When Martin Reagan went in to bat for women’s football

Martin Reagan (1924–2016): The man who stepped up to save women’s football in England

Women’s football lost one of our own with Martin Reagan’s recent passing, but his deeds will never be forgotten

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In May 1984 the England women’s football team manager Martin Reagan returned from Gothenburg with a creditable 1–0 defeat for his team, and a blueprint for soccer success. Ex-pro Reagan knew exactly what England needed to do to reel in their continental rivals: copy the Super Swedes. In the days before women’s football was trendy he proudly shouted his support from the rooftops. But his sterling efforts were thwarted at every turn, by an unholy alliance of Football Association intransigence and – yes – sex bias, which was still firmly rooted in 20th Century British life.

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Players: Sue Law

Sue Law: Gutsy England defender who carried the fight off the pitch

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Born: 25 April 1966, Rochford

Position: Defender

Debut: Wales (N) 17 August 1985

Occupation: Sport Development Officer (1989), FA Head of Equality (2015)

Defender Sue Law played around 40 times for England and represented Pelynt, Brighton, Millwall Lionesses and Bromley Borough with calm assurance. But she is perhaps best known as that rare thing: a brainy footballer! The old stereotype says any player with two ‘O’ Levels must be nicknamed “the professor”. But Law is in a different league altogether. After injuries took their toll she hung up her boots but vowed to move women’s football forward from the inside.

Club


Essex-born Suzanne Law knew she wanted to play football for England when she was seven years old. As a pupil at Plymouth High School she sought out 5-a-side footie with Prince Rock LFC and soon graduated to the 11-a-side ranks with Pelynt LFC.

While taking a degree in Sports Science from Brighton Polytechnic, bright spark Law played for Brighton (then known as C&C Sports due to a sponsorship deal).

In 1987 she joined Millwall Lionesses. The London outfit were fiercely ambitious after losing two consecutive WFA Cup semi-finals to Doncaster Belles.

Millwall were in the market for decent players, after half a dozen regulars quit for the Italian Serie A over the preceding year or so.

It cost Law £20 a week to go back and forth from her Peacehaven base to train and play with the Lionesses. But she loved the set-up in South London, declaring:

“I needed the best possible training and play to secure my England place. No one else in women’s football had developed a whole structure of coaches, and youth and reserve sides, let alone things like the physiotherapy we get from Millwall’s physio. Millwall have done the work for women’s football that the FA should have done in this country.”

In 1991 Law was part of the great Millwall Lionesses team who finally wrested the WFA Cup away from Doncaster Belles, after a titanic tussle at Prenton Park, Birkenhead.

That season Law proudly served as team skipper, since club captain Raeltine Shrieves could not always crack an increasingly competitive first XI.

In the aftermath of that success the team broke up. Along with Hope Powell and coach Alan May, Law was part of the faction which set up Bromley Borough, the team which later became Croydon, then Charlton Athletic.

As a new club Bromley Borough started out at the very bottom: in the muck and nettles of the South East Counties League.

This meant lopsided scorelines, which became even more pronounced when silky England midfielder Brenda Sempare joined Bromley for their second season.

Law hung up her boots after a 1992–93 WFA Cup semi-final defeat by treble-winning Arsenal at Cambridge. Bromley gave a good account of themselves but succumbed to second-half goals from Arsenal’s Debbie Bampton and Naz Ball.

England


Martin Reagan handed 19-year-old Law her England debut in August 1985, in a 6–0 win over Wales staged on the Isle of Man.

As a promising right-back she had big boots to fill: ultra consistent Hullensian Carol Thomas had performed the role with distinction for over a decade.

In the Euro 1987 semi against Sweden, Law’s quick free-kick set up Kerry Davis to put England 2–1 up, but the Swedes hit back to win 3–2 in extra time.

Law’s finest hour as an England player came in the 1988 Mundialito (little World Cup) win. The “Lioness of Arco” Linda Curl bagged both England’s goals in a brave final win over hosts Italy.

Law shrugged off an injured ankle to repeatedly shut the door in the Italians’ faces.

Sue Mott of The Times quoted Law after the match: “We all had cramp, our muscles were knotting and still the referee played on and on in the hope that Italy would equalise. It was incredible.”

