Republic of Ireland midfielder Ruesha Littlejohn believes footballers cannot shy away from the spotlight if they want to escalate the growth of the women’s game.
The 33-year-old is one of 23 women selected by manager Vera Pauw to represent the Republic in their first World Cup, a monumental moment that has drawn unprecedented attention to the team and individual players.
The full World Cup experience comes with corresponding changes off the pitch – more photo shoots and social media followers among them – a fact of life Littlejohn encouraged the players at this Australia and New Zealand-hosted tournament to embrace like England’s Lionesses after their Euro 2022 victory blasted them into their country’s consciousness.
Speaking at the Girls in Green’s team hotel in Brisbane, she said: “It’s full on. The other day we were doing pictures and I was shattered, and I kind of felt sorry for the camera guy because I was just dead tired. Hopefully the pictures look OK.
“But look, this is it, we wanted to be here and now we’re going to need to embrace the change and manage all the way. I’m not a superstar so I think it’s going to be different for me but it could be different for the likes of Denise [O’Sullivan] and Katie [McCabe].
“Look at other teams. Like, you see the Lionesses, how their lives have probably changed massively. It’s probably been a big adjustment for some of them and I’m sure it’s not always easy.
“I’m sure there’s moments where they’re like, ‘oh, leave me be’. Let me go and get a Nandos and leave me in peace please’. But look, that’s where the game’s going and we kind of need to embrace that and learn now to deal and manage situations.”
England’s Euro 2022 victory launched the Lionesses into the limelight (Steven Paston/PA)
The effects of England lifting the European trophy last July were keenly felt throughout the following 2022/23 domestic Women’s Super League (WSL) season, which according to a league report saw attendances up 173 per cent compared to the previous campaign.
All but one of the WSL’s 12 sides broke a club or stadium record during a season that also set the three highest attendance records in the English top flight, including the league record 47,367 who turned out for the North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham at the Emirates.
Littlejohn’s side are now just two sleeps away from their World Cup opener, when they will face Group B rivals and tournament co-hosts Australia in Sydney, and says “you know it’s on party mode back home”.
It will be some time before the legacy of the World Cup in the Republic of Ireland crystallises, but ex-Aston Villa player Littlejohn is already starting to notice a shift.
The native Glaswegian, who swapped allegiances through her Irish grandparents after representing Scotland at youth level, added jokingly: “It was the Euros last summer. Obviously deep down I’m gutted that England won.
“I’m just about over it. It was great for the game there, the WSL. It’s only going in one direction and I think the change that they’ve made is massive, and now you can see the change that hopefully we can all make on this world stage.
Republic of Ireland supporters Doireann Mulvaney, aged three (left) and Isla Reilly, age two, from Co Meath as the Republic of Ireland team departed from Dublin Airport (Brian Lawless/PA)
“It’s just exciting to see. You can even see that, round about the hotel, there’s a few young girls running about with Ireland tops on. I mean I would have never been taken anywhere to a different country to watch a game of football.
“I don’t know how these people are getting to do it, but that’s amazing that there’s so many people tuning in and it’s a reality for people now. This can become a job for you. You can go and do this too if you want to do it.”