The Lionesses are on the cusp of history. Tomorrow will see them take on Germany in the final of EURO 2022.
We’ve known them as the ‘Lionesses’ for quite a while now, but where did that name come from?
We sat down with Leigh Moore, the person who coined the iconic ‘Lionesses’ name in his former role of Digital Marketing Manager at the FA for the Women’s Super League and England’s women’s team.
But first, let’s set the scene. It’s 2012, women’s football was very much in its infancy. The Women’s Super League (WSL) was in its second season and mainstream media wasn’t paying much attention. There had to be a different approach for growing the game.
Leigh recalled an online community beginning to build due to the success of the first WSL season. He said:
“We were a real digital-first league. We were the first league in the world to put player’s Twitter handles on their shirts and each club had a digital ambassador that we worked with to build Facebook pages for the teams and for the players. We really encouraged and supported the players to visible be online.”
It’s hard to imagine but a decade ago, there weren’t any footballers online or on social media. The world was a different place and the most you saw of a footballers personality was via TV interviews.
There certainly wasn’t a way of connecting with the England women’s team. Their identity, or lack of, was wrapped up in the same communications as the men’s team. This was a frustration of many. In June 2012, as the men’s team were competing at the European Championships, the women’s team were getting ready for a Women’s EURO qualification match against the Netherlands.
Frustratingly, that game was wedged between two men’s team matches.
“We wanted people to be able to specifically talk about this game, and when they talk about this game, they’re talking about their team, they’re talking about their England, they’re talking about the players that they’re going to watch, to give that England team and the fans of that England team a sense of identity, a sense of community.”
Up until that point, the Three Lions name and hashtag was used across all teams, but when it was clear that the women’s game would get lost in all of the noise from the men’s team and the EUROs, they needed something to make them stand out. So, the Lionesses was born…
“The idea I had was simply to create a hashtag that identifies this game, this team specifically, and build an identity. Something that the community can attach to and the #Lionesses was that. We used that hashtag to do a player Q&A. There’s a video on YouTube somewhere of me stood at St. George’s Park, doing a live Twitter Q&A with that hashtag. I like to think at a time we were really innovative.”
From there, it grew. A hashtag turned into a name that people could associate with and attach meaning to. 10 years later, everyone knows who the Lionesses are. There’s a sense of community. Somewhere that fans can go to feel a part of something. #Lionesses is that place.
As time progressed, the FA started to use the branding more overtly and with their commercial partners. Good performances at both the 2015 World Cup and the 2017 EUROs helped further cement the Lionesses name in the footballing world.
And if they needed any more convincing that the name was here to stay then in 2019, Nike released kits for the World Cup and put Lionesses in the collar. When your key commercial partner/supplier makes the name central to their design and marketing efforts, you know you’re on to a good thing.
“It was a bit of a pinch me moment going to the shops and seeing it there. I’m driving around at the moment and seeing my local pub with a sign outside saying, “Come and watch the Lionesses here!”
Fast forward to 2022, look at what we have today with this team. All of this, the sense of community, the inspiration to young girls, the millions of viewers, all comes from one hashtag on Twitter. The Lionesses name is so ingrained now, everyone knows who they are. It’s grown from a hashtag to now being used as branding all over stadiums, adverts with commercial partners and online content such as the ‘Lionesses Live’.
In a world dominated by men, the team needed a way to stand out, to claim their own space. The ‘Lionesses’ name allowed them to do just that.