Or, England’s Lost Generation tells us what it was really like
Our special correspondent ‘An Audience Observer’ writes from the front line of women’s football history…
The event opened with a short BBC film outlining the early history of the women’s game including contributions from the indomitable Gregory, Sue Lopez, Sylvia Gore and the champion of the women’s game in the day in the form of Lawrie McMenemy, who coined the phrase the “Suffragettes of football”.
One step forward, two steps back: debt-ridden Sunderland axe pro women’s setup
Women’s Football Archive ponders the implications of Wearside giants Sunderland slashing their women’s team’s budget, at a time of make-or-break for the FA’s fledgling WSL project.
EXPONENTIALLY fewer female players, compared to the men, means everyone knows who the best ones are. So it’s easy for a club to hoover them all up then thrash everybody else.
Arsenal did it for years, and Manchester City are doing it now.
This goes on further afield too. When our best come up against the Lyons and Wolfsburgs we are invariably sent packing. You can set your watch by it.
Give Women’s Football Archive a team with twice Man City’s budget and we’d round up a mish-mash of Yanks, Franks and Germans – then give “Citeh” their dinner.
Or we’d just play them at their own game: wait for the England players’ contracts to lapse, then woo them all away with bigger deals.
Listen, the FA’s WSL model relies on raising standards across the board. That means getting full-time training for – with all due respect – sub-top level players.
The FA model also relies on getting someone else to pay for it. And they are not sniffy about who coughs up.
On the eve of WSL I, Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung flung the club’s Ladies a bin liner full of cash. Cash of – ahem – very dubious provenance.
Such largesse saw star-studded Brum scoop the FA Women’s Cup and a couple of runners-up spots. But with Yeung caged and the cupboard bare, the big names soon slunk away to greener pastures.
At the other end of the spectrum is a stand up guy like Ray Trew at Lincoln/Notts County. To any rational onlooker, his longstanding support of women’s football makes NO sense.
Okay, let’s not dust off the halo just yet – you don’t attain Ray’s station in life by being a choirboy.
But judged squarely on his actions down the years, women’s soccer fans of every stripe have much to thank the former Notts County supremo for.
Women’s Football Archive has been privately assured that Trew is the real deal. A principled football man who absorbed the women’s club’s losses in his business empire, all to send a positive life lesson to his daughters.
Like Mo Fayed at Fulham 15 years earlier, he kept writing the cheques while the FA failed to deliver on their promises of jam tomorrow.
Over at Doncaster Belles, backers BPP – a US-style private university – are perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea.
But let’s talk about what they are: a licence to print money.
They bankroll the Belles’ full-time operation with chump change found down the back of their sofa.
Great for the Belles and great for the game. Ironically, though, BPP’s involvement only came about during the FA’s bungling of the Belles’ 2013 demotion and the subsequent outcry.
Younger readers may not realise that Sunderland are a grand old football club with a proud heritage. The team of luminaries including Raich Carter, Len Shackleton and Charles Buchan.
Buchan was a sort of male precursor of Sue Lopez: a great, thinking player turned coach, turned writer. An advocate of the game. What the North Americans call a “builder”.
Quite how the modern Sunderland have contrived to put themselves £140m in debt – while the BPL slosh buckets of Sky TV’s billions over themselves – is anybody’s guess.
It must be a legacy of crackpot decisions like axing Mick McCarthy, a rough-hewn gaffer who invariably leaves clubs in better nick than he finds them. Or ditching Martin O’Neill for wacky Paolo Di Canio.
Incredibly, the relegation-haunted Mackems are STILL paying off massive transfer fees in respect of countless duds, who had to be shipped out for peanuts.
That makes choking off funding to their own women’s section all the more ludicrous.
Booting out the full-timers condemns Sunderland to life in the WSL 1 slow lane and almost certain relegation.
Even if they did beat the drop, the WSL’s capricious licencing criteria will likely doom them to an artificial, Donny Belles-style demotion.
“A previously successful model” and the War on Fans
The club’s mealy-mouthed statement, which branded savage cuts a reversion to “a previously successful part-time model” cruelly blindsided Sunderland’s female pro’s.
The rest of us were left perplexed. Just how stupid do they think we are?
The last time Sunderland’s men came close to winning anything of note, in 1992, they were paying honest plodders like Anton Rogan and John Byrne a few hundred quid a week.
Will they revert to this “previously successful model” too? Or will they keep flushing millions down the toilet, wasted on hapless Davie Moyes’ rock-bottom outfit?
The “previously successful model” soundbite – a piece of Orwellian doublespeak – came from CEO Martin Bain, a former Glasgow Rangers official with links to Israel and South Africa.
Bain steered Rangers onto the rocks, while up to his armpits in the toxic Employee Benefit Trust (EBT) tax-cheat which proved the Ibrox club’s undoing.
His tenure saw Rangers sold for a quid then crash into liquidation. Indeed, with the club in its death throes Bain went to court to “ring fence” his dues, elbowing aside hundreds of small creditors and debenture holders.
