Players: Carol Thomas

Carol Thomas (née McCune): England’s unsung heroine

cthomas1

Born: 5th June 1955
Position: Right-back
Debut: France (7th November 1974)
Last game: Republic of Ireland (22nd September 1985)
Occupation: Clerk (1974–85), Lunchtime Supervisor (1993–2001), Village Postie (2001–2013)

Today, Carol Thomas remains the forgotten and overlooked captain of the England women’s team (excluding this website of course!) yet she is still the most successful and second longest serving captain to date. Her achievements, which would be remarkable even by today’s professional standards, in an era of little funding and scant recognition, can only be described as truly extraordinary. Her willingness to return to the grass roots of the game for over 16 years, under the radar of women’s footballs high level administrators, following a glittering international career and after the birth of her two sons, highlights a true football devotee.

EXPLOSIVE ENTRANCE


On 30th July 1966 football history was made at Wembley, but further north, a few days later, football history of a different kind was made. A young Carol McCune, inspired by those World Cup heroes, played her first competitive football game for a local side, BOCM. The shy 11 year old youngster started as a free scoring winger with a boundless appetite for the game. This talent was soon recognised by WFA stalwart and member of the England backroom staff, the late Flo Bilton. Flo quickly snapped up Thomas for her own team, Reckitts. After a couple of seasons, Thomas joined local rivals, Hull Brewery and it was there her career took off. She played in a variety of positions, which only served to enhance her all round knowledge and understanding of the game. Over time, it quickly became evident that those early days on the wing had seen her unwittingly assimilate the necessary skills to later become a world class full back, internationally respected throughout the women’s game.

AN ABILITY RECOGNISED


Her blossoming career was soon rewarded with representative honours – gaining a regular place in the Hull District representative side, quickly followed by the North of England squad whilst still being a teenager. She quickly secured the right back position as her own in the Northern regional squad, playing alongside England captain Sheila Parker. In August 1974, still only 19, she was invited to Lilleshall to take part in the first coaching course for women run by England manager, Tommy Tranter. This has to be put into context. Women footballers were still usually met with derision and scepticism, but the thought of a woman football coach was not only uncharted territory but sheer heresy. Coaching was viewed as sacrosanct, being considered fairly and squarely the sole preserve of men. Thomas gained her FA Preliminary Badge, one of only three who passed, along with then England physio Jane Talbot and Pauline Dickie, thereby becoming the first women coaches in England. During the course, Tranter recognised a like-minded footballing brain, with natural ball skills and a deep understanding of the game. As a result and following a successful Regional Trials campaign, it was little surprise that Thomas was invited to join the next England squad to play France that November at Wimbledon. Thomas made her first appearance coming on as a second half substitute at right back. A second substitute appearance against Switzerland followed, before the right back position was secured. In 1976, just 18 months and six caps into her international career, Thomas was surprisingly named the new England captain, replacing the England ‘taliswoman’ Sheila Parker.

Thomas lines up before her 50th cap against Scotland at Preston, March 1985 The cap was presented post-match by Sir Tom Finney

Thomas lines up before her 50th cap against Scotland at Preston, March 1985
The cap was presented post-match by Sir Tom Finney

On 31st October 1978, Thomas became the first captain to lead out an England side to play on a Football League First Division ground at the Dell, Southampton FC. She introduced her England team to the England manager, Ron Greenwood. A record crowd of 5,471 then saw England beat Belgium 3–0 with Thomas providing the cross for Elaine Badrock to open the scoring. In 1981 she became the first captain to lead an England women’s team outside of Europe, when they took part in that year’s Mundialito tournament in Japan (called that year, Portopia 81). At the height of her career Thomas turned down offers of full time professional playing contracts in Italy and full time player/coach roles in New Zealand in order to maintain her true amateur status and thereby ensuring a long international career.

In her 11-year England career, Thomas became at integral part and then leader of a truly great England squad which in tournament terms has an outstanding record to this day. With one of the meanest defences in the world, during Thomas’s time as captain, in 29 tournament ties, they lost only five games (two of those on penalty shoot outs) and conceded less than a goal a game.
It is testament to her abilities, and the respect that she had gained, that she continued to captain the England side under four successive managers, Tommy Tranter through to Martin Reagan. Whilst in the early days, she played alongside the likes of Sue Lopez, Sheila Parker and Sylvia Gore, she later captained Hall of Fame inductees Hope Powell, Debbie Bampton, Gillian Coultard, Marieanne Spacey and Brenda Sempare.

England line up before the European Championship final 2nd leg, Luton 1984, including Wiseman, Thomas, Hanson, Gallimore, Pearce, Coultard, Deighan, Bampton, Curl, Davis, Chapman, Powell, Turner, Sempare, Parker, Irvine

England line up before the European Championship final 2nd leg, Luton 1984, including
Wiseman, Thomas, Hanson, Gallimore, Pearce, Coultard, Deighan, Bampton, Curl, Davis, Chapman, Powell, Turner, Sempare, Parker, Irvine

Described as anything from an uncompromising fullback to cultured defender and everything in between, the truth is she was all of the above and more. Those who watched and, particularly those that coached her, knew that she was a true football thinker and intellectual in possession of that perfectly timed and fearless bone shuddering tackle. A total of 56 caps (51 as captain) were gained over a period of 11 years. Thomas only missed one international against Wales in the Isle of Man, just two days before the 1985 Mundialito – along with most of the northern-based players due to logistical and financial restraints – during that period (what would that equate to in this modern era?). She became the first ever English woman to reach the 50 caps. Indeed, Thomas actually played in 56 of England’s first ever 63 internationals.

THE RELUCTANT WANDERER


At club level, Thomas had to follow where the footballing competition was the strongest, yet within a realistic travelling distances from her home town. The days of true amateurism: where players held down full time jobs during the week, training as many times as possible on weekday nights and playing on a weekend, paying all their own expenses!

Thomas in action in the 1984 WFA Cup Semi Final for Rowntrees Ladies against Debbie Bampton’s Howbury Grange

Thomas in action in the 1984 WFA Cup Semi Final for Rowntrees Ladies against Debbie Bampton’s Howbury Grange

She was fortunate to be allowed to train with the Hull City Juniors (men’s under 18 level) alongside future professionals such as Andy Flounders and others, attaining a very high level of fitness for the then women’s game. She made occasional guest appearances for Tottenham Hotspur Ladies, and for a season played for Preston Ladies, making the trans Pennine journey on the M62 every Friday night and returning late Sunday evening after the game. Also, CP Doncaster Ladies for a number of seasons before finishing her representative career at Rowntree’s Ladies coached by former England international forward, Pat Firth.

