Players: Pat Firth

Patricia “Pat” Firth: Wunderkind striker and pioneering female coach

With Foden’s in 1974. Photo from the NFM #HiddenHistory project

Born: c.1957, Leeds

Position: Forward

Debut: Scotland (H) 23 June 1973

Occupation: Production worker (1976)

A striking prodigy from Leeds who burst on the scene in a flurry of GOALS. She blasted a sensational debut hat-trick – England’s first ever – against Scotland in June 1973. At club level she helped Foden’s wrest the WFA Cup crown away from Southampton in 1974, then returned to Yorkshire with the ever-improving Doncaster Belles in 1976. After nine goals in 11 England caps, a series of debilitating knee injuries saw her retrain as a goalkeeper and turn to coaching. As a pioneering female player/manager she passed her FA Preliminary licence and took both Rowntrees and Bronte to the WFA Cup semi-finals. In January 1987 she was appointed as Yorkshire and Humberside regional coach, the first woman to hold such a senior coaching role within the old WFA setup. She also coached the Welsh national team during the 1980s.

Firth’s footballing story began with Swillington Saints aged nine, before, in time-honoured tradition, she was booted out at 12 for being a girl.

A women’s team in nearby Kippax took her on but they were not yet affiliated to the WFA and only played charity matches at a dismal standard.

Sheffield League team Fleece Fillies, based in Ossett, swooped to sign the precocious talent in 1970 – just in time for the historic lifting of the FA’s 1921 woman-ban.

Despite their preposterous name, derived from a local boozer, Fleece Fillies were one of the top teams in the area. Firth’s reputation grew and she was soon on the radar of England’s national team selectors.

On a scorching hot day in June 1973 Yorkshireman John Adams, England’s stand-in coach, handed Firth her Lionesses debut against the Scots at Nuneaton.

It was a massive vote of confidence in the youngster’s abilities, given Pat Davies was moved out wide to accommodate her and the powerful Eileen Foreman dropped to the bench.

Showing the fearlessness which flows from youthful exuberance, Firth famously rattled in a hat-trick in England’s 8–0 win. The Nuneaton Evening Tribune hailed the prowess of England’s new star, a: “short, stocky, chestnut-haired forward” who had only just turned 16.

Keeping her place under new coach Tommy Tranter, she went on to form an “effective strike partnership” with Elaine ‘Baddy’ Badrock according to Wendy Owen (2005). While Sue Lopez (1997) recalled: “Pat had a tremendous shot and was an excellent header of the ball”.

She started the 5–1 win over Northern Ireland at Twerton Park, Bath, on 7 September 1973 under the floodlights. Firth wasn’t just a poacher; although she didn’t score she laid on the opening goal for Jeannie Allott.

Firth scored in a 5–0 win over Wales at Slough in on St. Patrick’s Day 1974, a match sponsored by an egg firm who gave all the players a carton of half-a-dozen eggs.

A carton of eggs! Given that this week Norway started paying its women’s national team players the same as the men it’s perhaps sobering to reflect on the progress made in recent times.

The Wales match programme listed Firth as a Fleece Filly but the following month she played for Foden’s in their 2–1 WFA Cup final win over Southampton.

Her England team-mate Sylvia Gore had apparently rounded up some of England’s top young players, including Firth and Liz Deighan, to bolster Sandbach-based Fodens’ chances of knocking dominant southerners Southampton off their perch.

The iconic Gore remained a friend and mentor. While managing the Welsh national team in the 1980s, she handed Firth a role in her coaching set-up.

By the Home Championship in May 1976, Firth had moved to Doncaster Belles – kick-starting the Belles’ fine tradition of supplying players to the England national team. She opened the scoring in the 4–0 win over Wales in Bedford.

Boasting a prolific nine goals in her 11 England caps, disaster struck for Firth when she blew her knee out while playing for Doncaster. She got the news NO footballer wants to hear when docs vowed she would never play again.

