The dreaming is nearly over. Ella Toone, a Manchester United player and fan, has bought the extra 24 tickets for family and friends and sustained the superb form to play her way into contention as one of Sarina Wiegman’s gamechangers. Now she just has to turn up at Old Trafford on Wednesday and, whether starting or coming on, do her thing. She will feel at home, after all.
England face Austria in the opening game of the biggest Women’s European Championship yet. The Tyldesley-born playmaker admits she fantasises about celebrating scoring with a knee slide in front of the Stretford End but now that the reality is approaching, the Lionesses having travelled from their Staffordshire training base to Manchester on Monday, Toone finds herself serenely living the moment.
“Stepping out for England at our home Euros, opening the tournament at Old Trafford, is going to be amazing,” she said. “For me it’s just excitement. I’m just so proud to be able to go there and represent England at a major tournament at my home stadium. I just can’t wait.”
The 22-year-old attacking midfielder has played at Old Trafford twice – behind closed doors against West Ham in March 2021, then in front of 20,241 for Everton’s visit 12 months later – but opening a major tournament in front of a capacity 74,120 crowd at the stadium where she goes to cheer on her team on her days off could frazzle the minds of some.
“You’ve got to take these moments because they don’t come around often,” Toone said. “We’ve sold out Old Trafford; we’re playing for England in our home Euros. These are once-in-a-lifetime things. I have played there but it’s going to be totally different [with] a lot more fans. There might be a few nerves but the most important thing is that we go out there and enjoy every moment.”
England are among the favourites to win this tournament, especially under the calming authority of Sarina Wiegman, the Dutch manager who led her nation to glory on home soil in the last Euros, but their players are refreshingly excited. They are professionals, well paid and accustomed to the perks of life as internationals, but there is an absence of world-weariness as they discuss their football.
Toone, who was at United for eight years as a girl before returning when they turned professional four years ago after spells at Blackburn and Manchester City, loves to watch her club play in the Premier League when schedules permit.
“I try and get to as many games as I can,” she says. “I’ve started going to away games now as well. I just love going and supporting; it’s been a part of me since I was a little girl. We get tickets for home games for if we’re not training. I’ve got a little source at the club who sorts me out away tickets but I’m not telling any of the girls that because it’s just me.”
Being the local girl has inevitably brought a few ticket requests for this game. “My uncle has bought a box with eight of them, I bought a box for my dad so there’s eight in there. I had four [complimentary tickets] and then I bought 16 so there’s a lot of us.”
Toone, one of three United players in England’s squad along with Alessia Russo and Mary Earps, scored her 11th goal in her 14th international in the recent 5-1 defeat of the Netherlands. She is competing with Fran Kirby and Georgia Stanway for the No 10 role, assuming Wiegman stays with the double midfield pivot.
“I think we all bring different things,” Toone, with an eye for a slide-rule pass or a run beyond the striker, said. “That’s why it’s such an exciting team with a lot of talent … We’ve just got to be ready for our time and go out there and make something happen.”