THE BIRTH OF INTERNATIONAL TOURNAMENTS – THE HIGHS, LOWS AND HIGHS


During Thomas’s era, international competitions were unofficial, invitation or in their infancy. Thomas started her reign as captain in fine style. In the 1976 Pony Home Internationals, England ran out as comfortable winners in a three sided affair against Wales and Scotland. This set a standard for the next nine years of Thomas’s captaincy. In 1979, England were losing semi-finalists against a strong Italian side in the Unofficial European Cup. There then followed a period of transition and consolidation under new manager Martin Reagan, having been retained as captain under Reagan, the period 1982 to 1985 saw glimpses of the successes to follow.

In all, Thomas captained the England side in seven consecutive tournaments, including three ‘Mundialitos’ (1981, 1984 and 1985 as winners), three European Championships (1979 as semi-finalists, 1982-84 as runners-up and 1985-87, before retiring in September 1985) and the 1976 Pony Home Championship (as winners). 1985 saw Thomas at the pinnacle of her footballing career. After two unsuccessful Mundialito campaigns, and the disappointment of the 1984 European Championship final defeat, Thomas led her England charges to Italy and ultimate victory in that year’s Mundialito tournament.

Thomas makes a spectacular goal line clearance to keep England in the 1st leg of the 1984 European Championship against Sweden in the Ullevi Stadium, Gothenburg

Thomas makes a spectacular goal line clearance to keep England in the 1st leg of the 1984 European Championship against Sweden in the Ullevi Stadium, Gothenburg

Two weeks later, a heartbroken Thomas is consoled by England manager Martin Reagan after the penalty shoot-out defeat in the 2nd leg at Kenilworth Road

Two weeks later, a heartbroken Thomas is consoled by England manager Martin Reagan after the penalty shoot-out defeat in the 2nd leg at Kenilworth Road

The creation, development and establishment of the English women’s game was well and truly cemented. A side formed from a ‘disparate band of sisters’, brought together in 1972 by Eric Worthington, developed by Tommy Tranter and refined by Martin Reagan, to winners of the ultimate world trophy of its day and international recognition, in just over 12 years. Thomas had been there for 11 of those years, leading the side for nine of them.

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE


In possession of a dry northern sense of humour, she was often heard to repeat Jack Charlton’s infamous, “the ball may get past me, the player may get past me, but never the two together!” followed by a wry knowing smile and wink.

The phrase “sports mad” became well and truly justified in 1979 following her marriage to her husband. After the wedding, Thomas had a moral dilemma: should she go on honeymoon with her new husband or join the England squad for the European games in Italy? It was no contest, in truth the ‘result’ was never in doubt. Finland and Switzerland were to suffer!! Even in retirement, Thomas often jokingly says that her eldest son is, “the only man to have played a full women’s international, without kicking the ball ………… do the maths!”

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT WITHIN AND BEYOND THE GAME


By the 1980’s her achievements were finally beginning to be acknowledged, both inside and outside the game. In 1978 and 1979 she was invited by the BBC to star in the popular sports show, Superstars. As an ambassador for the women’s game, in 1983 she received the Vaux Breweries North Sportswoman of the Year Silver Star Award. She was frequently in the local and national media (and when abroad, international media). In 1984 she became the first woman player to be interviewed on national television appearing opposite Frank Bough and Selina Scott on breakfast TV following the 1984 European Championship Final. In 1985 she was awarded the Sports Council Sports Award in recognition of her achievements in women’s football.

Italy 1985, and the Mundialito Trophy: ‘World Champions!?!’

Italy 1985, and the Mundialito Trophy: ‘World Champions!?!’

Post retirement her achievements were still being recognised. In 1986 she became the first woman footballer to have an entry in the Guinness Book of Records having become the first English woman to gain 50 caps, with entries to follow in subsequent years.

RETIREMENT… OR NOT?


In 1985, having successfully led her England team to three straight victories in the 1985-87 UEFA Cup, at the age of 30 and 11 years of international football, Thomas finally retired from the international football scene to have her first child, Andrew. However, for this football fanatic, it was never going to be for long. In 1993, five years after the birth of her 2nd child, Mark, she was persuaded out of ‘retirement’ to help local side AFC Preston. The ‘Corinthian’ arrangement was quickly dropped as the football bug once again bit. On becoming a regular player, she helped with coaching and team selection and was always heard encouraging and developing those around her. Meanwhile she set up a soccer club for youngsters aged five to ten years old in her village for the local children of the surrounding area and helped her husband coach their sons from the under 7 age group to under 18 level.

Her ability and reading of the game had not been lost and was soon to be recognised again when the East Riding County FA created its first women’s representative side in 1995. Although aged 40, she was a natural selection for the captaincy of the side, she worked with the management and coaching staff and again assumed a role of helping to develop players from the ‘middle of the park’. She remained playing at this level until 2002, when a second retirement followed. In 2004 she was again asked to be involved in the building of a new side, Bransburton Ladies. In 2009, she finally hung up her boots aged 54!

Her interest and involvement in the game continues to this day. She gets great pleasure in watching and encouraging her grandsons from the touchline.

FROM THE TOP OF THE WORLD TO… THE ROOF OF THE WORLD!


Outside the game, and with a desire for that ultimate challenge, Thomas has since developed a fervent interest in long distance walking/trekking, fell climbing and mountaineering. She has completed all 214 Wainwrights, the National Three Peaks Challenge and the Coast to Coast walk twice (in both directions) in Britain.

Thomas shares her lunch with a Peruvian shepherdess and her young child, high in the Cordilleras Huayhuash mountain range in the Andes

Thomas shares her lunch with a Peruvian shepherdess and her young child, high in the Cordilleras Huayhuash mountain range in the Andes

Further afield, her long distance trekking and mountaineering has taken her to Peru, Morocco, Nepal and India. She has successfully scaled peaks in the Andes, the Atlas Mountains and five in the Everest region of the Nepalese Himalaya. In addition she has traversed numerous high passes and is regularly found at altitudes in excess of 18,000ft. She has developed a passionate interest in the people and cultures of high altitude, and in particular helping and supporting the people of Nepal especially since the tragic earthquake of April 2015.