“We’re treated wonderfully abroad,” said Law. “Funnily enough, it’s just at home we’re snarled at and laughed at.”

Law sat out England’s historic 2–0 defeat by Sweden at Wembley in May 1989, still recovering from a shoulder operation. She graced the hallowed turf a year later, as England stuffed Scotland 4–0 in a short “demonstration” before the Man United v Crystal Palace FA Cup final.

In November 1990, Law was absent from the squad who lost heavily to ruthless Germany and missed out on a place in the inaugural 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

After that disappointment Martin Reagan was sacked and replaced with eccentric former schoolmaster Barrie Williams. The new boss reckoned his charges were incapable of playing a flat back four so switched to five at the back.

That suited Law who had played as a centre-half for Millwall. Although she was now plying her trade in the basement divisions with Bromley Borough, she retained her England place for the Euro 93 campaign.

Barrie Williams quit after six months as the WFA went into meltdown. He was replaced by his goalkeeper coach John Bilton.

Sue Lopez’s Women on the Ball (1997) detailed the “ignominious end” to Law’s international career, which came in the second leg of the Euro 93 quarter-final with Italy at Rotherham United’s old Millmoor ground:

“Law played bravely, despite agonising back pain, probably not helped by a vigorous pre-match fitness test with shoulder charges from the solid six-footer John Bilton.”

It was the last ever England game under the WFA. Law scored an own goal and Lou Waller was red carded for deliberate handball in a 3–0 defeat. Italian star Carolina Morace picked off England who were forced to chase a 3–2 deficit from the first leg.

Despite her battles with injury, loyal servant Law made around 35 to 40 appearances for England, depending on whether matches like the shortened curtain-raisers are included.

Post playing career


Persistent injuries forced Law’s premature retirement from playing before she was 30. But she had already made her mark off the field as a proselytiser.

In the November 1986 edition of the WFA News, Law was already seeking out alliances and asking questions years – if not decades – ahead of their time:

“We would like to know why women’s football is not taken seriously? Why we don’t receive media coverage we feel we deserve?”

In April 1987 Law and England team mates Terry Wiseman and Marieanne Spacey were among candidates for the FA’s Preliminary Coaching Badge. The intensive residential course at Lilleshall was not for the faint-hearted but Law passed with flying colours.

When Channel 4 started showing women’s football in 1988–89, producers Trans World International picked cerebral and well-spoken Law as their expert summariser.

Before long Law’s work in her day job with the National Coaching Federation (latterly Sports Coach UK) was subject to admiring glances.

In 2000 she was headhunted by the FA as its child protection tsar. During the 90s the FA had been in an embarrassing fankle after its clumsy attempts at child protection excluded legions of young players.

Pettifogging FA rules blocked kids from adult football. But because there were precious few girls’ teams and girls remained banned from school football, there was nowhere for them to go. It led to a massive talent drain.

After sorting out that mess, high flyer Law was then promoted to overall “head of equality” in 2006.

True stories: Nigeria at the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup

A wacky tale of sex, cash, drugs, race, witchcraft, politicking, cronyism and rampant age-cheating…

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The Nigerian women’s football team’s incredible journey to the inaugural 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup is an inspiring story marred by scandal and intrigue. Amidst farcical scenes and a rotating cast of surreal hangers-on, the team of plucky young women overcame tremendous odds to truly put African women’s football on the map…


Walking on the wild side: the start of women’s football in Nigeria

The Nigerian women’s football team were founded in January 1991, backed by the Nigerian Football Federation’s (NFF) youth department – at a time when few women’s teams in the world had association backing.

True, the federation’s backing only amounted to a dilapidated bus and a tiny daily allowance of 20 Nigerian Dollars for each player at the final tournament in China. But it was a start.

Originally nicknamed the Amazons, the team were eventually dubbed the Super Falcons. The violent connotations of Amazons no doubt made some nervy, so it was quietly ditched in favour of the more ladylike Falcons.

Nigeria was emerging from one of its semi–regular FIFA bans. Three male players turned up at the 1988 Olympics professing different birth-dates than those supplied at previous youth tournaments, bringing about a two-year rap for age-cheating.

Although the ban was apparently commuted, the nation was also stripped of hosting the 1991 men’s FIFA World Youth Championship as a result.

