Report: #SHEKICKSBACK 2, Doncaster, 23 November 2015

Walker, Smith and Coultard meet their public at Doncaster roadshow

On a rainy Monday night in November, the #SHEKICKSBACK roadshow rolled into Doncaster. Following an earlier event in London organisers chose Doncaster Belles territory for the second edition, in honour of the South Yorkshire giants’ proud history.A joint venture between women’s soccer bible She Kicks and Women’s Soccer Zone, #SHEKICKSBACK aimed to correct the perception that women’s football is rootless by publicly grilling big name players. It was manna from heaven for women’s football anoraks!

As well as being the editor of She Kicks, Jen O’Neill played to a high standard with Sunderland. The north-easterner is steeped in the game. So she was uniquely qualified to pull off the event and did an excellent job as host and interviewer.

Kieran Theivam who runs Women’s Soccer Zone was a sort of compère. Sharp-suited and clutching his iPad, Theivam greeted you in his soothing podcast voice then ticked you off the digital register.

With O’Neill on this momentous occasion were Belles legend Karen Walker and chirpy TV scouser Sue Smith, as well as a very special mystery guest…

 

Crowd:


The great and good of this famous old club descended on Doncaster’s Cask Corner Dive Bar, resulting in a healthy turnout. Everywhere you looked sparked vague flickers of recognition, faces who grin out from photos of Belles triumphs in years gone by. Gail Borman a prime example.

Janet Milner’s shock of blonde hair was also in evidence, a familiar sight for regulars at the Keepmoat where she is a steward. Goalie Milner was herself capped by England before a knee injury scuppered her Belles career and she turned her hand to coaching little ‘uns.

Legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly famously invited the press corps to circumnavigate his strapping new centre-half Ron Yeats. In much the same way, guests had to circumnavigate Belles’ current skipper Leandra Little to get to the bar!

Other dignitaries included founder Sheila Edmunds, high-powered exec Faye Lygo and influential fans’ chief Sarah Maye. There was a smattering of youngsters, who must have been youth teamers, some with their dads.

It all added up to a very special vibe, if not an aura. If the #SHEKICKSBACK roadshow rolls round to Doncaster again there’s surely fertile ground for a follow up.

Venue:


A range of drinks were available with Peroni (£4) among the offerings. On one occasion Peroni’s barrel needed changing so a Czech alternative, named Zot, or similar, was pressed into action. The crisps were of the premium, kettle chip variety: thick and crunchy but with a somewhat oily aftertaste.

The bubbly barmaid addressed customers as Doll. It seemed like a quaint Doncastrianism but subsequent checks with genuine Doncaster folk trashed this theory. The cosy venue afforded a handful of seats in three short rows as well as one or two comfy pleather sofas and standing room at the back.

Bizarre decor (“random tat” was overheard) adorned the walls and was suspended from the ceiling. Worryingly, one such item was a dusty scythe – which ensured grisly Final Destination-style visions marred the evening for those underneath.

Karen Walker:


First up was Karen, or Kaz, Walker and it quickly became clear why the organisers had sought her out. She was a straight-talking embodiment of what journos term “good value”.

She quipped that no-one understands her Barnsley accent, even in Hull where she works as a cop. Throughout proceedings, extroverted Walker called it exactly as she saw it. As well she might. No offence to Hull, but its hard to imagine too many shrinking violets policing its gritty streets!

She joined the Belles as a teen because her next door neighbour Karen “Skiller” Skillcorn was already there. After the centre-forward (this must be Lorraine Hanson?) got pregnant Walker nailed down a regular place up front. She soon discovered a happy knack for rattling in goals.

Walker voiced a suspicion that the best players in the South would all hop from team to team, congregating at places like Fulham and Millwall. All part of a dastardly plot to try and topple the Belles.

It does have a ring of truth about it. Remarkably Sallie Jackson won three successive WFA Cups with three different Southern teams in ’84, ’85 and ’86, dumping the Belles in all three finals. Perhaps a future edition of #SHEKICKSBACK will track down Jackson for the other side of the story?

Walker said she was taken to the 1988 Mundialito tournament for squad experience, but was pressed into action when Jane Stanley fainted during the first match. She scored with her first touch in England’s 3–0 win over hosts Italy’s B team.

She remained proud of her record – surely never to be broken – of hitting a hat-trick in every round of the FA Women’s Cup, including the final. This got the first clap of the night. Although she’d forgotten the year and the opposition (It was Red Star Southampton in 1992, fact fans).

In a surprising development, Walker namechecked the recent FAWPL Charity Trophy match in Stratford as one of the best moments of her career. Her face lit up as she described how magical it was to be reunited with old pals from bygone England days. Brenda Sempare got a mention in this context.

O’Neill asked about the time England boss Ted Copeland summarily bombed Walker out. Instead of buttonholing her after training or picking up the phone, Copeland instead typed up and posted Walker a litany of alleged defects in her game.

Sadly this intriguing piece of football history has been lost. Walker now sees the funny side, but still bristles at the suggestion that she didn’t work hard or wasn’t a team player. She wondered aloud if her habit of sticking up for others had left Copeland’s nose out of joint.

Copeland soon had egg on his face when Karen Farley, England’s other powerhouse forward, blew her knee out. That left veteran midfielder Hope Powell leading the line for England’s Euro 1997 qualification play-off against Spain in September 1996.

A toothless defeat cost England a place at the finals. There had even been chat of England hosting. All the experience, exposure and (probably) funding that would have gone with it went up in smoke. With the benefit of hindsight it was not one of Ted’s better decisions!

