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England’s Demi Stokes: team inspiring people and giving women hope

The Guardian logo The Guardian 3 days ago Suzanne Wrack
© Alex Livesey/Getty Images

With a sold-out Wembley helping an outstanding year of women’s sport draw to a close, the England left-back, Demi Stokes, has spoken of the cross-sport solidarity between female athletes.

“You want to see people succeed and I think as a woman it is not easy,” said Stokes, as the Lionesses prepared to play Germany in front of a potential 90,000 fans on Saturday. “You have got to balance other things. People want kids, people have kids, so they are balancing all types of things. When you see Jessica Ennis, Dina Asher-Smith or Nicola Adams you think: ‘God, if they can do it then I can.’ You want to see everyone win.”

After Adams’s retirement, Stokes was keen to highlight the boxer’s contribution. “As a black female she has been really good [for all of us],” said the 27-year-old. “She has shown people you can do what you want to do. She is just like anyone else, a young woman with dreams. She got out of bed the same as everyone.

“It just shows that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, or what your background is, if you put the hard work in, put your mind to it, that you can do it. She has done a lot for women in boxing – one of the first to go pro – and then you have got loads of other female boxers coming through. She gave everyone hope.”

England inspired 11.7 million viewers to tune in to the BBC for their World Cup semi-final defeat by USA, and Wembley offers a further opportunity to put the Lionesses front and centre of the sporting conversation.

Stokes is proud of how they are helping fuel the growth of women’s sport more broadly. “We all want to win and sometimes that doesn’t happen but you do need to remind yourself that there is a bigger picture: you are inspiring people, giving women hope,” said Stokes, who is more used to Wembley than some, having played in two FA Cup finals.

“In rugby there is talk of better resources and that kind of stuff. You can see conversations are starting, people are planting the seeds and that is what you want. It is massive for women’s sport and if people can keep pushing, every little bit, it will help.”

Watch: 'Wembley sellout massive for Lionesses' (Sky Sports)

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She hopes he work being done by the Football Association to promote and drive investment in the women’s game, as well as the role former players have played, will show other federations what is possible.

“In Australia, they’ve introduced equal pay. It takes time. We are in a very fortunate position at the minute but it is because of what people have done in the past, not because of what we have done. It is so important we keep pushing it, hold ourselves accountable for good performances and getting people in the stadiums.”

Phil Neville is pushing them to up the tempo. “He is challenging us,” Stokes said. “We know we want to be fitter, we want to be technically better. There are things happening behind the scenes that people might not necessarily see but there is a lot going on and we are being challenged as individuals and as a squad to be better.”

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