Georgia Stanway: ‘I don’t think it will ever hit home what we actually achieved’

The midfielder was a key part of England’s magical summer  (Getty)
The midfielder was a key part of England’s magical summer (Getty)

There are still times when Georgia Stanway walks into the Bayern Munich dressing room and some of her German teammates start to sing “Sweet Caroline”.

There’s also a curiosity to that, beyond the idea that song accompanied what you might have presumed was a painful defeat for many of the Euro 2022 runners-up.

It is actually one of the rare moments when Stanway really thinks about what happened in the summer at all. There just hasn’t been time to.

The 23-year-old is in Bayern’s academy and – other than talking to The Independent – it’s a rare moment to just sit back amid a relentless few weeks, as she gets used to all the usual adjustments that come with a new country, let alone a new club.

Stanway is actually speaking the day after a session in Ikea, as she finally moved into a new place.

“We finished the celebrations on the Tuesday, and I landed in Munich on the Sunday,” she says now. “It’s been busy!”

Stanway, as she’ll reveal, is all about keeping going. There are quite a few surprising insights when an elite athlete like the midfielder is asked what comes to mind when she thinks of the summer.

The first thing is the very unreality of being able to call themselves champions, to be tournament winners. This, as Stanway notes, is something Friday’s opponents at Wembley – the USA – do. It hasn’t been what England do.

“Every single tournament we say, ‘we want to win’, ‘we want to win’, ‘we want to win’… and now we’ve been to a major tournament and we’ve won. I don’t think it will ever hit home what we actually achieved.

“It’s a weird feeling because for the first week you love it, you’re on a high, you’re talking about it all the time, you’re just constantly thinking about it, wanting to experience it again.”

That, however, doesn’t actually mean Stanway wants to relive it.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever watch the game back. I just want to have the memory. I don’t want to think, ‘oh, I had a terrible game, oh I had a good game’ because genuinely it doesn’t matter.

“I actually don’t care how well I played or whether I didn’t play because the result was what we wanted at the end. Maybe not the mindset I should have but, at the same time, it’s done. I can’t change it now, and the outcome was exactly what we wanted.”

She then pauses and laughs.

“Even talking about it feels weird. I half feel like I’m dreaming like… did it actually happen?”

It does mean that Stanway doesn’t have too many defined memories of what actually happened during the game’s key moments. Even what she did around Chloe Kelly’s immortal goal is a bit of a blur.

There is one moment that remains vivid, though.

“Oh, I remember getting the yellow card – 23rd minute of the game. I remember thinking, ‘this is going to be a long game for me because I can’t tackle now’. The highest pressure. I remember thinking the worst thing I can do is get sent off.

“I was just conscious of it the whole time, just making sure I was timing things perfectly.”

Stanway was yellow-carded midway through the first half of the Euros final and had to walk a tightrope thereafter (AFP/Getty)
Stanway was yellow-carded midway through the first half of the Euros final and had to walk a tightrope thereafter (AFP/Getty)

It can be a distinct theme with professionals that perform to Stanway’s level. If you ask them about general moments, they can struggle to recall them because they were so immersed. If you ask them about specific things they did, so they’re put right back into play, they can remember everything vividly.

Hence Stanway can now see her own moment of the tournament: that soaring, crucial extra-time winner against Spain.

“I do like to be in the final third. I do like to get shots off, and slip passes in. In that actual moment itself, the defender made my decision for me. If we did it 10 other times, a defender might have run at me and made it so I played it out wide or made it so I come on the inside. Because nobody has come to the ball, it made it easier for me and then I just knew I had to hit it as hard as I could.”

Stanway believes some of that, and the space she had, was the physical effect of a truly epic quarter-final where England came back from 1-0 down late on.

“The physical output… to do 120 minutes isn’t easy. To do it against Spain, where all you’re doing is going side to side, trying to win the ball back and get them on counter, it’s different level.

“There’s something inside your head. ‘We don’t want to go home, we’re not going home, we’re not going home.’ We knew we weren’t ready to go home. It just had to take one chance which Ella took very well, and that’s when we knew we were going to win it. It was definitely a turning point for us in terms of mentality, resilience…”

It actually made Stanway’s match-winner all the more fitting, since her tournament – and, really, her career – is a story of quiet resilience.

One other element that Stanway remembers well is at the celebration party after victory, as she and her family were talking about how different it could have been.

Stanway enjoyed the celebrations after Euros victory, which included a Trafalgar Square parade (The FA/Getty)
Stanway enjoyed the celebrations after Euros victory, which included a Trafalgar Square parade (The FA/Getty)

Had the tournament been in 2021, as was initially planned before Covid, Stanway probably wouldn’t have been in the team. At that point, she couldn’t get into the Manchester City side as a midfielder and was being shuffled around the line-up, mostly to right-back. Stanway wasn’t at her best. And, just months before the tournament, Lionesses boss Sarina Wiegman had made the midfielder’s status clear.

The Dutch coach had split the squad into three camps: certain starters, impact from the sidelines, and those there as back-up or for atmosphere. Stanway was very much in the middle camp, as her career was at a crossroads.

“I kind of knew my time at Manchester City was up,” she says. “And yeah, honestly, it could have been a completely different situation. It could have been massively different. I started the season at full-back, played there six months, and luckily got in at centre-mid around December time. That’s when I knew, ‘I’ve got four, five months to try and get my name in.’”

Part of the turning point was making a decision on her future. With her contract up in the summer, it was early 2022 when Bayern Munich first expressed interest. Stanway was very quickly convinced. Wiegman was encouraged. She had told the players to sort their futures before the summer.