Despite all her success, Walker – a self-confessed Manchester United fan – admitted to limited actual football knowledge. She would implore her team-mates: “Just cross it in!” So she never went into coaching or kept up the punditry after dabbling at the 2007 World Cup.

Sue Smith:


Current Belle Sue Smith replaced Walker for the next segment, a different proposition with at least a couple more chapters still to be written in her own brilliant career.

She had a polished and relaxed speaking style, honed by her years of media work. On occasion O’Neill playfully teased behind the diplomatic responses: “What’s the non media-friendly answer?”

Smith became firm friends with Rachel Yankey, despite being rivals for England’s left-wing berth. The pals share a sunny disposition and a similar outlook on life. As dressing room young guns they were the practical jokers with a string of pranks behind them.

Special guest – Gill Coultard:


The night’s special guest was revealed as none other than ex-Belles and England stalwart Gill Coultard. After being clapped up onto the stage, Coultard’s answers were usually quieter and more considered than Walker and Smith’s – but just as engaging.

It was soon clear that, unlike Walker, deep thinker Coultard keeps bang up to date with the women’s football whirligig. Her eyes seemed to twinkle with pride as O’Neill expertly reeled off some career highlights.

The biggest cheer of the night went up for Coultard’s greatest achievement of all: beating breast cancer. Ten years cancer-free, she told the applauding audience.

It was no surprise. Week after week, year after year this great champion was out in the middle of the pitch waiting for the very best the opposition could throw at her.

As Coultard still had her finger on the pulse she could cover ground Walker couldn’t. Did she think money would spoil women’s football like the men’s? Things are heading that way. Did she think too many WSL foreigners could harm young English players’ development? It was a worry.

All three players displayed a startling lack of bitterness, considering today’s England players get everything on a plate and pull down serious spondulicks into the bargain. While acknowledging their own part in moving things on, they insisted they’d not swap a minute of their careers.

Audience questions:


The first question from the floor asked the panel how come they never signed for foreign teams. Smith, who at one time had American colleges falling over themselves, said she never fancied it as her family and mates took precedence.

Ditto Coultard and Walker, who dubbed themselves “home birds”. A knowledgeable comeback from the questioner mentioned Scots great Rose Reilly and the pro Italian league of the day.

Walker agreed that she would have made a decent fist of Serie A (like Reilly rather than costly flops like Luther Blissett and Mark Hateley). But she was just too proud to play for the best team in the country and too loyal to those who gave her the chance.

Next up: which male player were the panel most often compared to by the press? Walker and Coultard shot each other a glance and appeared to be stumped by this one.

Of course in Coultard’s case the correct answer to this question was Bryan Robson, or sometimes Sammy Lee. In many respects Coultard was the player ‘Captain Marvel’ Robson could have been, if he reined in the bevvying and stopped picking up daft injuries.

Smith demurred although at another point in the night she told an anecdote – about getting marooned in a rowing boat – which was striking in its similarity to a famous maritime mishap which befell Celtic’s Jimmy Johnstone. “Wee Jinky” would have approved of Smith’s skilful wing play.

Barrie Williams, briefly manager of England in 1991, once gave an interview hailing Walker as the female Kevin Keegan. Although that may have had more to do with the fashionable perm she was sporting at the time!

Another questioner had a slightly different twist on the same theme: which current player was most like the panelists themselves?

Fara Williams was Coultard’s verdict, as she praised the Liverpool midfielder’s influential displays at the recent World Cup. She was much too modest to say it, but perhaps Coultard could be described as marrying Williams’s finesse with a dash of Katie Chapman’s steel.

Walker came clean, saying she couldn’t answer as she hadn’t seen enough recent stuff. O’Neill ventured the name Julie Fleeting and said if only the Ayrshire hotshot had been English, Walker’s loss may not have been so keenly felt by the Lionesses.

Asked for her view, Belles supremo Sheila Edmunds shouted from the floor that neither the club nor England had ever replaced Walker. That’s probably true and you might need to widen the net to include recently-retired Yank Abby Wambach to find a recent facsimile of Walker’s all-action style.

Another fine exponent of getting across the pitch and defending from the front was Gutteridge, recently of Sunderland. Grafter Gutteridge stood out by playing with her hair down and never gave defenders a second’s peace, although she lacked Walker’s myriad other attributes.

Then came Women’s Football Archive’s moment in the sun: what were Walker and Coultard’s memories of their first England boss Martin Reagan?

With a chuckle they settled on “eccentric”, unimpressed by Reagan’s droll habit of teaming snug-fitting sports shorts with sensible dress shoes and socks. Walker also remembered her debut when the ball was blasted into Reagan’s face from close range. Remaining inscrutable, he never even flinched.

Both had obvious affection for the man who gave them their shot at being England players, albeit they weren’t too sure of his footballing credentials.

With a smile Coultard recalled Reagan’s strong faith. He would get WFA boss Linda Whitehead on the case wherever England were playing: “Have you found me a church yet Linda?”

During World War Two the mysterium tremendum et fascinans came upon Reagan in his tank after he cheated death. Then he witnessed the spectacle of three horses galloping across a field only for the middle one to be exploded by a land mine.

To be fair, if he wasn’t a religious man before his wartime exploits, you can see why he was afterwards!

Characters:


The names Becky Easton and Karen Burke cropped up in dispatches once or twice. They were scousers but adopted Doncastrians. Salt of the earth types who impressed everyone when they came to play for the Belles and wove themselves into the fabric of the club.

