Victory at UEFA Women's EURO 2017 prompted a spike in participation levels and, with stars like Vivianne Miedema lighting the way, the women's game is thriving.
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When tens of thousands lined the streets of Utrecht to greet the Netherlands team, parading in a canal boat after winning UEFA Women's EURO 2017 on home soil, it was clear Dutch female football had entered a new dimension. The Orange Lionesses had been far from favourites, but the excitement built throughout the tournament, along with seas of orange-clad fans dancing around stadiums – and it was repeated two years later when they reached the FIFA Women's World Cup final in France. Those successes had been a long time coming, despite the Netherlands contesting the first FIFA-recognised women's international against France in April 1971.
Best UEFA competition performance
Senior: UEFA Women's EURO winners (2017)
Youth: UEFA Women's Under-19 Championship winners (2014)
Women's football pioneer
Ellen Fokkema had played with the boys for VV Foarút from the age of five – until Dutch rules meant she had to join a women's side at the age of 19. The club appealed to the KNVB, which introduced a pilot scheme in 2020 allowing her to play for Foarút's senior men's team, before abolishing all grassroots restrictions.
"I guess it's a milestone for soccer in general. Women will be able to choose which team to play for... that's new, that they have the choice. I hope I won't be the last, or else it would have all been for nothing."
On the pitch…
Having captured the fans' imagination over the preceding weeks, the Netherlands beat Denmark 4-2 on 6 August 2017 at a packed FC Twente Stadion to win the European title. Vivianne Miedema struck either side of goals from Lieke Martens and Sherida Spitse, the trio earning themselves superstar status.
…and off it
The first professional Vrouwen Eredivisie was launched in 2007, initially involving six teams familiar from elite men's football, each with a commitment to provide player facilities and links to amateur clubs. The league now features 11 sides and most of the national team's stalwarts got their break there. "Without the Vrouwen Eredivisie," says the KNVB, "the Orange Lionesses would not have won the European title in 2017."
Considering the Netherlands did not qualify for a major tournament before 2009, their recent achievements are testament to the value of investment and hard work. The future could be glimpsed when a team containing Vivianne Miedema, Jill Roord and Dominique Janssen won the 2014 UEFA Women's U19 Championship, but the huge spike of girls and women taking up football in the Netherlands – rising 7% in the two months after the 2017 finals alone – underscores the transformative effect of that breakthrough triumph.
Here and now
Joining the game in the Netherlands
Are you interested in playing women's football?
Find out how to play where you are with the help of #WePlayStrong.
"Trailblazers" is a unique exhibition that showcases the work of European artists given a blank canvas to celebrate women’s football. UEFA invited artists from participating nations in this summer’s tournament to create an image inspired by the game in their country. Germany's representative is Xaviera Altena: "My inspiration was the powerful moment you have with your team right before the start of an important match. Lace up the shoes, and start! I don't have one favourite player but love the whole team when they play together as one. My favourite football memories are big championships when all the streets change into orange colours."
Investing for the future
Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) women's football strategy
A year after the Netherlands became European champions for the first time, the KNVB launched a women's football strategy for 2018–2022. This was based on five pillars: including more women in football, providing the best football offering for everyone, developing talent, improving the Vrouwen Eredivisie and forming partnership structures.
The KNVB's ambition remains to further integrate women in all aspects of the sport, and it will organise 'Orange festivals' around UEFA Women's EURO 2022 to boost participation numbers, while also holding a symposium on 'More women in football'.
Women's Football Development Programme (WFDP)
Since 2010, UEFA's WFDP has provided associations with funding and tools to increase participation, improve standards and build infrastructure to help keep the female game growing. One example of a project funded by the WFDP programme in the Netherlands is…
Strong Clubs (2016–20)
A national community of inspirational grassroots teams for girls and women, the Strong Clubs project set out to create a robust and integrated infrastructure for clubs and a clear player pathway. Other objectives included providing qualified trainers and optimal development programmes for all girls and women at clubs, as well as challenging competitions.
A total of 67 clubs joined the network, with the number of girls at the participating sides growing faster than the national average. Overall, there was a 10% growth in the number of senior players, a 5.5% increase in junior players and a 5% rise in girls school players. Equally importantly, the number of players leaving the clubs decreased by 50%.