Firth had already clocked up a lot of football in those young legs. If her talent ran ahead of her physical development, perhaps her knees paid the price. Sports Science was in its infancy then, particularly with regard to female athletes.

The lure proved too strong and Firth was soon back involved, this time as a coach with Rowntrees LFC of York. She made a tentative playing comeback, then blew her other knee out.

But she had already put together a competitive side which, by 1983–84, included England captain Carol Thomas, her former Belles team-mate Gill Coultard and fleet-footed future England international Gail Borman.

Complemented by a smattering of competent regional-level players, like future Doncaster Belle Lorraine ‘Polly’ Young, Rowntrees reached the 1984 WFA Cup semi-final. They were edged out after a replay by eventual trophy winners Howbury Grange.

Despite her two dodgy knees Firth had kept goal for Rowntrees in the Howbury Grange games, as she extended her playing career by donning the gloves.

Also in 1984 Firth joined the small band of women with the FA Preliminary coaching licence, passing the course at Leeds alongside her old England skipper Sheila Parker and St Helens stalwarts Chris Slater and Yvonne Gagen.

Under Firth Rowntrees played attractive football; Leeds United and Scotland great Eddie Gray was known to take in their home matches on occasion. But their success rather fizzled out when Thomas retired due to pregnancy and Coultard went back to Doncaster Belles.

In January 1987 Firth made history when England coach and national coaching boss Martin Reagan appointed her regional coach for Yorkshire and Humberside, making her the first female to coach at such a senior level in England.

Romantically-named club Bronte was Firth’s next port of call. It was a change of scene as they played in the North West League despite being based near Bradford, West Yorkshire.

They must have been no strangers to the M62!

When long-serving gaffer Chris Beaumont left to take over at a local male team, Firth took the coaching reins. Again she combined her role with goalkeeping duties.

Bronte were solid in defence, boasting the talents of cricketing/football legend Clare Taylor, Scottish international Lorraine Kennedy (daughter of Bobby) and ex-England sweeper Eileen Lillyman.

In 1988–89 Firth’s charges won through to the WFA Cup semi-final at Sincil Bank, Lincoln, after shocking fancied Millwall Lionesses 3–2 in the quarter final.

But they missed out on an appearance at the televised final at Old Trafford, losing 3–0 to Friends of Fulham, for whom Livvy Hughes, Terri Springett and Hope Powell did the damage.

Flo Bilton penned a warm tribute to Firth in the April 1982 edition of the WFA’s Northern Newstime: “This remarkable girl took the international scene by storm … Pat’s first love has always been football … they did not take into consideration the determination of the lass … as with everything Pat does, she made a great job of it too.”

A small place in Rugby League history

Firth sprang from Rugby League country and cropped up in the memoirs of eminent Castleford Tigers historian Dr John Davis.

In Never to Be Forgotten: Memoirs of a Cas Follower to 2015, Davis briefly recounted his modest soccer exploits with Escrick in the “Charles Rice Under-13s Selby League”.

He recalled: “Swillington Saints had a girl playing on the wing who could dribble and cross like no-one else. They beat us 24–1 but I scored with my only shot of the game (a 100% strike rate)”.

Never mind John, that girl was no ordinary player…

Prenton Park, Birkenhead 27 April 1991 – Doncaster Belles 0–1 Millwall Lionesses

Yvonne Baldeo hits winner as Lionesses stun Belles and seize Cup

Midfield warriors Gillian Coultard and Debbie Bampton pose with D.J. Bear prior to locking horns again

Classic match report: Millwall end Belles hoodoo to win their first national Cup

…Back to the football then (craving your indulgence Eni!) England kick-off their latest bid for World Cup glory at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park, in an opening qualifier against Russia later this month. And that’s all the excuse we need to recall Prenton Park’s first big women’s fixture; this classic Cup final in 1991 between Doncaster Belles and Millwall Lionesses. Odds-on favourites Donny lost out on a fifth win in their eighth final, as Yvonne Baldeo’s 65th-minute winner handed the spoils to first-time finalists Millwall.