By all accounts Chantel Woodhead was every bit as kooky as her portrayal immortalised in Pete Davies’s I Lost My Heart to the Belles (1996). Tough Huddersfield lass Sam Britton got into countless scrapes down the years, the recollection of which raised laughs all round.

Just when it seemed nothing could top that, it was said that any stories involving Jo Broadhurst were off-limits. Too X-rated even for the post watershed audience. The mind boggles…

Epilogue:


It was the day before Sue Smith’s birthday, so a cake materialised amidst a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday. Theivam bounded back on stage to announce the night’s proceeds were winging their way to a breast cancer charity.

With that it was out the doors and back to reality with a depressing thud. Freezing, horizontal rain battered the concrete dystopia of Doncaster town centre. A local simpleton harangued passers by as the grim A1 beckoned.

Ho hum. When’s #SHEKICKSBACK 3?

Mundialito Femminile ’84 – The Little World Cup

Martin Reagan’s beaten Euro 84 finalists square off against Belgium, West Germany and Italy in Jesolo and Caorle

Mundialito1984

In the days before the FIFA Women’s World Cup there was the Mundialito…

An invitational tourney along the lines of the latter day Cyprus or Algarve Cups, it was a much bigger deal than these annual seaside jollies: pulling in both bumper crowds and RAI TV coverage.

In summer 1984 football-daft Italians were beside themselves with glee, having carried off the 1982 World Cup and then sealed the 1990 hosting gig in May 1984. Their semi-autonomous women’s football federation (FIGCF) teamed up with the national Olympic committee (CONI) for this joint venture. As well as the national broadcaster and local authority, backing arrived from sportswear company Diadora and La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. All the participating teams’ costs were covered in full – music to the ears of England’s hard up WFA.

CONI’s interest was down to their suspicion that Olympic medals might be afoot – bringing an attendant funding bonanza. They were lobbying hard for Olympic women’s soccer and fancied their chances if it happened. At this stage the United States had no team (they debuted at the following year’s Mundialito) while newbies West Germany had only started their own programme 20 months earlier.

Jesolo was awarded city status in 1984, for services to local tourism. Big in the 70s, its 15 miles of sandy beach was a hot destination for new-fangled package holiday tours. Later on it repositioned itself as a bit classier and more expensive, probably to dodge the sad fate of Benidorm: hordes of braying louts in Union Jack shorts and diced carrots in its gutters.

Jesolo’s stadium was named for Armando Picchi, the great Inter Milan and Italy sweeper. Temporary stands brought the capacity up to a reported 6–8,000. The smaller stadium up the road in Caorle bore the name of Giovanni Chiggiato, a local landowner and worthy from the early part of the century. Matches were apparently played in the cooler evenings at 9.15pm and were 40 minutes each-way.

Results:

Group stage:

Date Venue Team 1 Score Team 2 Scorers
19 August Stadio Giovanni Chiggiato, Caorle Italy 1–2 West Germany ITA: Carolina Morace
FRG: Petra Bartelmann, Rosi Eichenlaub
20 August Stadio Armando Picchi, Jesolo England 1–1 Belgium ENG: Linda Curl
BEL: Carla Martens
21 August Stadio Giovanni Chiggiato, Caorle Italy 4–0 Belgium ITA: Carolina Morace, Betty Vignotto, Rose Reilly, Betty Secci
22 August Stadio Armando Picchi, Jesolo West Germany 2–0 England FRG: Silvia Neid (2)
23 August Stadio Giovanni Chiggiato, Caorle Belgium 2–0 West Germany BEL: TBC1
24 August Stadio Armando Picchi, Jesolo Italy 1–1 England ITA: Carolina Morace
ENG: Linda Curl

Third place play-off:

Date Venue Team 1 Score Team 2 Scorers
25 August Stadio Giovanni Chiggiato, Caorle England 2–1 Belgium ENG: Marieanne Spacey, Linda Curl
BEL: TBC (pen)

Final:

Date Venue Team 1 Score Team 2 Scorers
26 August Stadio Armando Picchi, Jesolo Italy 3–1 West Germany ITA: Carolina Morace, Rose Reilly, Betty Vignotto (pen)
GER: Anne Kreuzberg

Hors concours:

Date Venue Team 1 Score Team 2 Scorers
27 August Monfalcone Italy 1–3 England ITA: TBC
ENG: Angie Gallimore, Hope Powell, Pat Chapman

Stadio Armando Picchi:

Some public domain snaps of the stadium in Jesolo, taken in September 2015.

Team notes:

England

Since their gutsy defeat by Sweden in the Euro 84 final shootout, England had lost three loyal campaigners to international retirement. Irish-born goalkeeper Terry Irvine, left-back Maggie Pearce (née Kirkland) and original skipper Sheila Parker (née Porter) were all footballing mums. They went out with heads held high.

Martin Reagan was also without fleet-footed Euro 84 revelation Kerry Davis and midfield terrier Gillian Coultard, who was away on holiday. That gave an opportunity to some fresh blood, including teenaged future-greats Marieanne Spacey (18, Friends of Fulham) and Jo Broadhurst (16, Sheffield).

There were also debut caps for defenders Sallie Jackson (Howbury Grange) and Jackie Slack (Norwich). Slack had skippered Lowestoft to the 1982 WFA Cup. Cup specialist Jackson played alongside Slack in that game and repeated the feat in May 1984 with Howbury Grange.

