1997: The first UEFA under–18 tournament

England’s first taste of women’s football at youth team level

The programme for the second UEFA under–18 tournament (Group 3) November 1998.

Rachel Yankey on the programme for the second UEFA under–18 tournament (Group 3) November 1998.

England’s under-19 team have been in Norway this past week, in UEFA Championship action, while next week the under-20s take centre stage at their World Cup in Canada.

Now a regular part of the football calendar, it is only in recent years that youth tournaments for women’s national teams came into being.

For decades UEFA and the national associations had conspired to artificially hold back women’s football. The associations said they could not cobble together teams as there were no official tournaments,1 while mealy-mouthed UEFA claimed they could not start tournaments as there were no teams. ‘Disingenuous’ doesn’t even come close!

It was not until November 1996 that UEFA’s Committee for Women’s Football finally drew a line under this nonsense: a 24-team UEFA Under-18 Championship was put together for the 1997–98 season.

England found themselves in group 6, alongside France and hosts Belgium. To save on costs, the groups were played as a mini-tournament at a single location: in this case Oostduinkerke (“East Dunkirk”) on the West Flanders coast.

Senior boss Ted Copeland ran the England team. One of the perverse effects of having no youth teams was that a handful of youngsters already had experience at senior level. Under-18 captain Danielle Murphy had been in and around the senior set-up since she was 15, while goalkeeper Rachel Brown, Sue Smith, Kate Massey, Natasha Daly and Rachel Yankey all boasted top-team caps.

At a sparsely-attended floodlit training pitch England braved the cold North Sea winds to record a 2–1 win over Belgium on 10 November 1997. A Belgian defender turned Rachel Yankey’s cross into her own goal to give England the lead, before Kate Massey lashed in a second on 29 minutes. Belgium hit back just before full-time but an eye-catching display from goalie Rachel Brown saw England hold firm to grind out the win.

In the next match against France two days later, England faced a barrage of early pressure and were a goal down after 20 minutes. A spirited second-half performance saw Rachel Yankey provide a close-range finish to Natasha Daly’s cross, tying the game at 1–1.

In an interview with Tony Leighton, published in the October 2010 edition of She Kicks, legend Yankey branded this match “the most memorable England game in my long career”:

It was actually an Under–18 international against France. I’d already played for the seniors, but the Under–18 team had only just been set up and players like Sue Smith and Rachel Brown were also involved. We were in a tournament in Belgium – the first time any of us had experienced tournament football – and whereas we’d had hardly any time together the French had already played a number of games together. They battered us in the first 10 minutes and we went a goal down, but we stuck together, battled really hard for each other and equalised with a goal that was so ironic – our manager, Ted Copeland, had been banging on all week about how many goals were scored at the far post from decent crosses and we’d got really bored of this. But that’s how we equalised and I was involved – but we were all so delighted with the goal that I honestly can’t remember whether I crossed or scored! We went behind again but came back a second time and it finished 2–2 [?] So okay, it wasn’t a big World Cup tie or anything like that, but it was a fantastic game to play in and for me it showed what team spirit and togetherness can achieve on a football pitch.

When France beat Belgium 2–0, England were edged out on goal difference. The French went on to the inaugural final, where they went down to Denmark over two legs.


1. Exceptions to this were found in Scandinavia, whose thriving youth tournaments gave them a distinct advantage at senior level. And, oddly, the Celtic fringe: where Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales seem to have contested regular youth matches through the 1990s despite not always putting out national teams at senior level.

Portopia ’81 – England women tour Japan

Caught in time: the England women’s football team jet off to Japan in September 1981

Japan1981bsmall

In autumn 1981 coach Martin Reagan‘s charges made history by becoming the first England national team ever to visit the Land of the Rising Sun.

According to the Japanese FA, the Portpier 81 International Ladies Football Festival tournament was tied in with Portopia ’81, a massive trade fair or “Expo” to mark the completion of Port Island. This was a man-made island built off the coast of Kobe between 1966 and 1981 at a cost of several billion yen. Another island was completed in 1992, only for Kobe to be rocked by a devastating earthquake in 1995.

