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.

2 thoughts on “Right to Reply: Farmer on Stoney

  1. Pingback: Casey Stoney: The Early Years | Women's Football Archive
  2. Pingback: Players: Clare Wheatley | Women's Football Archive

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