Stanway admits that gave her focus.

“I think that me signing for Bayern had a massive part in that, just in terms of feeling free. I had nothing to lose, everything to gain. I just felt myself… I wanted to enjoy my last time at City, end on a high, but at the same time the biggest thing for me was the Euros because that was something I’d set myself at the start of the year that was getting closer and closer.”

Stanway knew something had changed around May when Wiegman pulled her aside and had a simple but straight question: “Are you ready?”

Stanway obviously was.

Bayern helped then – “the support was unbelievable and I’d not even met anyone” – and have helped since.

Another little twist of Stanway’s career is that she left England just as she and the rest of the squad became household names.

It immediately becomes apparent, however, that’s how she likes it. Stanway is a joyfully chirpy character when chatting but has an almost Roy Keane-like attitude when it comes to the game.

“There’s no point dwelling on it. It’s happened. It’s the past. It’s done. I think you’ve got to enjoy the moment, and you’ve got to enjoy how you feel.”

But quickly moving on to the next challenge is what makes her tick.

“The best thing for me was to just get going again. I know after a tournament a lot of people can experience a comedown, a little bit all over the place. You go from spending every single day of nine weeks with 50 people, and then you go home, you wake up, and there’s complete silence. Like nothing’s happened.

“So the best thing for me was just to get on that plane and get here straight away, meet the girls, and get the ball going again.

“It’s still very surreal. Like, when I go back to England, I’ll be getting spotted and just asked for pictures. Even here in Munich, I think it’s mad how many people actually recognise you. I was in Ikea yesterday and had two pictures, and I was just like ‘I’m not even in England.’”

This is something that has struck about Stanway’s time at Bayern already. Given Germany were defeated in the final, and it involved so many of the club’s players, it would be natural to think they might want to forget the summer.

Not a bit of it. They saw it for what it was: a landmark moment for the women’s game.

“It was only when I got here, I realised it wasn’t just big in England. It’s when you walk down the street with some of the girls and they are getting recognised, they’re getting praised on how well they played and how much they’ve inspired people. That’s so special. Just the fact that people watched it, people were able to enjoy it, people were able to engage with what was going on.

“The Germany girls got an unbelievable welcome when they landed back in Frankfurt. The streets were filled, flags were flying, like we had in Trafalgar Square. I think it’s massive just to see how many people have jumped on board and really enjoyed the summer.”

England captured the hearts of a nation with their Euro 2022 triumph (The FA/Getty)
England captured the hearts of a nation with their Euro 2022 triumph (The FA/Getty)

Hence Stanway’s German teammates have been so willing to sing “Sweet Caroline” to her.

“It’s just out of respect, making sure it’s football recognising football and appreciating the tournament everybody had rather than that day itself.”

The Euros have actually come up a lot in the Bayern dressing room, but more from the perspective of a common shared experience. It obviously helped that some connections were actually forged on that Wembley pitch.

“I think the biggest thing for me after the game was I made sure I got around everyone because obviously, they were going to be my new teammates. They were going to be the people I was going to spend a few years with, potentially, my career, whatever it entails. So yeah, I had a good chat with quite a few of the girls. Lina [Magull] especially, just having a little bit of a laugh at the end of the pitch, being like ‘what a day, you’ve just got to enjoy it’.

“That was like a massive highlight to me, a massively family feel, culture feel, togetherness. Straight away, I just knew I was going to fit in and going to go well.”

She is now enjoying the football, too. The Frauen-Bundesliga is different to what she expected, with more sides willing to attack, and her No 6 role has been that bit more defensive so far. It just helps that Bayern themselves are such an assertive side.

“It’s been a gruelling pre-season in terms of tactics,” Stanway reveals. “Just making sure everybody’s on the same page, everybody understands tactics on and off the ball.

“It’s exciting! It kind of gives me a licence to go and join attacks, and be creative, get shots off, slip players in, work in wide triangles or linking with the nine or whatever may be, but yeah, we’re a possession team, and that’s what’s important to me, keeping the ball.”

The Champions League is obviously a huge target and was a factor in her decision.

“That was something that massively enticed me here. Something I’ve never won. Something that I’ve only ever reached the semi-final in, even that, years ago. Last year didn’t even get to play in the Champions League. That’s something you want to be a part of, it’s the biggest tournament in Europe.”

There’s then a notable flourish to finish that answer.

“Yeah, I will lift that one day.”

Stanway’s strident approach to her career offers such a complement to her cheeriness off it, and she’s clearly enjoying Munich. She is taking German lessons and throwing herself into everything.

“I’ve had a few days out, just with some of the girls, wandering around, seeing what’s about, going for some nice food, the English Garden, obviously got to see them, and just trying to find my way.

“I half feel like I’ve been here for five minutes and, at the same time, half feel I’ve been forever.”

This week, she returns to England for a marquee match against the USA – the European champions against the world champions, the standard-bearers against the team who now believe they can really challenge them.

It is of course tempting to see this as a marker before next year’s World Cup, a chance for England to show they have grown against the greatest in the world. Stanway doesn’t quite go with that.

“Nothing is ever a friendly! I don’t think it’s a marker, though. It’s just a showcase of women’s football and being able to enjoy the occasion and reflect on the summer that’s been.

“I think it will just be a special day for women’s football, recognising the best of the USA, who’ve always won major tournaments, who’ve always won World Cups and obviously done really well as individuals and then recognising us and what we’ve achieved.”

That will be a rare enough moment for Stanway. That may be one reason for her resilience, and how she’s more than kept going. She’s gone to greater heights.