A few of England’s players had been involved in a six-a-side curtain-raiser to an Everton v Liverpool Charity Shield clash at Wembley, staged the day before the Mundialito started. The bizarre knockabout pitted WFA Cup winners Howbury Grange against national 5-a-side champs Millwall Lionesses. St Helens and a Mersey/Wirral select were also roped in, a sop to the 100,000 scousers in attendance.

The Wembley exertions might explain the sluggish start from England, who fell behind in their opening match when Belgium’s Carla Martens ruthlessly capitalised on new girl Jackie Slack’s error.

Linda Curl brought England level after running onto a Brenda Sempare pass. It was the best possible tonic for Curl, who laid to rest the ghost of her Kenilworth Road penalty miss at the earliest opportunity.

England’s next match was an inauspicious 2–0 reverse at the hands of slick upstarts West Germany. Midfielder Silvia Neid, later named Player of the Tournament, put England to the sword with two well taken goals.

It was to be 31 long years, before Fara Williams’ 2015 World Cup penalty finally ended England’s German hoodoo. Neid, by then the unified Germany manager, was rendered incredulous by her team’s extra-time defeat and failure to land a bronze medal.

In the final group match against the Italian hosts, Linda Curl put England ahead in torrential rain. Morace hit back as the teams ground out an entertaining 1–1 draw in Jesolo. According to the WFA’s one-person media operation, the incomparable Cathy Gibb, Hope Powell “won the Italian crowd over with astounding delicate skills”.

The third place play-off saw another meeting with the underrated Belgians. Spacey lashed England ahead, but profligate finishing proved costly when Jackson’s handball conceded a penalty which pegged it back to 1–1.

Jackson made amends by hitting a long pass to Curl, who expertly rounded Belgian custodian Annie Noë and knocked in her third goal of the tournament to win the match for England.

There was more to come as a hastily-arranged bounce game against an understrength Italian team took place the day after the final. This was just up the coast in Monfalcone, near the border with what was then Yugoslavia.

Some sources describe the opposition as an Italian “B team”, but England’s 3–1 win was notable for Jo Broadhurst’s first Lionesses appearance and Hope Powell’s first international goal. It is also thought that Sue Buckett filled in for Terry Wiseman, marking an emotional farewell between the sticks for the Southampton legend.

It its coverage of the tournament, local broadsheet La Stampa said of the English squad:

“They train running barefoot on the beach, eat in joy, stuff themselves with sweets, seem to appreciate the good Italian wine: for them this “Mundialito” is almost a holiday.”

The same article cited “Patricia Curry” and “Andrienne Powel” as England’s best players – apparently garbled compounds of Hope Powell, Marieanne Spacey, Linda Curl (?) and Pat Chapman.

Andrienne Powel was described as a professional ballerina and coach Martin Reagan as a former Liverpool player.2 Either the hack responsible was the victim of a wind-up, or they were no stranger to appreciation of the good wine themselves!

Italy

Italy had hosted previous tournaments under the auspices of rebel women’s football governing body FIEFF, which had long since been stamped out by peevish rivals UEFA and FIFA.

Mundialito organisers tenuously claimed their lineage from the 1981 International Ladies Football Festival in Japan. Even more tenuously they claimed that Italy were defending a title won at the curious, unfinished Japanese tournament.

Inevitably, the wily Italians had a couple of trump cards up their sleeves. The first was Rose Reilly. A deadly cocktail of pace and power, Reilly was already box office dynamite in Italy’s Serie A. So much so that the Italians were trying to marry the charismatic Kiki Dee look-alike into Italian citizenry.

In November 1972, aged 17, she had starred in Scotland’s first ever international fixture, against England at a frost-bitten Ravenscraig Stadium in Greenock. In the first-half Reilly scored direct from a corner to put the Scots 2–0 ahead, only for the team to somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in time-honoured Scottish style.

RoseReilly1984

Reilly gives her verdict to Italian TV

The Scots made a big play of getting Reilly back in the fold for the winner-take-all Euro qualifier with England at Dumbarton in October 1982. British Caledonian were lined up to jet her in, but her employers at Alaska Lecce (named for their ice cream company backers) had other ideas. Kerry Davis bagged four unanswered goals in England’s romp at the ramshackle Boghead Park ground.

Reilly gave the marriage offers a swerve, but did become an honorary Italian footballer: forming a formidable front three with Carolina Morace and Betty Vignotto.

The Italians’ second trump card was the home officials, who presided over what Cathy Gibb called: “refereeing at its worst”. They waved through three offside goals as Italy drubbed Belgium 4–0, recovering from their shock 2–1 opening day defeat by West Germany.

This set the tone for what was to follow. Some 32 years later at a Mundialito-type event in America, preposterously entitled the SheBelieves Cup, the refereeing was equally diabolical. Although this time it was female referees. And the public no longer had to take Gibb’s word for it, since live BBC television coverage beamed it into the nation’s living rooms.

In 1984 relations between the Italian Women’s FA (FIGCF) and the Italian [male] FA (FIGC) were strained. A telegramme from the Chinese FA inviting the women’s team to a Xi’an tournament in October had not been passed on. Seething, the FIGCF were left pondering whether apathy or spite had underpinned the snub.

The team did get to China but were handed a humiliating 3–2 semi-final defeat by Dallas Sting, a youth club who had been cleared by the USSF to play as the United States. Among the Sting players, mostly high school girls, was Carla Werden (Overbeck) who went on to become a “99er”, an Olympic gold medallist and a full-time professional with the Carolina Courage.

