Born: 12 June 1975, London
Debut: Portugal (A) 11 February 1996
Occupation: Housing officer (1996)
In a departure for Women’s Football Archive, we give yesteryear a swerve and profile a current player still doing the business at a high level: Claire Lacey of C&K Basildon Ladies.
Lacey joined newly reformed West Ham United Ladies in 1992–93 as a total beginner. Roger Morgan, the ex-QPR and Tottenham winger, had relaunched the team as part of his club community officer remit.
An earlier iteration of West Ham Ladies FC had been around in the 1970s but had subsequently died out.
John Greenacre had been involved with the original club and was brought back for the relaunch. John was hugely respected in women’s football circles and much missed after his untimely death from cancer in 2008.
The first team entered Division Three of the Greater London League, while a reserve team entered Division Four. Under the astute stewardship of Greenacre and West Ham academy coach Trevor Lewin, the Ladies were promoted twice and took their place in Division One for 1995–96.
After the 1995 World Cup, England boss Ted Copeland was casting around for goalkeeping backup to Pauline Cope. He had alienated Tracey Davidson and Lesley Shipp, who both retired from international football.
Young Doncaster Belle Debbie Biggins was also called-up and warmed the bench a few times, without getting a cap. Rachel Brown was already on the radar too, but being held back on grounds of age. She debuted against Germany in February 1997 immediately after turning 16.
Lacey’s day in the sun came on 11 February 1996. Aged 20, she was an 81st-minute substitute for Cope in England’s routine 5–0 win over Portugal at Campo das Portas do Sol in Benevente.
The Euro 1997 qualifying match was also notable for the goalscoring debut of Wigan Ladies’ 16-year-old Marie-Anne Catterall.
Disaster struck in 1996–97 when Lacey injured her back and had to start playing outfield for her club. In 2007 she reluctantly left the Hammers after a stormy AGM saw manager Kay Cossington’s departure.
She moved on to Millwall Lionesses and, back between the sticks, was part of their 2009 promotion-winning team. That capped Lacey’s remarkable rise from the lower echelons of regional football, to the very top of the English pyramid.
As Millwall club captain, Lacey was crocked during 2009–10 and out of football until joining C&K Basildon in Jan 2011.
She remains the Essex outfit’s inspirational skipper, capable of doing a job at centre-half or utilising her height and strength further up the pitch.
Claire Lacey was not an England great. Not everyone can be: life’s not like that.
With Pauline Cope blocking her path, more than one cap was always going to be an uphill struggle for Lacey. At the time Ted Copeland – with some justification – hailed Cope the world’s best.
Loyal Hammer Lacey plied her trade in the Greater London Leagues, when most of her England rivals were dining at the top Premier League table.
She is one of a select band of players to know the pride of pulling on the three lions at senior level. No-one will ever take that away from Lacey.
The bottom line is this: anyone good enough to play competitive football for their country is inherently worthy of lasting recognition and respect.