Matches were played as double-headers, 40 minutes each way. The second round of fixtures was played 300 miles north east of Kobe, in Japan’s capital city Tokyo. The Danish FA (DBU) report attendances of 5,000 in Kobe and 3,000 in Tokyo. England v Italy and Denmark v Japan fixtures do not seem to have been played: perhaps a discreet veil was drawn over them after the hosts’ 9–0 hammering by Italy!

The Italians classed the tournament as an edition of their Mundialito series. And they had no compunction about declaring themselves the winners despite drawing with Denmark and not playing England.

Results:

Date Venue Team 1 Score Team 2 Scorers
6 September 15:30 Kobe Central Stadium, Kobe Denmark 1–1 Italy Inger Pedersen (32), Betty Vignotto (65)
6 September 17:30 Kobe Central Stadium, Kobe Japan 0–4 England Angie Gallimore (45, 48), Vicky Johnson (71), Debbie Bampton (75)
Date Venue Team 1 Score Team 2 Scorers
9 September 17:30 Tokio Nishigaoka Stadium, Tokyo Japan 0–9 Italy Carolina Morace, Sandra Pierazzuoli (2), Betty Saldi (2), Betty Secci, Betty Vignotto (2)
9 September 19:30 Tokio Nishigaoka Stadium, Tokyo England 0–1 Denmark Inger Pedersen (49)

Team notes:

England

Excitement and joy was etched on the players’ faces as they lined up for the photocall before setting off from Heathrow. It was to be the first time England had faced opposition from outside Europe.

Nottingham Forest’s Brian Clough had enraged the Japanese in February 1981 by contrasting their hi-tech “television wristwatches” with their failure to “grow some bloody grass”.

Forest lost the Intercontinental Cup 1–0 to Uruguayans Club Nacional on a bumpy, sandy mess at Tokyo’s national stadium.

Ever the diplomat, manager Martin Reagan was more measured: “Quite obviously, the lack of grass pitches will cause great problems in developing their game and will certainly influence their style and tactics.”

In England’s first match, hosts Japan bravely held out until half time only for Angie Gallimore to score twice in the opening 10 minutes of the second period. Johnson and Bampton added late goals as Japan eventually succumbed 4–0.

The players and staff reportedly bopped the night away until 1am in a local disco before jetting on to Tokyo.

The next matchday saw England edged out 1–0 by Denmark. Inger Pedersen, who also got the Danes’ goal in their opening 1–1 draw with Italy, scored a late goal off an assist from the excellent Lone Smidt Hansen (later Lone Smidt Nielsen).

After jetting back to England, WFA chairman David Hunt described the tour as “satisfactory” and expressed pride that in visiting such exotic climes the women had achieved something that England’s pampered male players had yet to do.

Japan1981small

England line–ups:

Vs Japan (4–3–3): Wiseman (Irvine); Thomas (Johnson), Gallimore, Parker, Coffin (Reynolds); Curl (Coultard), Bampton, Deighan; Doe, Foreman (Hutchinson), Turner

Vs Denmark (4–3–3): Wiseman; Thomas, Gallimore, Parker, Coffin; Curl (Coultard), Bampton, Deighan; Foreman (Hutchinson), Doe, Turner

Number Name Position Age (approx.) Club
1 Terry Irvine Goalkeeper 29 Aylesbury
2 Angie Gallimore Defender 17 Broadoak
3 Gillian Coultard Midfielder 18 Doncaster Belles
4 Vicky Johnson Defender 21 Lowestoft
5 Janet Turner Forward 20 St Helens
6 Linda Curl Midfielder 20 Lowestoft
7 Eileen Foreman Forward 27 Warminster
8 Tracy Doe Forward 21 Maidstone
9 Liz Deighan Midfielder 26 St Helens
10 Carol Thomas (née McCune) Defender (captain) 26 C.P. Doncaster
11 Linda Coffin Defender 26 Southampton
12 Christine Hutchinson Midfielder 28 Percy Main
13 Sheila Parker (née Porter) Defender 34 Preston North End
14 Maureen Reynolds Defender 28 Biggleswade
15 Debbie Bampton Midfielder 20 Lowestoft
16 Terry Wiseman Goalkeeper 25 Maidstone