International Footballer meets International Mountaineer: Thomas shares summit success on the Parang La (5,600m) after being guided by Valerie Parkinson (the first British woman to climb Manasulu, Nepal) to the top

International Footballer meets International Mountaineer:
Thomas shares summit success on the Parang La (5,600m) after being guided by Valerie Parkinson (the first British woman to climb Manasulu, Nepal) to the top

LASTING LEGACY


It is not difficult to put into words her footballing achievements. In pure domestic terms, trophies were confined locally, as the national competitions were dominated by the footballing powerhouses based in the north-west and south of England. This reflects the deep loyalty she possesses with regard to the local teams and individuals she respects and to those who have helped and stood by her throughout her career. It is safe to presume that top teams anywhere in the world would have welcomed her into their ranks.

Her international achievements need little elaboration as they speak for themselves. They surpass those of any of her predecessors and of her generation but equal many of those of the modern era. During her career at international level she became the second England captain at the age of 21, widely respected and accepted throughout the women’s game as one of the best defenders in the world, gaining a number of very significant firsts in the English women’s game over an 11 year period.

It is also safe to say that many local youngsters got their first experience of organised football through her local club, whilst many women players and teenage boys benefited from her coaching and guidance both on the pitch and from the touchline.

An official looking Thomas at Heathrow before the team’s long haul flight to Japan

An official looking Thomas at Heathrow before the team’s long haul flight to Japan

However, it is the off field role that she perhaps had her greatest and unquantifiable impact for the women’s game, leaving a genuine but little acknowledged legacy. As captain, she was a central figure representing international and regional players (particularly the North) during the transition of the fledgling organisation created in 1972, the amateur based WFA (which was given scant respect or regard by the FA, a shoestring budget and run by a band of tireless, unpaid volunteers, administrators and unsung heroes) into the emerging, and now fully backed, properly financed, media savvy, professional organisation of the current day.

For nearly ten years Thomas was the public face of the women’s game. She promoted the game with pride, passion, dignity and no little skill through her many media and function appearances at local, national and international levels, which continue to this day. She led England with a quiet, steely determination to succeed whilst displaying tact and diplomacy in her role. With these qualities, it could be said that she provided the blueprint for every future England captain. However, above all else, she always ensured that her performances on the pitch were her most important asset, responsibility and gift to the women’s game.


This magnificent article was kindly provided to Women’s Football Archive by a writer known only as ‘A Trusted Source’. We’ve checked the facts out independently and are happy that the piece stands as a wonderful, fitting tribute to one of England’s finest ever players.

Womensfootballarchive.com have sought and gained permission to use the images reproduced in the article and where appropriate, further use is subject to copyright.
© 1974-2016, Thomas Family Archive, All Rights Reserved

Review: Carol Thomas interview with BBC Radio Humberside, 14 November 2016

Ex-England skipper breaks cover for local radio chat

On a cold Monday night in November BBC Radio Humberside pulled off a significant coup, securing Carol Thomas as the guest in their 6pm nightly phone-in ‘Sports Talk’. In trying her hand at punditry Thomas proved herself an eloquent standard bearer for women’s football and sport in Hull. The episode link was here, but sadly is no longer available.

Local Matters


The programme began with a doleful air, as we learned England’s rugby league lads had been roughed up and thrashed by Australia the day before.

Although a tedious minority sport performed by inflated muscle men, rugby league still enjoys plenty of traction in its traditional heartland of the M62 Corridor.

Host Mike White softened studio guest Thomas up by underarming a nice gentle opener(!): “Why do England’s sports teams always fail and how can we change it?”

It came couched in a five-minute ramble, culminating in a closed question. Of course, poor Thomas could only reply: “Dunno”.

C’mon Mike, if she knew that, she’d be a Sir Clive Woodward-style guru. She’d be strutting about in rimless glasses, babbling business-speak and banking exorbitant consultancy fees.

The next segment contained an interview with Paddy Madden, an amiable Dubliner who – we were told – had been among the goals for Scunthorpe United.

There followed some toe-curling banter between host White and Madden, the latter in his lilting Irish brogue. Typical fayre, perhaps, for a lower-league footballer and local radio sports presenter.

Thomas was brought in for a snap verdict on the facile premise that teams do better when they have good team spirit. They do, she quickly agreed.

Next up was Mr Emma Byrne himself, Marcus Bignot, who cut his management teeth with Birmingham City Ladies but has now popped up in charge of Grimsby Town.

An ebullient Brummie, Bignot was on sparkling form. He sung the praises of Omar Bogle – The Mariners’ free scoring forward and former Celtic youth player.

Hull City Heartbreak


With casual listeners’ interest sagging at this point (33:30), the spotlight finally moved to Thomas with an extended interview of ten minutes or so.

We learned that she went to her first Hull City game with her dad in 1966 and had remained a passionate and loyal fan ever since – that is, UNTIL this summer.

All through the tough times the McCune/Thomas clan had been there. They must have stood at a crumbling Boothferry Park, in tiny crowds marred by a stubborn infestation of far-right terrace thugs.

Then there was a decrepit Mark Hateley thundering about up front while ‘managing’ a team of no-hopers to the foot of the basement division. Dark days indeed.

With foreign investment, a shiny new ground, Wembley Cup finals and Premier League football, Hull’s recent renaissance should have fans walking on air.

But – Thomas explained – a contentious season ticket policy has many Hull City die-hards taking the painful decision to turn their backs on the club they love.

It sounded like a sort of football ticketing poll tax: the better off better off, but no discounts for those who can’t pay full whack. Legions of kids and OAPs have been priced out.

“Simpler and fairer” according to the owners’ PR doggerel. But like many thousands of others Thomas isn’t swallowing that and won’t be back until the hated policy is gone.

Thomas spoke well on an inflammatory subject, getting her point across in measured terms. She eschewed hyperbole in favour of diplomatic understatement.

That must be part of the reason England bosses Tommy Tranter and Martin Reagan saw her as captaincy material all those years ago.

Memories of a Lifetime in Football


While interviewer White lacked women’s football knowledge he accorded Thomas due respect throughout. He came across as a dedicated pro with an ear to the ground of his local beat.

The name Gail Borman was thrown into the mix – she’d been a pal of a pal at his school in Hull.

