Jane Stanley: Raising the Standard
Born: 13 April 1964
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.