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Op-ed: ‘Wiki Geeks’ locked in spiral of failure

Meet the small band of unfortunates who make up ‘Wikiproject Football’ – Wikipedia’s all-male cabal of soccer anoraks.

Perspective and Wikipedia ‘notability’: “These are small, the ones out there are far away”

There is an excellent Wikipedia ‘task force’ specialising in women’s football, with some talented and hard-working contributors. But their aims are frustrated at every turn by the handful of obsessed losers at the main project, who block-vote to rig deletion discussions and skew the inclusion criteria in favour of their pet subjects.

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Match: England 2–0 France, 7 November 1974, Plough Lane

Plough Lane – England 2–0 France

England beat France to secure eighth straight win

Classic match report: Southampton duo Davies and Lopez score to down Les Bleues at Wimbledon

In 1974 the British economy was in the toilet due to crackpot ‘austerity’ measures. Terrorism lurked on the nation’s streets due to disastrous foreign policy failures. While a feeble government colluded with backward Loyalist bigots from Northern Ireland. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! Still, at least in those days England could beat France at women’s football, which they’ve never managed since…

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Match: England 8–0 Scotland, 23 June 1973, Manor Park

Manor Park 23 June 1973 – England 8–0 Scotland

England thrash Scotland in first ever home match

Classic match report: Lionesses rattle in EIGHT as roof falls in on sweltered Scots

England’s first official home match took place in the rarefied environs of Manor Park, Nuneaton on 23 June 1973. With England leading 2–0 at half-time, the peely-wally Scots ran out of puff. A final score of 8–0 remains their record defeat. Pat Firth’s debut hat-trick, braces from Pat Davies and moonlighting Scot Paddy McGroarty, and a late finish from sub Eileen Foreman undid Scotland, whose captain Mary Anderson had to go off at half-time.

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Report: Scotland’s moral right to the Women’s FA Cup

The real story of Eric Worthington and the Women’s FA Cup

Annual Scotland–England match trophy was repurposed as English WFA Cup

Women’s Football Archive sounds the pibroch for footballing justice

Last hurrah: Eric Worthington’s Cup gets its swan song in 1997

England’s first ‘official’ match on home soil took place in the rarefied environs of Manor Park, Nuneaton on 23 June 1973. The failure to secure a Football League ground for the event – even in the off-season – was a measure of the lasting sabotage wrought on women’s football by the FA’s 1921 ban. Opponents Scotland had been edged out 3–2 in the teams’ first fixture the previous November. In contrast to that blizzard by the Clyde, Nuneaton was in the midst of a scorching heat wave. With England leading 2–0 at half-time, the roof fell in on the peely-wally Scots. A final score of 8–0 remains their record defeat. Pat Firth’s debut hat-trick, braces from Pat Davies and moonlighting Scot Paddy McGroarty, and a late finish from sub Eileen Foreman undid Scotland, whose captain Mary Anderson had to go off at half-time.

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Report: Suffragettes of Football, National Football Museum, Manchester, 7 March 2017

Or, England’s Lost Generation tells us what it was really like

Our special correspondent ‘An Audience Observer’ writes from the front line of women’s football history…

As part of International Women’s Week, the National Football Museum and the BBC teamed up to present a discussion panel with regard to the pioneers of the women’s game. The list of attendees to the panel were Pat Gregory, Carol Thomas, Liz Deighan, Kerry Davis and Rachel Brown-Finnis, ably led by the BBC’s Eilidh Barbour.

The event opened with a short BBC film outlining the early history of the women’s game including contributions from the indomitable Gregory, Sue Lopez, Sylvia Gore and the champion of the women’s game in the day in the form of Lawrie McMenemy, who coined the phrase the “Suffragettes of football”.

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