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Women’s Euros: 1984 flashback as England lost to Sweden in first final

They played halves of just 35 minutes, used a smaller football and plodded away on a field that can only be described as a swamp. The next day most of the players were back at work.

Women’s football certainly looked very different in 1984, when England and Sweden took part in the inaugural final of the European Championship.

England are gearing up to welcome the cream of the crop in European women’s football next month with a huge crowd shown live by the BBC in well-known venues across the country and every match.

England captain Carol Thomas (right) shakes hands with her Swedish counterpart Anette Borjesson before the second leg of the 1984 final on a swamp field on Kenilworth Road

England captain Carol Thomas (right) shakes hands with her Swedish counterpart Anette Borjesson before the second leg of the 1984 final on a swamp field on Kenilworth Road

Only deep in the mud, the Swedish players can't watch how penalties decide the tight final

Only deep in the mud, the Swedish players can’t watch how penalties decide the tight final

But it would be glory for Sweden, the first European champions of the women's game

But it would be glory for Sweden, the first European champions of the women’s game

But 38 years ago you would have had a hard time even knowing that England had made it to the final or even that it happened. There was no television coverage in the UK and the centimeters of the newspaper column were minimal.

With England losing that final in a penalty shootout, you could argue that this was the start of a curse that was unbroken until 2018.

But aside from the 2,567 souls who braved the pouring rain to watch the game on Luton’s Kenilworth Road and the handful of women’s football fans across the country, few would have been too upset or even aware of the penalty pain at the time.

The 1984 tournament is widely regarded as the first women’s European Championship, but officially UEFA’s name was not associated with it as only 16 teams – less than half of their membership – actually took part.

Since the English Football Association’s ban on women’s football wasn’t lifted until December 1971, it would have been understandable that the Lionesses weren’t quite roaring yet.

Match action of the 1984 second leg final, which attracted minimal interest despite England's feat of reaching it

Match action of the 1984 second leg final, which attracted minimal interest despite England’s feat of reaching it

Only 2,567 fans braved the pouring rain to watch the match play out at Kenilworth Road in Luton

Only 2,567 fans braved the pouring rain to watch the match play out at Kenilworth Road in Luton

Money and sponsorship were scarce, even the protagonists were amateurs and the Women’s Football Association was run by volunteers.

One of those volunteers, former player Flo Bilton, sewed England caps so that the female internationals could at least experience some resemblance to the men’s game a million miles away.

“We trained in sports centers and we lay down on the ground during a two-day camp,” said former England player Gill Coultard. the athletic

‘On Sunday you played a European final and on Monday you went back to work. That was the norm.

‘A lot of girls used their holidays to play football for England. They missed out on money, took time off without pay.’

Carol Thomas, England captain in 1984, told Sportsmail in an interview last year: ‘We would do our 9-5 jobs, then do our extra training, train for our clubs and then play at the weekend. We have given a lot to women’s football.’

Carol Thomas (above) pioneered the women's game, but struggles to gain recognition

Carol Thomas (above) pioneered the women’s game, but struggles to gain recognition

Thomas led the England women to the 1984 European final - where they lost to Sweden

Thomas led the England women to the 1984 European final – where they lost to Sweden

However, they certainly had a formidable side. In the qualifying rounds, England crammed 24 goals past Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, winning all six games and conceding just once.

That resulted in a two-legged semi-final against Denmark in April 1984. England won the first leg 2-1 in front of a small crowd at Gresty Road in Crewe, with Linda Curl and Liz Deighan on target.

They also won the return leg 1-0, with Deborah Bampton scoring, to set up a meeting in the final with Sweden.

The first leg, played on May 12 in Gothenburg, only served to illustrate the wave of popularity of women’s football between England and Sweden.

There was a record attendance of nearly 6,000, the match was shown live and there was a media spot the English players had never experienced before.

“It was unbelievable, the television coverage, newspapers, we played (the first leg of the final) at the Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg,” said Thomas.

“It was so much better organised. More was spent abroad than in England at the time.

‘The fields abroad were in top condition and the organization or tournaments were better. In England we played on local fields.’

Legendary Pia Sundhage, who would become Sweden’s leading goalscorer, scored after the first 70 minutes of the final to split the teams.

Sweden led the game and missed some good chances, meaning England came away much happier with just one goal in the draw.

Prior to the return to Luton, some vintage English intervened again – and not in a way that would necessarily benefit the hosts.

The only surviving footage from the occasion, a grainy and shaky clip now in the AP archive on YouTube, shows just how ridiculously muddy the pitch was.

England on the attack in the second leg as they tried to close the 1-0 deficit in the first leg

England on the attack in the second leg as they tried to close the 1-0 deficit in the first leg

England used the muddy conditions to their advantage to increase tie-and-force penalties

England used the muddy conditions to their advantage to increase tie-and-force penalties

“Today it would have been cancelled,” Coultard recalled… the athletic

“Then they said, ‘If we cancel this, when are they going to play it again? Do we have to play on Monday then?’

“Well, the people are going back to work. Of course it was that tight for us.’

Hope Powell, who played that day at age 17 and would later become England manager, told Sportsmail: “The home game should have been cancelled, the conditions at Luton were appalling.

Today’s game would have been canceled for sure. There was no grass on the field, the ball didn’t run, the conditions were appalling.’

The conditions of exhaustion were favorable for England, who tied the score thanks to Curl’s shot that went over Swedish keeper Elisabeth Leidinge just before half-time.

With no extra time, the game went to penalties, where the teams could not be separated from each other on aggregate. In what would since become a well-known misery for several English teams, they lost the shoot-out 4-3.

It turned out that Sweden had been practicing at the behest of their federation chief and after Leidinge was rescued from Curl and Lorraine Hanson, it was left to Sundhage to blast home the winning kick and celebrate excitedly, though muddy.

Pia Sundhage celebrates scoring the deciding penalty as Sweden won the shoot-out 4-3

Pia Sundhage celebrates scoring the deciding penalty as Sweden won the shoot-out 4-3

Hope Powell, who later became England coach, played with Sweden in the 1984 final

Hope Powell, who later became England coach, played with Sweden in the 1984 final

“I remember Linda Curl missing one of our penalties,” Powell said the guard in 2009.

“But I mostly remember that because she got ballistic in the showers after the game.

“She was the prankster on the team and just sent herself up – look away again, culprit Gareth Southgate, the culprit of the Euro 96 shootout – but she didn’t make half a racket.”

Powell added to sports post: ‘There was never any talk about the recognition that we were in a final. There was no media attention.

“You took a shower when the game was over and went home the next day, to work, to school, or to college. It certainly isn’t like that now.’

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