Notes:


1. Women’s Football Archive contacted the Belgian FA (KBVB) to tell them they had this score the wrong way about on their website. But to date they have not replied or fixed their error. Inevitably, the German FA’s “statistik center” is correct!

2. Reagan never played for Liverpool, England’s most successful male club. Although he did play against them three times, twice with Middlesbrough and once with Portsmouth.

Right to Reply: Farmer on Stoney

Chelsea founder Tony Farmer sets the record straight

In March 2015, Women’s Football Archive published Casey Stoney: The Early Years. Now Chelsea founder and ex-boss Tony Farmer has taken the time to get in touch and point out some major shortcomings in the article. Tony hasn’t pulled any punches in patiently laying out the truth, dismantling a string of factual errors and calling out some downright baloney. His comments are reproduced here in full…

An interesting read unfortunately full of accusations and factual inaccuracies. It’s a shame that an article that was supposed to be about Casey Stoney ended up being one having a pop at Chelsea Ladies FC and me personally.

Casey Stoney came to Chelsea after a work colleague who saw her playing in a local little league tipped me off. I went to watch her and what I saw was a player who stood out and dominated the game. I approached Casey’s mother Sandra and explained I would like her to join Chelsea and that I thought she was good enough and strong enough for the club. I had to apply for dispensation from the Greater London Women’s League to play her due to her age. Casey’s parents were fully supportive. Then for the next two seasons drove Casey to and from training and matches. To say Casey suffered a 2nd season syndrome would be wrong. We lost six players and had big injury problems. Casey’s performance never dipped and it was a massive blow to lose her for 6 weeks.

With regards to the formation of Chelsea Ladies Football Club, it did take a year, but anyone who knows me would know that I bow and scrape to nobody, especially Ken Bates. One of the reasons for the time was Chelsea wanted me to get my FA Coaching Badge which I did. There were protracted talks about the shape of the club. They wanted the team to be a Chelsea supporters’ team. I explained if that’s what they wanted then I was the wrong man for the job. I wanted a successful team not a social club. I won that one. Chelsea also needed convincing that I was not looking for money from them as the club was actually surviving on donations from supporters, raising money from Save the Bridge bins all around the ground. Then there were also legal documents to be drawn up removing the club from any liability for matters concerning the women’s team.

As for the accusations that imply we in some way pressured or bullied the League to gain entry straight into Division 3 and then accelerated promotion to Division 1 are completely untrue and insulting to the players who worked so hard to gain success. Our entry to the 3rd Division was because the team was formed out of Bedfont Utd players mainly and the League’s belief that with the players we may attract as Chelsea would make us too strong for Division 4. There was no Division 5 back then. With restructuring of the Leagues no team was relegated or denied promotion by us joining.

As for our accelerated promotion to Division 1 accusations of us doing a Man City and dancing on the grave of sporting integrity is untrue and insulting. A team from the Premier Division were promoted to the National League South. Three teams were promoted from Division 1, but when they offered the 3rd team in Division 2 the extra spot in Division 1 they and subsequently all of the remaining teams did not fancy the jump in standard. As after missing promotion by one point in our first season and then going unbeaten in the league winning 16 and drawing 2 scoring 82 goals along the way, as well as beating teams from higher divisions in the cups. The League asked if we would be willing to make the jump. Never one to shirk a challenge after discussions with the players we decided to go for it. It was a calculated risk and I know there were many in the top two divisions and the League committee that loved the fact as they were all certain we would get relegated and slow our momentum. They were wrong as we again won promotion to the Premier at the first attempt. To suggest that we put pressure on the League to accelerate us through the divisions is both preposterous and incredibly insulting to the players who literally gave blood sweat and tears to achieve the success they so richly deserved. It’s preposterous because we had no power over such matters. We had the name Chelsea but anyone who thinks we were a wealthy club should look at the club’s accounts before making wild claims.

The name change from Women’s to Ladies was suggested by Ken Bates and we were more than happy to do so. To say we were threatened with removal of the Chelsea name on this matter is incorrect. We did face that threat which was made at Eurofest 96 just before we played Man Utd at the Bridge. That was over an advert in our programmes for The Chelsea Independent Supporters Association who often had run ins with him. That advert paid for us to produce colour programmes which in turn raised money towards pitches. I informed him that without the money that the CISA paid the club would cease to exist so he agreed to match it and have the club’s advert in its place. That meant a very awkward conversation with one of our main sponsors but fortunately they understood our position. It was a sad and embarrassing moment in the club’s history as we only achieved what we did in those first years because of the fantastic support of the CISA and Booth White. The fact that we were Chelsea Ladies FC in a lot of ways made our progress harder because of other clubs’ jealousy over incorrect assumptions that we were bankrolled by the club added to their incentive to beat us. It should also be noted that Chelsea FC could not stop anyone calling themselves Chelsea only use of the badge. Chelsea is a place name and therefore cannot be copyrighted or exclusive rights claimed.

Your reproduction of a part of an article and photos in our programme (without permission) is then completely out of context and claiming I was berating the players publicly is incorrect. Do you honestly believe we would have achieved what we did if I was constantly having a go at players? I always believed in positive criticism not negativity. We had an amazing togetherness and an unbreakable team spirit that others couldn’t replicate. I started the Chelsea Ladies Football Club Players Group on Facebook earlier this year which has around 60 members which reinforces that point. I cannot remember a single player ever leaving the club because of my behaviour, but if that is not the case I am sure that some of my ex players will put me right.

