby, hockey and cricket girls in their sports.
“I feel so proud to have been a part of it.
“Hearing guys on the train talking about the games, about Lucy Bronze’s screamer (against Norway) - it’s changing people’s perceptions of the game.
“It’s been so positive and hopefully they can keep the momentum going.”
That momentum has been steadily building over the last couple of decades, with England hosting Euro 2005, while Brown helped the side reach the World Cup quarter-finals in 2007 in China.
In 2009 she was one of the first 17 female players given central contracts by the FA, and played in the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, as Germany triumphed 6-2 in the Euro 2009 Final.
She was also part of the Team GB squad for the London Olympics, and played in the FA Women’s Superleague for Everton, founded in 2010.
And she will be at the final if her old teammates get there: “Everyone’s career has a shelflife, and I decided that was that for me in January.
“But I feel very close to the girls, and I’m so proud of them.
“I’ve played with most of them - I played in one of the qualifiers and was in the squad up until Christmas, and I have some really good friends out there.
“I know them very well, and if they get through to the final, I’ll be on the first flight out!
“I’m due at the end of September, but the doctor has said I’m safe to fly, so there’ll be nothing stopping me!”
Reaching a World Cup Final would be the finest hour of women’s football history in this country, as Brown-Finnis outlined: “It’s obviously the furthest we’ve ever been in a World Cup - I played in the final of Euro 2009 when we made history, but this is the World Cup, the biggest stage of all.
“To beat the hosts to get to the semi-finals was amazing, and the team is evolving, getting better all the time.
“I imagine the manager has learned a lot in his first major championships.
“It will be interesting to see how he lines up - he’s used different tactics for each game so far, and I’m intrigued.”
Sampson has garnered a reputation as a tinker man, with his “horses for courses” approach to team selection and gameplan, and Brown-Finnis added: “Japan are very well-organised and difficult to break down, so this will be his biggest test.
“If it hadn’t worked out, people probably would have said it is a little unsettling to chop and change, but he has judged each situation and approached it well.
“He knows the girls well and has prepared meticulously. The girls know the team two days before each game, and know the different tactics, so as long as they are prepared, that’s all that matters.
“They are well aware of his gameplan, and it’s worked out. They’ve grown in confidence, certainly in an attacking sense, and have been clinical.”
She was on the bench in 2011 in Germany as England beat eventual World Cup winners Japan to reach the quarter-finals, and feels a repeat is possible: “We beat Japan 2-0, although they had already qualified through the group stage.
“You can’t take that away from us though, they went on to win the World Cup, and, regardless of the personnel they put out, they are organised and efficient.
“But the girls are confident and improving, and if their confident continues to flow within their little bubble, they will have the mindset they can beat anyone.”
Brown-Finnis will be on BBC 1 as part of the commentary and analysis team tonight, and believes the ripples of the squad’s success are being felt at grassroots level: “I’ve been keeping my eyes out across the media, and I saw someone on the television in National Football Development saying how many enquiries they had had from parents wanting their children to join teams or train, and that has been the goal for years.
“Everyone involved in the game over the last 30 years has been aiming for this, and it has just needed a big success for the England team to put it on the map.”