Quite reasonably, many will construe his attack on Sunderland’s women as simply a new front in his wider war on the Wearside club’s fans.
Women’s Football Archive Verdict:
Now look here, whatever anyone says about Glasgow Rangers, they were a football club with a long unbroken history. And for that to end the way it did was nothing short of shameful.
It behoves all of us in the women’s football community to ensure that Sunderland’s women do not go the same way.
Ever since the days of Liz Deighan, Pauline Chilton and Christine Hutchinson, the north-east has been a hotbed of the English women’s game.
Then Mick Mulhern’s red and white talent factory churned out a seemingly endless conveyor belt of Lionesses, including Jill Scott, Steph Houghton, Carly Telford and Lucy Bronze.
But with the exodus of full-timers already underway, it seems the best the club can hope for is a period of consolidation at WSL 2 level. And the prompt appearance of a more reliable income stream.
Make no mistake, if self-sabotaging Sunderland are turfed out of the FA WSL altogether then oblivion awaits.
Previous knifes in the back from their dopey, irresponsible ‘parent club’ have already wasted eight of the Lady Black Cats’ nine lives.
Their demise would spell disaster for the WSL’s stated aim of widening England’s talent base – with the nearest top-flight club in Manchester.
AT the moment, any spindly-legged 13-year-old who does more than three keepy-uppies at her ‘Regional Talent Centre’ is whisked into the England setup. That puts her on the radar of all the top clubs.
There are NO hidden gems any more and it’s all in danger of becoming a stage-managed procession. A bit too predictable.
In the old Championship Manager 2 video games you could resort to the ol’ cheat codes. Stick Gabriel Batistuta and Romário up front, with Andreas Möller ‘in the hole’ loading the bullets, and you wouldn’t go far wrong.
Which was fun… for a while, until it got boring. Yet the FA expect folk to open their wallets and fund perennial WSL also-rans in an equally lopsided arrangement.
Let’s get real. Not even BPL clubs – notorious financial basket cases – or guys with the intelligence and maturity of Ray Trew will keep picking up the tab in those circumstances.
Maybe THAT’S the underlying issue here?
…Or, A man’s a man for a’ that
A recent Edinburgh derby match gave ample insight into why Scottish football remains in the grubber.
In the second half Hibs and Hearts players started kicking each other instead of the ball as the game descended into farce, with two red cards.
Incredibly, BBC radio pundit Michael Stewart endorsed the nonsense on the pitch. “It’s a man’s game,” he barked, to coos of approval from the studio.
It’s nearly 20 years ago since another media rent-a-gob, Craig Burley, was ordered off for a wild lunge in Scotland’s 3–0 defeat by Morocco at France ’98.
Unless Scots soccer chiefs get real and open their eyes, the male national team’s tournament history will end FOREVER on that pathetic note.
The game has changed radically since the early 90s tipping point when Dutch superstar Marco van Basten was literally booted out of football.
At Italia ’90 Ireland would lull rivals to sleep with goalkeeper Bonner’s time-wasting antics – then bludgeon them with a sudden long ball.
While Cameroon dispensed with the lulling and reached straight for the bludgeon, threshing their way to the quarter-finals.
As TV money flooded in the elites running the game thought: “we’re not having that” and rewrote the rule book in their own favour. But it seems Scotland never got the memo.
The idea of Scottish football as a game for rough, tough manly men is very old.
Irish-born Jimmy Quinn, Celtic star of the 1900s, famously played with his blood trickling down into his boots.
Dubbed The Mighty Quinn, he shrugged off spittle in his hair and sectarian epithets ringing in his ears to rattle in goal after glorious goal. He rammed it down the thugs’ throats.
Then and for many decades afterwards, Scottish sectarianism – hatred of Irish Catholics – was the dynamo powering football north of the border.
But it’s petering out. Until their demise under the Liquidation Act in 2012, Glasgow Rangers had been the poster boys of this ugly tradition.
Even today, only in Scotland could a midfielder like Celtic’s Scott Brown, a blow-hard and a card-magnet, be venerated.
He’s a necessary evil against the gurning cloggers and hammer throwers in Scotland’s one-horse league. But he’s readily found out in The Hoops’ brief Euro forays.
A sea change is called for. Whatever they’re doing now isn’t working. Scotland’s “man’s game” is a laughable relic from a bygone era.
Until Scotland finds a way to churn out some male Kim Littles and Jennifer Beatties, and fewer Scott Browns, there will be no progress and no ascent.
A man’s game indeed! Michael Stewart you utter wally.
Football history buffs of the world, unite!
AUTHORITATIVE football stats site RSSSF.com has published a list of the oldest and youngest players to play and score for their countries.
Now the number crunchers behind the prestigious list, stattos of international repute, need your help to properly credit the women who should be on there.
Frankly, if detail about such all-time greats is difficult to come by, how many other candidates are ‘hiding’ in plain sight?