Now to your description of me as being ‘Madcap’ is interesting as you do not know me or have ever spoken to me. If being Madcap is convincing a club like Chelsea who I have supported for over 40 years, whose fans had a terrible reputation back then to start a Women’s football team. If it’s even wanting to be involved in women’s football when it faced massive prejudices at that time then maybe I was, otherwise I’m not sure what you mean.

You also said I must have done something right to bring through two of England’s greatest players. All I did was bring them to Chelsea and gave them a chance to develop and express their talents. As far as Fara Williams is concerned I had virtually nothing to do with her other than when the opportunity arose to see our U14’s play. Then all I could do was marvel at her skills and marvellous talent at such a tender age. Although she played a few games for the senior teams her development was with Nick Skilton who managed the U14’s and Steven Leacock Reserve and then 1st Team manager when I retired. Casey Stoney’s development was down to her inner belief, natural talent and total desire to be the best. What she has achieved in the game is down to her not me. As a coach and manager all you can do with players especially at such a young age is guide them, encourage them to use their talents, to not be afraid to make mistakes but to learn from them and to have 100% belief in their ability and make their dreams come true. The most important advice I gave to any player is never listen to people who are negative and tell you you cannot make dreams reality. Casey and Fara were destined for great things before they came to Chelsea. A fool could have seen that. All I did was give them a platform to develop on.

You finish by saying how many potential players didn’t make it because of my attitude or ‘my hothouse glare’. I would point out that in 5 seasons in charge, starting from scratch 3 players from that time, Casey, Fara and Clare Wheatley became full internationals which isn’t bad for a team that was outside the National League. But I would be appalled if that was the case. If I destroyed a potential international player’s career because of how I coached then my whole time in women’s football was a total failure and for that I apologise and hang my head in shame.

It is very clear that if anyone should be hanging their head in shame it is not Tony, but this website! Almost every important aspect of the article was WRONG. That hurts but needs to be made very clear. Pleading mitigation, the intent behind the offending article was to be positive. And the lack of coverage in women’s football does make it hard to cobble together scraps 20+ years later – never mind weave them into a coherent narrative.

But these are no excuses. Tony’s service and achievements in the game deserve respect, not badly-written drivel, playing fast and loose with the facts. Especially in what was a proud week for Chelsea who locked horns with Wolfsburg in the UEFA Champions League last 16. Thanks are due to Tony for the firm but fair rebuttal. Also a genuine apology both to Tony and any other readers let down by the original piece.

This website is a labour of love and always strives to tell stories fairly and accurately. Rubbing the subjects of these stories up the wrong way is a failure that goes to the very heart of the site’s purpose. If anyone else is irked by any deficiencies in any other article please get in touch like Tony did and it will be put right. The original Casey Stoney article will be corrected very shortly.

Players: Debbie Bampton

Debbie Bampton: Highly-decorated midfield powerhouse

Born: 7 October 1961, Sidcup

Position: Midfielder

Debut: Netherlands (A) 30 September 1978

Occupation: Cashier (1981), Selector (1982), Courier (1987), Footballer (1988), Postwoman (2005)

Right… where to start with this one!? A Hall of Famer with an MBE for services to women’s football. Six Women’s FA Cup winner’s medals, the last two won as player-manager. Doubles. A treble. Ninety-five caps for England in a 19-year international career. A top-level club career spanning parts of four decades. Impressive numbers, which only scratch the surface on the story of this English football titan…

Part One: England


England manager Tommy Tranter handed 16-year-old schoolgirl Bampton her England debut on 30 September 1978 in a friendly with the Netherlands in Vlissingen.

Bampton’s overriding memory of the event was the inordinately tight shorts supplied to England’s players. They were wholly unsuitable attire for running about on a reclaimed island on the windswept North Sea coast.

As a mere slip of a lass the offending garments did not present Bampton with too many problems. But some of her more mature, fuller-figured team-mates apparently struggled.

In Daily Mail parlance, they had to “pour their curves” into the “sultry numbers”.

Unsurprisingly, England crashed to a comprehensive 3–1 defeat, Pat Chapman scoring the goal. Bampton came off the sub’s bench for 20 minutes and hated it.

It was the typical sort of amateurish nonsense which saw several leading players quit the game in 1978 and 1979, clearing the decks for the next generation.

Bampton went to the 1981 Portopia Tournament in Japan. She hit England’s final goal in the 4–0 win over the hosts in Kobe.

Sadly, the debut micro-shorts were not to be the last sartorial scandal encountered by Bampton during her Three Lionesses career.

Trooping off after another match in Italy, she went to swap shirts with an opponent – but England boss Martin Reagan wasn’t having any of it.

His steely touchline glare had Bampton wriggling back into her top quicker than you can say: “Ciao”!

Martin was a straight-laced guy. After all, he was a product of the FA administration which picked Ron Greenwood over “Ol’ Big ‘Ed” himself, Brian Clough.

But he wasn’t scandalised by this airing of early sports-bra technology. More likely he knew the potless Women’s Football Association (WFA) could ill afford a replacement shirt!

A broken leg which washed out Bampton’s spell in New Zealand (see below) also kept her out of England’s first ever UEFA qualifiers starting in 1982.

Battling back into contention, she played a key role in the Denmark semi-final. At Gresty Road, Crewe, England edged a nervy encounter 2–1.

The WFA credited Bampton with England’s second-half winner, although Danish FA records suggest Liz Deighan did the damage.