Donny Belles legend Borman must have been a tough player, ventured White. “A tough player to defend against,” said Thomas.

Thomas then recalled her spell across the Pennines with Preston Rangers and that she turned out for the Belles’ hometown rivals CP Doncaster.

As the pre-eminent northern club, Donny Belles were conspicuously absent from her CV. This mirrors Clare Taylor, who famously snubbed the Belles in a personal quest to knock them off their perch.

Thomas worked in the offices of Northern Dairies (who became Northern Foods) and turned out for teams including Reckitts, and Rowntrees (of York), who like CP Doncaster were factory teams.

Kindly Hull City youth team boss Pete Sissons let Thomas do her fitness training at Boothferry Park alongside the boys in his charge.

She spoke about going on a tour to Switzerland with Spurs, explaining that the WFA would allow two ‘guest players’ to go away on member clubs’ foreign jollies.

Although the date of the tour wasn’t mentioned the Spurs link may have come from the England goalie Terry Wiseman, or Vicki Johnson who was Thomas’s national team understudy at right-back.

She spoke of her pride at captaining her country and of bowing out to have sons Andrew (1986) and Mark (1988). Unable to shake off the football bug she was soon charging about at grassroots level.

White contrasted Thomas’s era with the much-improved lot of today’s top female players. He plucked from somewhere a fanciful FA funding figure of £17m.

“Oh that we had £17m back then!” said Thomas, casting her mind back to the days of the potless WFA.

National Hall of Fame


There was a hint of behind-the-scenes moves to induct Thomas – belatedly – into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame.

Clearly this year’s entrants, Rachels Unitt and Brown-Finnis, are in on merit. In Unitt’s case Thomas herself would appreciate a full-back with such consistency and tactical discipline.

Questions continue to be asked about the Hall of Fame’s opaque selection policy, though, and the continuing absence of pioneering greats like Thomas…

Come on, whoever you are, enough’s enough – make it happen! Get Carol Thomas in there!

A Carol Thomas Wikipedia page has recently materialised, which lays out her credentials in more detail.

An ‘Original’ writes

England ‘keeper Sue Whyatt: Forget me not!

1972 England goalkeeper Sue Whyatt recently got in touch with Women’s Football Archive:

Hi I am Sue Whyatt, I played goalkeeper for Macclesfield Ladies and alongside Janet Bagueley also from Maccs team. I also played for England. I was on the first England squad in 1972 and won 1 cap playing against Scotland. I was the reserve goalie. I seem to have been missed out of all the history of England Ladies. I still have my cap and a scrap book though I can’t find my picture of us at Wembley when we were issued with bags and boots, all of which we had to give back !!

That’s Sue on the right, leaning over to share a joke with Macclesfield pal Bagguley. Both sport the controversial barely there knicker-shorts issued to the squad, while a trendy platform shoe lies discarded by Sue’s foot.

Beside her, footballing ex-nun Paddy McGroarty beams as she rips open her on-loan Mitres. The late Sylvia Gore is in the corner, beside the obligatory tea urn. Young Maggie Kirkland (later Pearce) sits behind Bagguley on the floor.

Thanks for getting in touch Sue – it’s always an honour to hear from players who played their part in making the game we all love into what it is today.

Anne O’Brien, footballer (1956–2016)

Irish football great Anne O’Brien dies in Italy aged 60

Au revoir: Anne waves goodbye to Dublin and embarks on her pro soccer career in Reims

Au revoir: Anne leaving Dublin for her pro soccer career in Reims, France

Ireland lost one of its best ever sports stars with the untimely death of Anne O’Brien in August 2016. Medals and memories from a stellar pro career in France and Italy cemented her unique legacy to Irish sporting heritage. The tragedy is that she has been lost with parts of her amazing story still to be told, and without getting the proper acclaim her achievements merited.

Early days


The Dublin factory team where O’Brien played her early football was Vards, named for Julian Vard furriers.1

Vards played their home games on public pitches in the vast Phoenix Park, and took their place in the vibrant Leinster Ladies League which sprang up at the end of the 60s.

Julian Vard furriers on Harcourt Street, Dublin Photo courtesy of Dublin City Council

Julian Vard furriers on Harcourt Street, Dublin Photo courtesy of Dublin City Council

As well as O’Brien, Vards boasted the talents of prolific twins Joan and Jacinta Williams – who spelled double trouble for opposition defences.

The Williams’s honed their soccer skills on the streets of Ballyfermot with the lads – including the brothers Furey, who grew up into diddly-dee music megastars.

Joan went to a Fureys gig in Wales some 30 years later and beamed when they recognised her from those marathon childhood kickabouts. Her hard-won soccer reputation undimmed by the passage of time.

Vards’ sworn rivals were Bosco, of the St John Bosco Youth Club in Drimnagh.

O’Brien’s first serious column inches came in 1971 when she let fly at Bosco with a sensational hat-trick in Vards’ 3–2 Drumcondra Cup win at Tolka Park.

Reims come calling


The story of Reims unearthing O’Brien on their 1973 Irish tour has passed into soccer lore. But a controversial final fixture in Bray almost threw a spanner in the works…

Still smarting from a 2–1 reverse at Kilkenny dog track – reportedly their first defeat in two years – Reims’ fiery Gallic tempers boiled over at the Carlisle Grounds, Bray.

O’Brien scored once and Carol Carr twice as Ireland snapped terrier-like at the heels of their French opponents, who led 4–3.

Carr was an exceptional attacking midfielder, or inside-forward in old money, who many rated just as good as O’Brien. But she was a couple of years older and Reims passed on her.

The Irish papers relished this “past it at 20” angle and linked Carr with lucrative switches to AS Roma and Standard Liège, but it was not clear if she ever took the plunge.2

In Bray, Carr looked poised for a hat-trick when she won Ireland’s second penalty of the match. Instead it sparked an undignified free-for-all.

Non, je ne regrette rien: Pierre Geoffroy, photo from FFF

Non, je ne regrette rien: Pierre Geoffroy, photo from FFF

Raging Reims boss Pierre Geoffroy legged it onto the park, “struck” the ref and led his side off before the penalty was taken.

That led to scuffles between the players and amongst the 1000-strong crowd, who marauded onto the pitch.

Impugned local whistler Harry O’Reilly demanded satisfaction from Geoffroy in the form of an apology. When none was forthcoming he abandoned the match with four minutes to go.