Neil Morrison and his gimlet-eyed cohorts deserve unfettered praise for their efforts. For very few football history experts of this calibre give women’s stuff the time of day: never mind equal billing.
It has always been the case. As Pete Davies put it in I Lost My Heart To The Belles (1996): “the women didn’t keep track of their stats with the stamp-collector’s precision of the men”.
That MUST change for women’s football to put down roots, without which there can be no progress and no ascent. We all have our part to play.
Those in charge of promoting women’s football have long peddled tiresome baloney about explosions in participation numbers. Time and time again we hear that the game is on the cusp of its breakthrough.
The problem with this dubious narrative is that everything pre-breakthrough (ie. before now) is accorded lesser status.
The reset button is hit every two minutes. A long and proud heritage is ignored or, worse, denigrated when it ought to be the major selling point.
If any of you among this site’s small but discerning readership can aid RSSSF in their quest, then please… PLEASE chip in with any info – no matter how small.
Together we can put the women’s game on the record and end many years of shameful neglect. Thank you!
Fact stranger than fiction in the topsy-turvy world of women’s football
When Celtic face Rangers in the new year, the only thing in question will be the margin of The Hoops’ victory. Right? Well, yes. But also no. Over in the women’s game Celtic are starting from scratch after an exodus of top players, while ever-improving Rangers look to build from a position of strength.
Rangers Ladies of Glasgow are that rare beast in the women’s game: a club three times older than their ‘parent’!
That’s because Rangers men entered liquidation in 2012 then started a brand new Rangers club, at the bottom of the pile.
Many of the characters involved in Rangers, old and new, have a whiff—no, a stink—of criminality about them. Think “antagonist in TV’s Taggart“.
The male club died a grubby, cheat’s death. But Rangers’ vibrant women’s section proudly lives on, with much about them to admire.
Since their 2008 formation, it’s always been about the football for them. A club where all are welcome. No perma-raging riotous fans, no dodgy far-right politics, no hating Catholics. Universally respected as friends and rivals.
In other words, nothing like their deceased parent!
In this day and age, the quaint nomenclature ‘Ladies Football Club’ doesn’t always sit right. It’s just a bit twee. Celtic don’t use it anymore. In fact Celtic’s female section are so right on they won’t even use ‘Women’ to separate themselves from the male club. Which is fine … except no–one knows what to call them.
But ‘Ladies’ is a good fit for Rangers, harking back to the brown-brogued rectitude which was the old club’s self image.
This season past the Ladies were inundated with messages praising the work of young manager Kev Murphy and all at the club. The team’s star player is even named Erin – the Irish word for Ireland!
In the upcoming men’s game Celtic’s second-raters will wipe the floor with the third-and-fourth-raters playing for Rangers. That’s a given – if this version of Rangers even last that long.
But far away from the noisy crowds, the cruel hilarity on one side and impotent, delusional bigot-rage on the other, the real contest is just warming up.
Next season’s Scottish Women’s Premier League will see an altogether more authentic meeting of genuine ‘Old Firm’ rivals, where good football is sure to win the day.
Rangers and Glasgow City
One of the old Rangers’ many unsavoury stunts was their orange away kit in the early 2000s.
Redolent of the Catholic-hating Orange Order (a sort of 17th Century version of the British National Party) the offending items clumsily pandered to the worst elements of the support. It was a huge seller!
Glasgow City LFC had the same kit, and just like old Rangers they knowingly smirked it was ‘tangerine’.
There is no evidence of any Scottish sectarianism at Glasgow City – ever. But questions remain over their grotesque orange kit choice. In the west of Scotland it represented a dog whistle, if not a clarion call, to knuckle-draggers.
The successful women’s club quietly dropped their ‘royal blue’ trim a few years later and replaced it with black. But the orange, now acknowledged as such, remains to this day.
Arsenal Ladies are an MK Dons–style franchise formed in Islington, 1987.
In the 1980s Arsenal’s Vic Akers had copied Millwall’s successful community project and wanted to reproduce the Lionesses’ pioneering youth structure for girls too.
In 1987 Akers took a big shortcut and effectively bought his way into the upper echelons of the domestic women’s game by “amalgamating” Aylesbury Ladies.
Aylesbury were an established club and no mugs. The previous season they had knocked Friends of Fulham, the holders, out of the Women’s FA Cup.
Arsenal Ladies inherited Welsh goal–machine Naldra ‘Naz’ Ball from Aylesbury and her goals bagged the new franchise’s first few titles.
Akers became a modern day Alfred Frankland, thinking nothing of inviting players from rival teams along to training.
No rules were broken – after all, there were no contracts to break.
But inducements were offered and the franchise’s “shamateur” ethos quickly led them to Dick, Kerr’s-style dominance over their strictly amateur rivals.
An unhealthy stranglehold was only broken in recent years, other teams could offer inducements of their own and the playing field levelled out.
These days the Arsenal franchise have been dragged back into a pack of WSL mid–table battlers.