Capitalising on an organic women’s football boom, Princess Bola Jegede put up the money for a national women’s Cup tournament, from which an initial 50 players were selected.

Unlike the modern scourge of pretend ‘Nigerian Princesses’ – senders of a million spam e-mails – Jegede had real wealth and was an outspoken advocate of women’s football.

A coach was found in the shape of Niyi Akande. Himself a former Nigerian international in the 1960s, he had taken his coaching badges in Durham, England during 1973.

Akande was a volatile character: at one of the first training sessions he allegedly brawled with his assistant in view of stunned players.

There was no shortage of applicants for what was a plum job.

Then as now, paid football coaching positions were rare, especially with the national association. So plenty of genuinely talented coaches threw their hat in the ring – amongst the usual freeloaders, wannabes and chancers.

With squad and coach in place, Nigeria embarked on a shambolic African qualification tournament in which half of the eight teams withdrew.

Future adversaries South Africa were still banned from all international sport due to the Apartheid regime, which was finally canned later in 1991.

The first round brought a 7–2 aggregate win over arch rivals Ghana. Uche Eucharia later recalled bagging a hat-trick in the first meeting, played in front of a capacity crowd at the National Stadium in Lagos.

After the 2–1 second leg win in Ghana, coach Niyi Akande was accused in the press of invoking “juju”, a form of witchcraft, to win the match.

Resenting the accusation, Akande penned a letter right to the very top – First Lady and Falcons patron Maryam Babangida.

This left a number of noses out of joint but ended well enough for Akande when the local warlord, General Adisa, made the issue disappear: dropping Akande as coach but letting him keep his cherished salary.

Akande suspected the juju story was concocted to get Paul Ebiye Hamilton – another former international and face on the local soccer scene – into the job.

Hamilton duly took over for the rest of the qualifying cakewalk: seven and six–goal aggregate drubbings of hapless Guinea and Cameroon.

Meanwhile Akande took a job managing top Nigerian men’s club Shooting Stars FC in 1992. In 2014 the madcap boss, 71, was in high dudgeon at his “inhuman” sacking from Crown FC.

The club gently suggested he was not sacked but had actually been “retired” in the style of Sir Alex Ferguson.


Jo Bonfrere: the Dutch master?

On the eve of the 1991 final tournament, it was Hamilton’s turn to seethe as Dutchman Johannes “Jo” Bonfrere was brought in over his head as Technical Director.

The NFF was in the habit of parachuting in foreign, white coaches for its national teams. Seemingly it felt the Westerners not only better qualified (generally true), but also inherently more astute and worthy of respect from local players (false, bizarre… quite possibly racist).

There was an unedifying whiff of colonialism about it all.

Hamilton stayed on, but it was the second such blow to his prodigious ego. He was still smarting after being deposed as Nigeria men’s national coach by the arrival of Holland’s Clemens Westerhof in 1989.

On taking over, Westerhof asked Hamilton for videos of the male team’s recent matches. Hamilton sent a flunkey to snarl: “We’re football coaches, not cameramen”.

Westerhof’s introduction proved disastrous as he alienated several leading players and derailed Nigeria’s bid to reach World Cup Italia ’90.

Cameroon’s “Indomitable Lions” qualified instead and made history by dumping holders Argentina in the opening game then giving Bobby Robson’s England a fright in the quarter–finals.

Bonfrere spent his entire 22-year playing career with unfashionable MVV Maastricht, mostly in the top division of Dutch football. He had pitched up in Nigeria as Westerhof’s sidekick after a spell out of work.

Bonfrere later presided over Nigerian football’s finest hour, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. His team of (ahem!) under-23s including Nwankwo Kanu and Taribo West carried off the gold.

A noted eccentric, bucktoothed Bonfrere subsequently quit the NFF in an ugly dispute over unpaid bonuses and meddling officials, before being enticed back as men’s senior coach for another bumper payday.

As recently as last month (April 2015) he was touting himself for another crack at the job.

Bonfrere’s treachery in taking Westerhof’s old job left the two former pals locked in a clownish lifelong feud. Westerhof recently (2014) branded Bonfrere a snake, an idiot and a crybaby.

Both men traded unseemly accusations of pocketing kickbacks on male Nigerian players’ transfers to professional European clubs. And taking backhanders to call-up prospective national team players.