Japan

In 1981 Japanese women’s football was in its infancy. The first edition of the national club Championship, the Empress’s Cup, had been played over two days in March 1980 at Mitsubishi Yowa Soccer Club in Sugamo, Tokyo. Eight teams played 25 minutes each way, eight-a-side with a size four ball on a specially marked out 76m X 54m (i.e. 3:4 size) pitch.

The winning team, FC Jinnan, had previously represented Japan in the 1977 Asian Championships; Japan’s first tentative foray into the international arena. They finished bottom of their group after losing 1–0 to Indonesia then being demolished 7–0 by hosts Taiwan.

A proper Japan team was put together for the Asian Championships in June 1981, going out after three first round matches. It cost the players 30,000 yen each for the privilege of going to Hong Kong. Etsuko Handa, who had just turned 16, got the team’s first ever goal in a 1–0 win over Indonesia.

In only their fifth ever match here they found themselves confronted with Carolina Morace and Betty Vignotto—two of the world’s greatest ever strikers—and found themselves a bit out of their depth.

The team will not have enjoyed taking such a pasting in front of their own fans, as the concept of “honour” was still big in Japanese culture. Historically, women even had their own version of Hari-Kari: known as Jigaki, which was ritual disembowelment but with one’s knees primly tied together — thereby avoiding any undignified splayed legs.

Some players stuck at it though, the pioneering Handa played at the Atlanta Olympics 15 years later.

In 1981 the status of Asian women’s football was in a stand off, as detailed in an interesting chapter in Jean Williams’ A Beautiful Game (2007).

The independent Asian Ladies Football Confederation (ALFC) were trying to affiliate to FIFA in their own right, while FIFA were telling them to fall into line under the (male) Asian Football Confederation. The male confederation, guided by one or two influential Muslim bigots in places like Malaysia, wanted nothing to do with women’s football.

In the mid 1980s the AFC accepted women’s football and the Japanese FA appointed a properly qualified coach, Ryohei Suzuki, to run the team in 1986. The 1981 team had been coached by a well-meaning schoolteacher.

Eventually in the 1990s FIFA stopped trying to suppress women’s football and decided to run “official” national team competitions.

Disgustingly corrupt FIFA kingpin João Havelange used his shamed ISL marketing company to run the events and channel sizeable kickbacks into his own bank account.

Japan eventually rose to the top of the tree, winning the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup with a dainty brand of tiki-taka which did justice to their “Nadeshiko” nickname.

Notes:

The info for this article came from Sue Lopez’s indispensible Women on the Ball (1997), Jean Williams’s A Beautiful Game (2007) and the WFA’s match programme for England v Norway 25 October 1981. Luckily the Japanese, Danish and Italian FAs all keep better records than their English counterparts.

On the second matchday Associated Press (AP) issued a three-line press release: “SOCCER TOKYO (AP) – Italy beat Japan 9-0 and Denmark edged England 1-0 in a women’s tournament. Elisabetta Saldi, Sandra Pierazzuoli and Elisabetta Vignotto scored two goals each for Italy. In the second game, Denmark’s Inger Pedersen shot in the winning goal at the 65th minute, assisted by Smidt Hansen.”

Update: Article amended with further info supplied by the estimable Soccer History Magazine (see comments).

Players: Jane Stanley

Jane Stanley: Raising the Standard

StanleyJ

Born: 13 April 1964
Position: Forward
Debut: Ireland (H) 27 April 1986
Occupation: Sports Development Assistant (1987), Pro footballer (1989)

A prolific scorer and exquisite ball player who broke new ground in Belgium with Standard Liège, doing much to improve the reputation of England’s footballers on the continent.