Geoffroy said his beef was with the pitch having no markings and ‘homer’ O’Reilly making two nonsense penalty calls.

It was a storm in a teacup, albeit with elements of black farce; the sort which continued to dog the women’s game for many years to come.

Irish squad player Margaret O’Driscoll reckoned the French were fed up at facing the same seven or eight Dublin-based national teamers in every fixture.

After all, the tour matches were supposed to be against local selections in rainy outposts like Dundalk, Kilkenny, Waterford and Limerick.

Familiarity seemed to breed contempt when the piqued French party gave the post-match cuisine at Kilkenny a swerve.

But Geoffroy wanted to run the rule over all the best Irish players. O’Brien recalled many years later that she had seen out the tour being taken around as a guest of the French club.

Anne seals the deal


The contretemps in Bray was soon forgotten and Reims snapped O’Brien up for their assault on the newly-formed national league in France.

She had just turned 18 and would be trousering £75 per-week with a gig in the club owner’s leather jacket factory.

Never a big drinker, in the heart of Champagne country she would have been forgiven for quaffing a celebratory glass or two.

By 1970s standards, O’Brien had already attained women’s soccer nirvana. But Reims was only the first staging post in a footballing journey which secured her place among Ireland’s all-time greats…


Women’s Football Archive offers our most sincere condolences to Anne’s nearest and dearest, and to the extended O’Brien clan. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam / Riposi in pace.


1. The suggestion that O’Brien played for Julian Bars seems to have originated from an interview she gave in Italian to Nicholas Pascale in 2013. Pascale, a temperamental genius of women’s football history, may have misheard or may have made an assumption that a bar would be involved – based on the famed Irish proclivity for booze!

2. A Carol Carr starred for Doncaster Belles during the South Yorkshire giants’ golden age, but that was a different player who was a few years younger.

Players: Maggie Pearce

Morag “Maggie” Pearce (née Kirkland): England’s original and best left-back

Pearce with England in 1984

Pearce with England in 1984

Born: c.1957, Southampton

Position: Left-back

Debut: Scotland (A) 18 November 1972

Occupation: Schoolgirl (1972)

Southampton WFC great Maggie Pearce is the only player to start both England’s first ever match in 1972 and the UEFA Championship final 12 years later. At 15 she was the youngest player to make it throught the trials into Eric Worthington’s inaugural Lionesses XI. Cool and unflappable, she was an essential component of two great England teams and the all-conquering Saints. Pearce formed a formidable full-back partnership with starboard-sided Carol McCune/Thomas and successfully transplanted her understanding with Southampton lefties Sue Lopez and Pat Chapman to international level. She bounced back from the birth of her first daughter to round off a 40-cap career.

A 10-year-old Pearce was spotted charging about on the green in front of her house. She soon found her way to Southampton WFC, whose manager Norman Holloway saw “a little shrimp” with potential star quality.

Pearce was not in the Southampton team which carried off the first ever WFA Cup at Crystal Palace in 1971. The full-backs on that day were Pat Judd and 14-year-old Karen Buchanan.

She was not listed in the team for the 1972 final either: Judd and Buchanan remained in the line-up, while Pauline Dickie wore the number 3 shirt.

So Pearce must have come from virtually nowhere to catch the eye of England boss Eric Worthington during that summer’s national team trials. An inter-League tournament sponsored by Lillywhites whittled down about 300 hopefuls to a provisional squad of 25 who met at Loughborough College in September.

Lionesses team-mate Wendy Owen recalled Pearce was “already an accomplished overlapping full-back” by the time of England’s debut match in Greenock. Playing behind fellow youngster Jeannie Allott, Pearce was one of four Southampton players to start England’s 3–2 comeback win over the Scots.

The following year’s return match in Nuneaton saw Scotland whupped 8–0. Margaret Miks of Coventry Bantams came in for a debut cap at right-back, giving England two Maggies as their full-back pairing.

Southampton-born Pearce lived in Weston-Super-Mare at the time of England’s 5–1 win over Northern Ireland at Twerton Park, Bath. Always hungry for a local angle, the Bath Chronicle branded her a “West Country Girl”.

A 2–0 win over France at Plough Lane in November 1974 saw Carol McCune debut as England’s new right-back. Over the following decade, Yorkshirewoman McCune (later Thomas) replicated Pearce’s consistency over on the other side of the Lionesses’ defence.

England were progressing nicely until a comprehensive 2–0 defeat by Sweden in June 1975. Pearce missed out as she was reportedly sitting her ‘O’ levels. Coach Tommy Tranter handed out another four debut caps.

Judging by the dates it seems more likely she was doing her ‘A’ levels, unless they were re-sits. In any event Tranter lamented his teenage left-back’s absence: “The inexperience told then. And with Morag concentrating on her ‘O’ levels we had little to offer at the back.”

In summer 1977 she tied the knot with Gordon “Gordie” Pearce, taking his surname having hitherto been billed as Maggie Kirkland. Some Programme lists shortly after the wedding spelt her new moniker ‘Pearse’ but this usage soon died out.

Gordie was fully supportive of Maggie’s soccer endeavours and was himself gaffer of local no-hopers Redbridge Rovers.1 He altered the course of football history when he interceded to get Sue Lopez back into the Southampton WFC fold in 1976.

There had been some sort of bust-up or drama behind the scenes, so – reading between the lines – Lopez had gone in a huff for a year. She still played for England, but as a Totton player.

Accordingly, Lopez doffed her cap to Gordie in Women on the Ball (1997): “I will always be grateful for the way he resurrected my Southampton career”.

“Flattering comments were often made about Maggie and none sums up her talent more than when people genuinely and complementarily said ‘she plays like a lad’.” — Sue Lopez (1997)

In the 1976 Cup final, Pearce’s Southampton beat sworn rivals QPR 2–1 after extra-time. Lopez was off the scene but later recollected that Pat Davies hit the extra-time winner.

The annotations in the ITN archive attributes the winning goal to Pearce, but the footage shows the slight figure of number 9 Davies emerging from the bottom of the celebratory pile-up.

Jeannie Allott’s departure to Dutch football in 1976 gave Southampton southpaw Pat Chapman her opportunity with the Lionesses. Renowned motormouth Chapman had sky-high standards and could be demanding to play alongside (Sue Lopez quipped she was sometimes glad to be deaf in one ear when lining up alongside Chapman).