None of the allegations were ever proved.


Players: Nigeria’s 1991 World Cup squad

The squad was allegedly an average of 18.6-years-old – still in its salad days and comfortably the youngest in the competition. Pictures suggest suspiciously tall and powerfully built 16 and 17-year-old girls.

Thirty-three year old centre-half Edith Eluma was supposedly fully 14 years older than the next oldest squad member.

But as the competition had no upper age limit, this obviously wasn’t age-cheating.

If anything it suggested that, rather than trying to gain an advantage with all their other age-cheating antics down the years, the Nigerians are simply not that big on record keeping.

Indeed, a few bright prospects were left out after being deemed too young, including “Marvellous” Mercy Akide and Yinka “the Gentle Giant” Kudaisi. Their day would come in later tournaments.

Another feature of the squad was its careful composition of exactly 50% Igbo athletes. This was a political hot potato in Nigerian football at the time.

Iconic goalkeeper Ann Chiejine (née Agumanu) took her place between the sticks.

Uche Eucharia (née Ngozi) went on to play at the 1995 World Cup and coached the Super Falcons at the 2011 edition in Germany. A born-again Christian, before the latter tournament she made a song and dance about booting lesbians out of her squad and was told to shut up by FIFA.

Uche was sacked later in 2011 when lightly-regarded Cameroon beat Nigeria to a place at the 2012 London Olympics.

The 1991 squad also contained controversial athletics ace Chioma Ajunwa, reigning African 200 metres champ. The enfant terrible of Nigerian sports, she quit soccer in a huff shortly after the World Cup, then got clobbered with a four-year drugs ban from 1992–1996.

After joining the Nigerian police force, she sensationally returned to scoop an Olympic gold medal at Atlanta ’96 in the long jump, posting a monster first round effort of 7.12 metres.

She also boasted a different birth date on her Olympic documents to the one supplied to FIFA.

Declared a “Member of the Order of Niger” by despot Sani Abacha and made a chief by her tribe, the irrepressible Ajunwa gave birth to triplets in 2012.


A tale of two skippers: Omagbemi and Okosieme

Florence Omagbemi, 16, was the original captain but was replaced by university-educated Nkiru Okosieme in the run-up to the 1991 finals. Okosieme – nicknamed “the headmistress” after imparting several crucial goals with her noggin – was deemed the better public speaker.

Omagbemi later branded Jo Bonfrere clueless, saying his appointment caused “all kinds of drama,” in a squad already riven by “cultural differences, financial issues, welfare and so on.”

In time, Omagbemi recaptured the armband when loquacious Okosieme was herself stripped of the captaincy. Okosieme’s crime? A TV interview which slated the federation’s equally ludicrous preparations for the 1995 World Cup in Sweden.


Final tournament: Nigeria at the 1991 Women’s World Cup

Prior to the tournament, Bonfrere whisked his charges off for a month’s training at the Dutch FA’s plush Sittard HQ in his native Limburg.

On arrival in Guangzhou, they found Chinese authorities had packed the stadia with massive but bewildered crowds. Unlikely candidates as football fans, they went nut-nut every time the physio ran on.

On the other hand, goals were greeted only with general hubbub – like the inside of a giant Wetherspoons pub.

Reality arrived with a jolt when Germany (who had qualified as West Germany – crushing England en route) sworded Nigeria’s motley collection of youngsters 4–0 in Jiangmen.

A gutsy showing in the second group game saw Italian great Carolina Morace break Nigerian hearts, hitting the only goal 12 minutes from time.

The third game was lost 2–0 to Taiwan, whose wily playmaker Chou Tai-ying – a veteran of the German Bundesliga – pulled the strings and notched the killer second goal.

They fared marginally better than the Ivory Coast team who went to China for the 1988 FIFA prototype World Cup and shipped 17 goals in their three reverses. Although Ivory Coast at least managed a goal.

Beyond that, there was not much else for an African team to live up to. Zambia had been pencilled in for the 1985 Mundialito (‘Little World Cup’) in Italy, but failed to materialise.

Despite the lack of on-field success, the Nigerian party reportedly managed plenty of scoring off the pitch.