Williams and Woodhouse (1999) related the apocryphal tale that the young Stanley had to keep getting her football boots out of the bin every week, where her disapproving parents repeatedly slung them.

It seems potty now, but even within living memory that’s just how it was for young female footballers. Brazilian legend Sissi didn’t have a ball as a kid, so she pulled the heads off her dollies and booted them around.

Undaunted, Scarborough girl Stanley stuck at it and turned into a bona fide goal-machine with local club Filey Flyers. She reportedly rattled in 262 goals in her 200 appearances.

This instinctive genius brought her to the attention of England boss Martin Reagan, who handed her a debut cap two weeks after her 22nd birthday; a 4–0 win over the Republic of Ireland at Reading FC’s Elm Park in April 1986.

It wasn’t just Stanley’s poise and sophistication on the pitch which was valued. She was sent by the WFA to sponsors Niagara Therapy’s convention at Dunblane in January 1987, accompanying WFA vice-chair Sandra Fleet.

When the governing body wanted to put their best foot forward to schmooze the money men, Stanley was hand-picked for the role.

Stanley was part of the England squad at Euro 87 in Norway, appearing as a sub in the semi–final at Melløs Stadion versus Sweden in the number 14 shirt. England surrendered the lead to lose 3–2 after extra time, following a two–goal salvo from Gunilla Axén.

She also faced Sweden at England’s first full international at Wembley in May 1989 when goals from the outstanding Pia Sundhage and Lena Videkull saw England beaten 2–0, before the men’s Rous Cup game with Chile.

In the opening match of England’s victorious 1988 Mundialito campaign against Italy’s B team, Stanley was substituted after fainting in the heat. Young debutante Karen Walker was thrown into the fray and scored with her first touch.

During a friendly tourney in Épinal, France, an England team beat Belgium 2–0 at Stade de la Colombière on 14 May 1989. Weeks later, The Times were reporting that Belgian cracks Standard Liège had landed Stanley in a £100-per-week swoop.

After many years of loyal service, Stanley left Filey and her job as a local sports development assistant to try her hand in the pro ranks. At this stage England did not even have a national league, whereas Standard trained five times a week in excellent facilities.

The “English disease” (hooliganism) meant that English football was widely despised on the continent, especially in Belgium where in May 1985 bestial Liverpool ‘fans’ chased rival supporters into a wall which collapsed, killing 39.

That earned England’s male clubs a long ban from UEFA competition. Ironically it meant that some of the best English players furthered their education abroad, like Glenn Hoddle.

Some Brits failed to settle – see Ian Rush and his “Italy was like a foreign country” gaffe.

But the cultured Stanley seems to have been amongst those who did, remaining in Liège for some seven years and winning plaudits and admiration from Belgian soccer fans.

Led by Stanley and emblematic Italian midfielder Fery Ferraguzzi, Standard won a competitive Belgian league four times in a row from 1990 to 1994. They also won the Cup in 1990 and 1995.

The Sud Presse newspaper reported that Standard went into decline after Stanley’s departure in 1996:

La petite fée anglaise a apporté par sa virtuosité, sa technique, son sens du jeu et les quelques vingt roses par saison une présence quasi indispensable aux «Rouches». Elle manque terriblement au groupe.

The little English fairy brought by her virtuosity, her technique, her sense of the game and twenty goals a season an almost indispensable presence to the “Rouches”. She is missed terribly by the group.

At the time of England’s crushing Euro 91 quarter-final defeat by West Germany in November 1990, Stanley had 23 caps. She seemed to drift out of the reckoning after that. Perhaps the travelling became too much or the potless WFA could not jet out to Belgium just to keep tabs on her form.

Stanley never played for England after the FA took over in 1993 either. Perhaps because other players were preferred, or, more likely, because the FA didn’t know of her existence.