But Pearce proved an excellent foil for Chapman’s bountiful talents and the duo soon struck up a firm understanding, to the benefit of club and country.

In October 1976 at Ebbw Vale, buccaneering Pearce punctured surprisingly stodgy Welsh resistance when her “pinpoint cross” was turned in by Droitwich’s Rayner Hadden for the opening goal. The Lionesses departed with a narrow 2–1 win.

In the 1978 Cup final, Southampton avenged their 1977 defeat by QPR with a stirring 8–2 win over the same opponents at Slough. Neat interplay down the left from Pearce and Chapman laid on the second goal for Lopez, before Chapman hit an astonishing double hat-trick.

Lopez (1997) recalled that Maggie’s proud husband Gordie Pearce was left purring: “Ten more trophies should have been made, for in fact, this was a complete team performance.”

In-form Pearce started England’s 3–0 win over Belgium at The Dell in October 1978, bouncing back after Alison Leatherbarrow had taken the left-back berth for the 6–1 win over Ireland at Exeter earlier that year.

At club level classy Lancastrian Leatherbarrow turned out for Foden’s, Welsh cracks Prestatyn, and St Helens. She mounted a strong challenge for Pearce’s place in the national team under Tommy Tranter.

In the 1979 unofficial European Championships, Pearce was first-choice. But when she was crocked in the semi-final defeat by hosts Italy, Leatherbarrow came in for the third place play-off.

Incoming England manager Martin Reagan was apparently less taken with Leatherbarrow, who drifted out of the reckoning and later won caps for Wales as a centre-forward. But Reagan retained Pearce, impressed by her level-headed dependability.

She played in a 1–1 draw with Sweden at Filbert Street, Leicester in September 1980. But she sat out the 1981 England games and Southampton’s last Cup final due to pregnancy. While England toured Japan in September 1981, Pearce that month welcomed daughter Laura Jane.

Another bruising friendly with Sweden in May 1982, a 1–1 draw in Kinna, saw Pearce make a swift return to the team. During Pearce’s absence England had found another option at left-back in the shape of Angie Gallimore.

But for the UEFA Championship qualifiers Pearce came back in, with Gallimore moving inside to centre-half and Linda Coffin dropping out. Reagan hailed Pearce as “outstanding” – her left-footed distribution “out of this world” – in the decisive 4–0 win over Scotland in Dumbarton.

Pearce keeps tabs on Pia Sundhage in the Euro 1984 final

Pearce keeps tabs on Pia Sundhage in the Euro 1984 final

In the UEFA 84 final first-leg against Sweden, Pearce was part of a disciplined and compact Lionesses rearguard.

In the debit column, she will have been disappointed that the goal came down her side: Swedish defender Burevik lumbered forward with Pearce temporarily posted missing and measured a fine cross onto Pia Sundhage’s head.

After England’s penalty heartache in the return leg, Pearce retired from international football. She was presented with a shield by the Mayor of Preston at Deepdale on 17 March 1985, after England beat Scotland 4–0.

The November 1984 edition of WFA News carried a warm tribute from Martin Reagan:

“Maggie Pearce always appears to have things under control, and few can suspect the fighting temperament there is under that calm exterior. A very cultured left foot, one of the best in women’s football, made her a difficult player to beat. […] One of Maggie’s greatest delights was to score a goal in a practice match, with her right foot. The determination of this young lady, was typified when she retired to give birth to her daughter, and then took up the game again and fought her way back to the top.”

The 1984 Mundialito tournament in Italy saw a first call-up for Norwich’s Jackie Slack, an excellent left-sided defender in her own right, who had to bide her time for a chance with England.

Maggie’s younger sister Heather Kirkland was also a Southampton player. Heather started out as a full-back like big sis, but was repurposed as a forward when Southampton’s fortunes began to wane.

The WFA News of June 1985 congratulated Pearce and Gordie on the recent birth of their second daughter. Pearce was not among the exodus to the Red Star club when Southampton WFC folded in 1986, instead she focused on coaching her other great sporting love, netball.

Pearce was later (2010) a primary school teaching assistant and made the local press when trapped in the Costa del Sol by unpronounceable Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull.

Women’s Football Archive Verdict:

It’s always poor form comparing women players to the top men. That’s why Lorraine Hanson‘s article contains no mention of her illustrious forerunner in the centre-back/centre-forward stakes, John Charles.

But in this case the Southampton WFC players themselves widely acknowledged their debt to England’s heroes of ’66. So it’s not gratuitous to say Ray Wilson’s calm demeanour was reflected in Pearce’s play.

In football’s family tree Rachel Unitt was perhaps Pearce’s god-daughter, Claire Rafferty and Alex Greenwood her impetuous grandchildren.


1. Not to be confused with the fictional team of the same name in the recent Craig Cash television comedy “Rovers”.

Players: Lorraine Hanson

Lorraine Hanson (née Dobb): Belles and England great

Hanson lines up for England in 1984

Hanson lines up for England in 1984

Born: c.1959, Worksop

Position: Defender/Forward

Debut: 1975?

Occupation: Sales receptionist (1983, 1985), Clerk (1986)

Considering Lorraine Hanson was such a brilliant footballer for Doncaster Belles and England, there is next to nothing about her on the internet. After starting out in her native Nottinghamshire with Carr Fastener and Nottingham Rangers, she joined Doncaster Belles in 1977 and became a key part of one of the most successful English club teams ever assembled. Equally capable at centre-forward or at centre-half, Hanson made around 30 appearances for England and played in the 1984 UEFA Championship final.

A Worksop-born Sheffield Wednesday supporter, Hanson cut her teeth in street football with the boys in a Nottinghamshire mining town, much like future team-mate Jackie Sherrard.

As a bright prospect with Carr Fastener (a factory team from Stapleford) she made Tommy Tranter’s England squad for the 2–0 win over France at Plough Lane, Wimbledon, on 7 November 1974.

She sat on the substitute’s bench alongside Carol Thomas and Liz Deighan, who came on to make the first appearances of their illustrious Lionesses careers.

At just 14 years old Hanson was there for the experience. But if she did make it on the pitch she must be England’s youngest ever senior player.

The programme for England’s match against Sweden at Ullevi on 15 June 1975 listed ‘Loiraina Dobb’ at number 7. The Swedes won 2–0 to inflict England’s first defeat.