In any event, the second-leg in Hjørring was settled by Bampton’s towering header from Pat Chapman’s corner. The team celebrated winning through to the final with an impromptu human pyramid.

The final first-leg at Sweden’s Ullevi national stadium was backs to the wall stuff. England were fortunate to escape with a 1–0 defeat, but Bampton so nearly grabbed a priceless away goal.

Collecting possession from Linda Curl, she burst into the box but flicked a weak shot agonisingly wide of Elisabeth Leidinge’s post.

When the second-leg in Luton went to penalties, Bampton showed an iron nerve to convert England’s third kick. But Curl and Hanson put theirs too near Leidinge, who, ankle-deep in mud, failed to dive out of the way.

In August 1984 the Charity Shield between Everton and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium took place in front of 100,000 fans.

The WFA was invited to stage a short curtain-raiser and plumped for a six-a-side knockabout between Bampton’s Howbury Grange, Millwall Lionesses, St Helens and a Merseyside/Wirral Select.

Billed as the first time women had played football at Wembley Stadium, Linda Whitehead hailed a major “breakthrough”.

Amidst farcical scenes, Millwall were eventually declared winners because their goalkeeper (Sue Street) had the fewest touches!

That was on the Saturday and on the Monday Bampton was basking in Venetian Riviera sunshine, as England’s Mundialito campaign kicked-off against Belgium.

A hectic schedule of Euro finals, Wembley and then the ‘little World Cup’ in Italy: it seemed women’s football was at last reaching critical mass.

Bampton was back in Italy for the following year’s Mundialito, which England won. They handily beat upstarts the United States 3–1 along the way.

She dipped out of the starting line-up during the Euro 1987 qualifying campaign. Reagan perhaps allowing two creative ‘luxury players’ Hope Powell and Brenda Sempare free reign against the outmatched Irish and Scots.

But for the big games Bampton was always in there, usually alongside Gillian Coultard in a double pivot midfield. Both featured as England lost 3–2 to rivals Sweden in the Euro 87 semi-final, after extra-time.

Bampton’s toughness and famed aerial prowess meant she could also fill in at centre-half, like she did after the successful Angie Gallimore–Lorraine Hanson axis was broken up by the latter’s pregnancy in 1986.

Influential Bampton remained an England regular throughout the 1980s. When Carol Thomas (née McCune) retired in 1985, she was the natural choice to inherit the captaincy.

She clocked up her 50th cap in England’s 4–0 win at Love Street, Paisley on 6 May 1990 and was presented with a handsome silver plate.

An ill-timed injury during a period of upheaval saw Bampton lose the England captaincy. Barrie Williams – the WFA’s replacement for sacked Martin Reagan – handed Coultard the armband during his short time in the hotseat.

When the FA took over running the national team in 1993 Coultard was still captain, only to be publicly demoted by Ted Copeland on the eve of the 1995 World Cup.

Bampton was back as captain for the tournament in Sweden but the squad was riven with factions. There was no beef with Coultard, though, who remained Bampton’s room-mate.

The World Cup showed England were being left behind by other nations. This reached its nadir in May 1997 during back-to-back thrashings by the United States: 5–0 in San Jose then 6–0 in Portland.

Bampton, the sweeper in England’s ultra-defensive formation, toiled in the heat – and she wasn’t the only one.

Frequently moving as though wading through treacle, with a proverbial piano on her back, she was still among the better performers in England’s forlorn attempts at damage limitation.

Full-time athletes like Olympic superstar Mia Hamm were by then on a completely different planet to England’s enthusiastic but aging amateurs.

That was not the players’ fault of course. It was a result of chronic developmental failures, compounded over many years – as Bampton herself had long been saying.

Bampton’s 19-year, 95-cap England service came to an abrupt halt the following month.

She was unceremoniously bombed-out by Copeland, who had left it up to her whether she travelled to Norway for another meaningless friendly in June 1997.

Stressed by playing for and managing Croydon, she took Copeland up on his offer to sit the game out, but was never called upon again.

No thanks, no fanfare, no nothing!

Unimpressed Bampton later branded Copeland a decent coach but “too insensitive to work with women”.

Part Two: Club


Dad Albert and mum Ann played a key role in Bampton’s career and at many of her clubs. Sister Lorraine also dabbled in football, but not as seriously as Debbie.

A childhood judoka, Bampton recalled honing her football skills in time-honoured tradition: in the back garden with her dad.

Wendy Owen (2005) recalled Bampton as a highly-promising young team-mate at Maidstone. A crocked neck meant Owen’s own best days were well behind her by then.

But with Albert as manager, Debbie as captain and free-scoring Tracy Doe up front, Maidstone were soon a force to be reckoned with.

The Kent outfit reached the 1981 WFA Cup semi-final but were defeated by the holders, St Helens, at Maidstone United’s Athletic Ground.

Silverware-hungry Bampton switched to ambitious Lowestoft in 1981 and won the 1982 WFA Cup in her first season, playing in the final at Loftus Road.

She was chosen to play and coach in New Zealand with Auckland WFC from May to September 1982, alongside Audrey Rigby of Notts Rangers and Caroline Jones of Manor Athletic.

Rigby, a member of England’s 1976 Home Championships squad, thrived Down Under. She was their 1985 Player of the Year and won 14 caps as a NZ international.

Bampton endured a less enjoyable trip, consigned to the sidelines as a broken leg restricted her to coaching instead of playing.