A 2001 BBC article reported: “When he [Bonfrere] took the national women’s team, Super Falcons, to the inaugural World Cup in China in 1991, the side returned with defeats and tales of salacious sex romps between officials and players.”

What they did next: Millwall Lionesses 1991 Women’s FA Cup winners

Spotlight on Millwall Lionesses 1991 – Women’s FA Cup winners

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In an iconic final, Millwall Lionesses’ class of ’91 beat Doncaster Belles, the holders, 1–0 at Prenton Park to lift their first Women’s FA Cup. In the Greater London League they saw off Friends of Fulham and Arsenal to qualify for the first ever National League in 1991–92. With cult status assured, the team famously imploded and went their separate ways. Now the Women’s Football Archive opens the vault and looks back at the Lionesses squad from that memorable season.

 


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Lesley Shipp (later Higgs) Goalkeeper who joined the Lionesses from Milton Keynes in 1988. A 25-year-old shop assistant in 1991. Had specialist goalie coaching from Aldershot stopper David Coles in the days when this was unusual. Won her first England cap in 1990 under Martin Reagan and quit the national team after playing at the 1995 Women’s World Cup. Moved on to Arsenal and then Wembley in 1994. Had the game of her life in Arsenal’s 1993 Cup final win, then kept goal for Wembley against Millwall in the 1997 Cup final.


Maria Luckhurst Attacking full-back with a fierce shot. In 1991 was a 20-year-old bank clerk recently capped by England under-21s. A youth team product who joined Millwall at 11 after being kicked out of boy’s football. Now a high-powered investment banker with BlackRock.


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Lou Waller (later Newstead) Joined her girlhood club at 12 and went on to become manager and chairman in a distinguished Lionesses career. Installed as England’s regular left-back after her 1989 debut, but took on a more pivotal role for her club. Enhanced her Millwall credentials by being the first England player ever to be sent-off, against Italy in 1992. Bizarrely taken to the 1995 World Cup while injured and not fit enough to play. A keen student of the game, she spent two off-seasons playing for HJK Helsinki in Finland and coached the Lionesses’ pioneering youth teams. Hit the only goal in the 1997 Cup final win over Wembley. Twenty-years-old in 1991, she later went on the men’s club payroll as part of their community department.


Tina Mapes A sweeper or holding midfielder of rare composure, Mapes won the Lionesses’ Player of the Year in 1989–90, her first season with the club. She captained England under-21s and won her first senior cap in the dog days of the WFA regime. Moved to Wimbledon Ladies after the Cup final but took up a contract offer from Swedish second tier club Lindsdals in spring 1992. She quit Sweden for Croydon to win back her England place and went to the ’95 World Cup where she filled in at full-back. The trophies kept coming in two spells with Croydon and a stint with Arsenal. Also a useful goalkeeper, Mapes is currently one of 25 A-licensed female coaches in England. She was 20 in 1991 and working for a building company.


Sue Law The Lionesses’ Miss reliable who rarely had a bad game since joining from C&C Sports (Brighton) in 1987. Won most of her caps for England (1985–1992) at right-back but played all along Millwall’s backline. She was a 24-year-old development officer and would commute from Eastbourne to play and train with the Lionesses. A succession of back and shoulder injuries disrupted her career, especially after she left to form Bromley Borough in 1991. The cerebral Law currently serves as the FA’s head of equality. Has an incredibly-hard-to-Google name!


Keeley Salvage Committed no-frills centre-half who revelled in her club nickname of ‘Well Hard’. A 20-year-old bookie’s assistant, she honed her crunching tackle in the Lionesses’ youth ranks after joining aged 12. Was on the fringes of England’s under-21 team and had a short spell with Arsenal in 1993–94 before coming home to Millwall and skippering the side. Died tragically young from cancer in 2013.


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Hope Powell Entered the 1991 final as the Lionesses record goalscorer, boasting an incredible 1.25 goals-per-game average in over 200 appearances since joining from school aged 11. She turned 24 that season but was already hit by the knee trouble which slowed her down in her last years as a player. She was recently back from a two-year sojourn with Friends of Fulham, having scored twice in their 1989 Cup final defeat – an individual performance which went down in women’s football lore. Best known as England’s long-serving disciplinarian coach from 1998 to 2013, Powell was always too modest in recalling her own capabilities as a player. Those who played with and against her attest to peerless skill and vision, setting her apart as arguably England’s finest ever female player.