Hanson’s opposite number Ann Jansson hit both goals in the game played over 30 minutes each-way before a Swedish WNT record crowd of 2,963.

Fifteen-year-old Pia Sundhage debuted for Sweden, the first of many duels Hanson fought out with the all-time great. Hanson later put on record that Sundhage was the best player she ever faced.

At the 1976 Pony Home Championships, schoolgirl Hanson was attached to Nottingham Rangers. She joined Notts League rivals Doncaster Belles in 1977.

In the 3–0 win over Belgium at The Dell, Hanson won a 14th cap. It was England’s first match on a top tier ground and attracted a record crowd of 5,500.

Hanson then quit England duty for a spell. She snubbed the unofficial 1979 Euros, being described as “retired” in Sue Lopez’s Women’s Football magazine report (Lopez’s scare quotes).

A few England players drifted away at this stage, disgruntled at the sport’s lack of progress. UEFA’s women’s sub-committee (all-male) had folded, so the prospect of proper tournaments receded.

In 1979 Eileen Lillyman of Bronte was drafted in as a replacement sweeper, but broke her leg the following year.

Hanson was recalled by England boss Martin Reagan in May 1982 for a friendly with Sweden in Kinna. Reagan made changes after seeing his side horsed 3–0 by Norway at Cambridge in October 1981.

She formed a front three with Tracy Doe and Janet Turner as England took credit from a bruising 1–1 draw.

Swedish FA records attribute England’s goal to Hanson, but Reagan’s report in the WFA News is clear that Doe did the damage.

Lorraine married Belles gaffer Richard Hanson on 20 November 1982 at Worksop Priory Church. On the first day of their honeymoon she played for the Midland region vs South East region at Leicester!

Romance had blossomed when her car broke down and Richard swooped with the offer of a lift to training and matches.

That season she put the Belles in their first ever FA Cup final, heading the winner in a tense 2–1 semi-final win over Friends of Fulham at Imber Court Metropolitan Police Ground.

The programme for the 1983 Cup final at Lincoln’s Sincil Bank named Hanson as the only England player in Donny’s squad.

She wore number 9, leading the line in the Belles’ 3–2 victory. But for England she nailed down a spot at centre-half during the Euro 84 qualifying campaign, alongside Angie Gallimore.

According to Cathy Gibb’s match report, Hanson conceded a “dubious” penalty in the Euro 84 semi-final at Crewe, despite her “faultless” performance.

England centre-backs Hanson (left) and Gallimore (right)

England centre-backs Hanson (left) and Gallimore (right)

Hanson played well in the final but suffered heartbreak when her kick was stopped by Elisabeth Leidinge in the Lionesses’ shoot-out defeat at Kenilworth Road, Luton. It was her 27th cap.

She scored both Donny’s goals in their 2–4 1984 final defeat by Howbury Grange. She was denied a hat-trick by a “last minute despairing Sallie Jackson tackle”.

In 1985 she played in the final at Craven Cottage, but England midfielder Brenda Sempare led the Belles a merry dance in Friends of Fulham’s 2–0 win.

Hanson started England’s first two Euro 87 qualifiers, but was absent from the 85 Mundialito. She also missed the Belles’ 1986 Cup final defeat by Norwich, as she was three months pregnant.

After welcoming daughter Jenna, she came back in 1986–87, only to find Kaz Walker installed at centre-forward. Walker promptly hit the goal trail, and didn’t let up for 20 years!

Doncaster Belles recaptured the Cup in 1987 at the City Ground and retained it the following year with a 3–1 over Leasowe at Gresty Road, Crewe.

Hanson left Donny after 12 seasons in 1989 and is believed to have hung up her boots.

Players: Liz Deighan

Liz Deighan: North-east football pioneer whose greatest legacy stands on Merseyside…

Deighan (left) making a splash at the Euro 84 final in Luton

Deighan (left) making a splash at the Euro 84 final in Luton

Born: c. 1953, Northumberland

Position: Midfielder

Debut: France (H) 7 November 1974

Occupation: Computer programmer (1981), electronic test engineer (1983), technical training tutor (1991)

Elizabeth “Liz” Deighan is an English soccer great. That a generation of Lionesses fans have grown up in ignorance of her footballing deeds is both a scandal and a travesty! On the pitch, midfield dynamo Deighan won 48 England caps and resembled (a scaled-down version of) her modern equivalent: fellow north-easterner Jill Scott. The lynchpin of the great St Helens team which reached four WFA Cup finals in the 80s, she also graced the Euro 84 final with England. Off the park she was a bright and innovative tactician who served as coach for the north-west region, England under-21s and the club she founded in 1989: Newton Ladies, who became Liverpool Ladies.

Playing


Deighan upped sticks from her native Northumberland to football-daft Merseyside as a teenage centre-forward, reportedly to improve her game. If that’s partly true, it might not have been the whole story. She enjoyed a high-powered career outside football and must have been about university age at the time she relocated.1

When she made her England bow in a 2–0 win over France she was 21 and playing for WFA Cup-holders Fodens. Tommy Tranter handed debuts to Deighan and future skipper Carol McCune (later Thomas) in England’s eighth official match, staged at Wimbledon FC’s Plough Lane on 7 November 1974.

Although Deighan’s early national team appearances came in attack, Lionesses team-mate Wendy Owen (2005) recalled “an excellent attacking midfielder”. It was in the engine room where Deighan was to make her mark. She was a players’ player, a driver on. Her wiry frame belied a gritty determination and a toughness rarely matched in players twice her size.

In September 1975 England were back at Plough Lane, facing a Sweden team who had handed them a first ever defeat that June in Gothenburg. Deighan had apparently moved on from Sandbach-based Fodens and was now listed as a Southport player. The Swedes’ FA records credit Deighan with England’s sole goal in a miserable 3–1 defeat.

Deighan retained the number 10 jersey for England’s next match; a 2–1 win over the Netherlands in May 1976 at Borough Park rugby ground, Blackpool. But she was absent from the list for the Pony Wine Home Championships later that month, as Tranter shuffled his pack.

In April 1977 Deighan scored in England’s 9–1 thrashing of Switzerland at Hull’s Boothferry Park. She was a late inclusion in the XI which beat Belgium 3–0 at The Dell, Southampton, before a record 5,471 fans on 28 October 1978. She wowed the watching England men’s boss Ron Greenwood, who branded her “the female Kevin Keegan”.