Administrator: Flo Bilton

Florence “Flo” Bilton

Bilton in 1989

Bilton in 1989

Born: c.1921, Hull

Position: Goalkeeper

Debut: N/A

Occupation: Factory Worker (1963)

Flo Bilton: Hull’s favourite footballing daughter

An influential player in the formation of the Hull Women’s FA in 1968 and the WFA in 1969, Bilton served as WFA membership secretary for many years and was a plucky and resourceful “all–rounder” in the team of volunteers who kept women’s football in England going despite a lack of funding or official support.

After the formation of the women’s national team in 1972, WFA committee member Bilton washed and laundered the players’ kits by hand. She obtained a men’s England cap from Hull neighbour Raich Carter and reverse engineered it, producing copies for the female England players.

As part of her various assignments she also stitched badges onto the kits, chaperoned the players, met foreign dignitaries at airports and put together the WFA Newsletter.

Even after roping in other stalwarts like June Jaycocks and Pat Gregory, it quickly became clear that stitching caps for every player after every match would turn into Bilton’s life’s work! Instead the WFA produced a cap to mark each player’s debut and when they retired they got a big wooden shield complete with little silver badges to mark each appearance.

Players sometimes slipped through the net: Wendy Owen (2005) recalled that Josie Clifford (née Lee) of QPR played five times in the 70s and didn’t get a cap.

On England’s first trip to Italy in 1976, vigilant Bilton had to constantly ward off representatives from pro Italian clubs who were trying to “tap up” England’s players.

Bilton remained in two minds about players going abroad: she wanted the players to better themselves and knew better than anyone about the hostility and derision they faced in England.

But it left the WFA trying to market, arguably, a second-rate product. Also, the miniscule grant given by the Sports Council (now Sport England) was given on the basis that women’s football was an amateur sport. Even these crumbs from the table may have disappeared, if the powers that be got wind of England players pulling down bumper salaries in Italy.

The English party in Rome were granted an audience with Pope Paul VI. Unmoved by the experience, straight-talking Bilton later described: “a visit we had been told would take one hour but in fact took two”.

Bilton played hockey, netball and cricket for the Reckitt & Colman factory in Hull where she worked. She was already 40 when the factory leadership tasked her with forming a women’s football team for a charity game in 1963. With Bilton as goalkeeper, Reckitt’s saw off rivals Smith & Nephew 2–1 on 19 April 1963.

Support from the factory continued and Bilton’s team eventually produced future England captain Carol Thomas (née McCune) as well as Doncaster Belles and England striker Gail Borman.

Bilton’s protégée Thomas, a sturdy full-back, made her England debut in 1974 and entered the Guinness Book of Records as the first Englishwoman ever to get 50 caps.

She looks like everyone’s favourite granny, but gentle natured Flo Bilton can put the boot in with more crunch than Vinny Jones — WFA News, March 1989

In summer 1987, the WFA’s class of FA Preliminary Coaching Badge hopefuls descended on Lilleshall. As always, Bilton was on hand with a kind word and a smile to keep morale high. Her chocolate eclairs and banana cake reportedly went down a storm too!

The lack of media coverage and derisory crowds at women’s matches routinely broke Bilton’s heart. But her steely resolve kept her at the forefront for over 25 years. Other lesser personalities would surely have walked away.

In Women on the Ball (1997) Sue Lopez wrote of Bilton: “She is respected by everyone in the game and the players were always certain that she had their interests, and that of the game, at heart.”

As a plain-speaking Yorkshire lass, Bilton had always let much of the petty bickering which marred the WFA go over her head. But she was never afraid to speak up when required. Many of her ideas were ahead of the curve and found some traction many years later. She understood the power of TV and predicted “North and South Super Leagues for the top clubs.”

Bilton remained on the WFA’s board when the FA took over in 1993. Sadly the FA promptly ‘chucked the baby out with the bathwater’, completely ignored everything which had gone before, and then did … nothing much.

Flo died in Hull on 22 July 2004, aged 82. She had bravely battled Parkinson’s disease in her later years.

To this day, the Flo Bilton Trophy is still contested by girl’s football teams in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Her place is enshrined forever in women’s football lore.