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Debbie Bampton All-action midfielder Bampton was gunning for her third Cup winner’s medal after driving Lowestoft and Howbury Grange to glory in 1982 and 1984. She was 29 and a chauffeur in the City of London. In 1987–88 she played and lost the Italian Cup final with Trani. Bampton’s 19-year England career (1978–1997) stands as an incredible achievement. Adjusted for games played, her 95 caps must be worth around 200 in today’s money. A tireless midfield workhorse but much more than a water-carrier, she habitually scored crucial goals. Left for a season with Wimbledon after the 1991 final, then won a treble with Arsenal in 1992–93. Was player-boss of Croydon from 1994 until 2000.


Maureen Jacobson Kiwi international, 29, who put her career as an accountant on hold to add goals and quality to Millwall’s midfield. She covered every blade of grass and shot from all angles, plundering 67 goals in the Lionesses’ 1989–90 season. ‘Mo’ Overcame injury to play in the 1991 final and went to the historic 1991 Women’s World Cup in China that November with New Zealand. Recently (2012) inducted into Wellington’s Soccer Hall of Fame.


Raeltine Shrieves The club’s reserves captain, who made inroads into the first team ahead of the final. A graduate of Bangor University in Wales, she was 24-years-old and working in financial services. Proud of her Irish roots she dreamed of one day pulling on the famous green shirt. The call never came in football but Shrieves got in on the ground floor when the Irish put together a women’s rugby team a few years later. In the oval ball game she turned out for London Wasps and Richmond as a scrum half. Sister (?) Yvette Shrieves was also a Lionesses stalwart, who spent two seasons as a pro in Italy with Juve Siderno.


Yvonne Baldeo A speedy winger who rejoined Millwall after a spell in Serie A with ACF Milan. Twenty-nine and director of her own sports equipment company, Baldeo famously hit the winning goal in the 1991 final at Prenton Park. A thorn in the side of Doncaster Belles, she had bagged a brace in Howbury Grange’s 4–2 final win over ‘Donny’ in the 1984 final. In September 1993 Baldeo, who had moved on to Wembley, was named on standby for the first ever England squad to be selected by the FA.


Karen Farley (later Farley-Livermore) Big striker on the way back from injury after signing the previous summer from Maidstone Tigresses. A 20-year-old admin assistant, she played for England under-21s and began her career with Ashford Town. Moved on to Sweden after the final and settled in Scandinavia, mastering the lingo and working in the UK embassy while playing for Stockholm giants Hammarby, under player-boss Pia Sundhage. A brilliant header of the ball, Farley’s prolific but inexplicably short England career included the 1995 Women’s World Cup.


Jane Bartley The Lionesses’ record appearance holder, Londoner Bartley had turned out for the club more than 300 times by 1991. She also had some 200 goals, despite a serious knee injury keeping her out for two years from 1987. Joined Millwall at 11 when she and Hope Powell were booted out of their school team, despite the protestations of the male coach. A tall and graceful forward, she played international football for Wales in the days before the FAW took an interest. Was 24 and working in financial services.


Lynne McCormick Bustling pint-sized striker whose searing pace and unerring shot caught defenders off guard. A 22-year-old training officer, ‘Micky’ joined Millwall in 1987 from C&C Sports (Brighton) and had clocked up over 150 goals by 1991.


Anita Dines A blue collar grafter whose willingness and discipline gave a platform for more gifted team mates to flourish. Versatile enough to play at full-back or up front and seemingly a much better player than she gave herself credit for. Signed from Maidstone Tigresses in 1988, Dines’s whole-hearted displays made her a cult figure with the fans and hugely popular in the dressing room. She later hoisted more silverware with Croydon. A hopeless football addict, she was still thundering about for Tower Hamlets Ladies in 2007.


Julie Fletcher Schoolgirl left-back elevated to the first team after just a year with the thirds. She had signed from Elms FC of Catford and was the youngest member of the 1991 squad at 16 years of age. Remained loyal to Millwall and spent a decade at the club, before moving on to Croydon and Arsenal. A county standard cross country runner who later worked as a lifeguard. Made her England debut in 1995.

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