By this stage Deighan had moved on from Southport to St Helens, who formed in 1976. She was part of the 1980 WFA Cup-winning team who eliminated holders Southampton then beat local rivals Preston 1–0 in the final at Enfield. Hirsute Spurs icon Ricky Villa was guest of honour and handed over the trophy.

In the 1981 final on home turf at Knowsley Road rugby ground, St Helens crashed 4–2 to resurgent Southampton in a Battle of the Saints.2

Two years later, a titanic tussle with Doncaster Belles at Sincil Bank, Lincoln, was lost 3–2. Deighan’s late “neatly executed free kick” gave St Helens hope but a goal in each half by Belles founder Sheila Stocks secured Donny’s first Cup win.

Meanwhile, UEFA had belatedly organised a European Championship and wise old head Deighan was one of England manager Martin Reagan’s on-field lieutenants. The Danish FA reckon she scored the semi-final first leg winner at Gresty Road, although WFA records attribute the goal to Debbie Bampton.

In the final first leg in Gothenburg, it was backs to the wall stuff. Reagan’s midfield trio of Coultard, Bampton and Deighan were compact and disciplined. The slight figure of Deighan bristled with nervous energy throughout, typifying England’s gutsy defeat.

The emergence of Hope Powell and Brenda Sempare signified the end of Deighan’s tenure as an England first-teamer. She started the Euro 1987 campaign as a squad player, coming off the bench in the opening 4–0 win over Scotland at Deepdale on St Patrick’s Day 1985. She was left out of the party for the 1985 Mundialito that August and remained two caps shy of her half-century.

Spotting the writing on the wall, Deighan told the Lancashire Evening Post:

“I don’t know how long I can go on playing. It may be my last season for England but I am also aware that manager Martin Reagan is keen to bring in younger players with a view to the future and that I might be dropped after the Preston match.”

In the 1987 Cup final at Nottingham’s City Ground, Deighan captained St Helens to another gallant defeat by Doncaster Belles. Manager John Mayer’s withering verdict on the WFA’s shambolic post-match arrangements got the club booted out of the following year’s competition.

On the subject of his skipper, Saints boss Mayer affectionately quipped in his 1987 WFA News column: “Her Geordie dialect causes many problems, nobody understands a bloody word she’s saying, we just nod and agree with her…”

Coaching


Reforms at the Women’s Football Association in 1986–87 – including league and boundary changes – proved controversial. Deighan was a beneficiary, though, as she scooped a new job as north west regional coach.

This was shortly after Pat Firth, notable as England’s first hat-trick scorer, took the Yorkshire and Humberside gig in January 1987. In doing so Firth became the first female regional coach.

Deighan had the trust of Martin Reagan and when an England under-21 team was mooted she got the nod as coach. She promptly arranged trials at Lilleshall, 3–5 July 1987: “expenses to be met by the individuals themselves, £36,” the WFA News reported.

Eight of the squad at the 1995 World Cup were products of Deighan’s successful under-21 setup. But the rudderless WFA was fast running out of time – Reagan was sacked and his replacement Barrie Williams was soon following him out the door. Deighan also lost her post to Williams’ stopgap replacement John Bilton, before the under-21 team was scrapped altogether.

Deighan was particularly miffed at this turn of events, having given up the regional job for the under-21s. Predictably, the folly had a deleterious effect on the senior national team. Under the FA things continued to drift aimlessly until 2004 (2004!) when an under-21 side was finally reinstated under Hope Powell.

In 1989 Deighan founded Newton Ladies, the team who would eventually become Liverpool Ladies. Thumbing her contact book she cobbled together some old St Helens mates and drafted in players from reigning WFA Cup-winners Leasowe Pacific. The team debuted at the pre-season Lancashire Cup and served notice of their intentions by carrying off the trophy.

Newton finished 5th and then third in two seasons in the regional NWWRL, then teamed up with Knowsley United – a now-defunct men’s non-League team – to join the inaugural national league in 1991–92. At this point 38-year-old Deighan brought the curtain down on her glittering playing career to focus on management.

Under Deighan Knowsley had a great DIY ethic: left-back Jill “Thommo” Thomas was the club secretary and forwards Viv Cutbill and Diane Woollam the press and PR officers, respectively. National treasure Sylvia Gore was club development officer.

An ambitious transfer spree in the summer of 1992 landed England stalwarts Clare Taylor and Kerry Davis. The team reached the Premier League Cup final at Wembley, played as a low-key curtain-raiser to one of the interminably dull Sheffield Wednesday versus Arsenal men’s Cup finals taking place that season.

Arsenal won and their manager Vic Akers opined that the match might have gone over better with a sceptical public if it was billed as Arsenal v Liverpool. Whether they took Vic at his word or the wheels were already in motion, Knowsley duly came under the wing of England’s most successful male club Liverpool in time for the 1994–95 season.

But by then Deighan had already had enough and quit in 1993. She brought in ex-England pal Angie Gallimore from Wigan as player-manager and moved upstairs to take a symbolic role as honorary chairperson. She told Sue Lopez in Women on the Ball (1997):

“I retired completely from the game in 1993. Managing my club was taking over my life, and was starting to jeopardise my full-time job as I was getting so many phone calls at work. I recently asked how I could become involved at a higher level again and was told to get involved locally. I’ve started helping out a bit at Preston Rangers.”

The original tie-up saw newly-minted Liverpool Ladies playing a couple of matches per season at Anfield, which helped to land a sponsorship with DHL. Since then the relationship with the male club has waxed and (usually) waned. A shake up in 2013 saw the introduction of an alleged “one club mentality” and investment in top notch players who captured back-to-back WSL titles.

At this stage a penny for founding mother Deighan’s thoughts would surely have given food for thought!

In 2015 Gill Coultard commended Deighan as the best female player currently outside the English Football Hall of Fame.


1. In a March 2017 interview with Sportsister, Deighan clarified that she did move purely for football reasons, leaving behind a job at the DSS. She had been playing for Wallsend but needed better competition after getting on the national team’s radar. Sylvia Gore helped fix her up with a job on Merseyside.

2. Women’s Football Archive hasn’t yet got the line-ups and scorers for this final, so it remains ‘a book with seven seals’. It’s of particular interest in case suspected all-time Cup final record goalscorer Pat Chapman got on the score sheet. Please get in touch if you can help!