Back in Blighty, Bampton captained Howbury Grange in the 1984 WFA Cup final at Sincil Bank, Lincoln. She collected her second winner’s medal as Doncaster Belles were seen off 4–2.

A black and white photo of two women footballers running after a ball

At some point in 1984–85 Bampton signed for Millwall Lionesses who were developing their pioneering link with the Millwall men’s club community department.

The Lionesses were beaten by Doncaster Belles in both the 1986 and 1987 WFA Cup semi-finals.

In 1987 Bampton was playing for Millwall and worked delivering mail for the Department of the Environment, when she left for Serie A club Trani.

She visited Trani’s Kerry Davis for a holiday and trained with the Italian giants, who promptly offered a two-year pro deal.

Like Denis Law and Jimmy Greaves a generation earlier, Bampton found performance-related pay taken to extremes in Italy.

That was okay for Davis, who had gone all-in. But for Bampton – trying to keep commitments ticking over at home – it proved unworkable.

She enjoyed the football: forming a formidable midfield duo with Viviana Bontacchio, having crossed swords with the tireless little Brescian while on England duty.

Trani lost the Cup final 2–1 to Modena and finished second in the league, twelve points behind Lazio. But Bampton had already decided to bail when Trani went bust on the eve of the 1988–89 campaign.

Back at Millwall Lionesses, Bampton was part of an ever-improving team. This culminated in claiming the 1991 WFA Cup at Prenton Park against Doncaster Belles.

When the WFA formed a National League in 1991, the Millwall team broke up and Bampton headed to London rivals Friends of Fulham, who were re-branding as Wimbledon.

The team started brightly, with a flurry of goals from Bampton’s England team-mate Marieanne Spacey, but never recovered from a 5–1 home thumping by Doncaster Belles in November 1991.

In 1992–93 Bampton played for newly-promoted Arsenal. As a self-confessed “Gooner” she was proud to collect a historic treble in her first season.

Vic Akers’s well-resourced Arsenal franchise made a mockery of the bookies’ questionable pre-season odds (12–1!) in the National League.

The 1993 WFA Cup final at Oxford’s Manor Ground saw Bampton inadvertently hospitalise her old friend and adversary, Doncaster Belles’ Gillian Coultard, after a first-half collision.

That coincided with Arsenal scoring twice in first-half stoppage time, in their eventual 3–0 win. Bampton pocketed her fourth winner’s gong from her fourth final.

A trophyless 1993–94 season with Arsenal preceded a move into player-management with Croydon, the club formed as Bromley Borough in 1991 by a few of Bampton’s old Millwall Lionesses pals.

In 1995–96 the team overcame a monster end of season fixture pile-up to beat the Belles to the title on goal difference. Despite being out on their feet, they also beat Liverpool on penalties in the Cup final at The Den.

Pete Davies’s I Lost my Heart to the Belles (1996) – unashamedly a lovelorn paean to Doncaster Belles – portrayed Bampton in the role of cartoon villain.

That was poetic licence by Davies. But Bampton’s brand of straight-talking did not endear her to everyone.

It possibly went against her when the FA appointed under-qualified Hope Powell, her Croydon skipper, over her head as England manager in 1998.

Forthright Bampton was never one to shirk a confrontation. Especially about complacency, for which she reserved a special loathing.

Steeped in football, Bampton’s intimate knowledge of the game meant she could wring the best out of her charges.

She balanced a relatively small squad and valued the – ahem – footballer’s footballers who played alongside gifted artisans like Hope Powell and Jo Broadhurst.

As well as dad Albert, ex-Millwall Lionneses boss Alan May was involved with the coaching. Broadhurst’s dad Brian also helped out but Bampton retained overall control, even while playing.

Tactical team talks were given via the medium of Subbuteo, much to the players’ hilarity.

This all fostered amazing team spirit at Croydon, who went unbeaten in the league for two years. Although they did develop an irksome habit of losing Cup finals to Arsenal.

Croydon recaptured the League title in 1998–99 and the squad cheekily went along to the Cup final, to cheer on Arsenal’s opponents Southampton Saints.

Arsenal gaffer Vic Akers was left seething after finding a boozy a capella rendition of “Where’s Yer Treble Gone?” on his answerphone messages. The culprit was never found, although Bampton naturally fell under suspicion!

Another double was secured in 2000 when Doncaster Belles were controversially edged out 2–1 in the Cup final at Bramall Lane in Sheffield.

When Croydon were franchised to Charlton Athletic in summer 2000, Bampton sensationally quit.

By all previous indications, Bampton was not averse to a tie-up with a bigger men’s club, which had been on the cards for a while.

But something about the way it was handled did not sit right. Bampton had her principles and voted with her feet. Even with vastly improved resources, the club never enjoyed success on the same scale.

Postponing retirement yet again, Bampton’s next destination as a player raised eyebrows: Doncaster Belles.

Not only is Doncaster 200 miles north of Croydon, but Bampton’s club career was hitherto defined by numerous ding-dong battles against the Belles, over some 20 years.

On the opening day of the 2000–01 season, Donny faced Premier League new girls Barry Town in Wales. A goal down after 79 minutes, they roared back to win 3–1 with 38-year-old Bampton notching the second.

On her induction to the National Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2005, Bampton could proudly say: “By the time I finished I had achieved everything I wanted in the game”.

Bampton played on for a few years with Eastbourne Borough in the lower divisions, under – who else? – dad Albert. She also held brief coaching assignments at Whitehawk and Lewes.