Match: Arsenal 2–1 Doncaster Belles, 28 March 1993, Highbury Stadium

Belles beaten as Arsenal move to brink of first title

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Wheelchair-bound boxer Michael Watson on the Highbury turf, surrounded by chart-toppers Aswad

Classic match report: nouveau riche Gunners edge out Belles before record Highbury crowd

December’s bumper 3,256 crowd at Brighton’s AMEX Stadium left women’s soccer stattos scratching their noggins. Was it a record? Well yes… and no. It was a record for the newly-reconstituted WPL, but definitely not an English women’s league record. That particular honour went to this epochal Arsenal–Belles clash at Highbury, which topped 18,000 way back in 1993. Arsenal’s Wylie and Ball scored either side of Coultard’s equaliser. Although beaten Donny roared back with a league and cup double the following season, this match arguably cast the die for Arsenal’s unhealthy long-term suffocation of domestic competition…

Background


The match was staged as part of a benefit day for stricken boxer Michael Watson. Islington pugilist Watson had graced a golden era of British middleweights alongside sworn rivals Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank.

The fearless trio wrote their names in boxing lore by going at it hammer and tongs in their frequent TV bouts with each other. At White Hart Lane in September 1991 Watson was ahead of Eubank on the judges’ scorecards before being decked by a fateful uppercut at the end of the 11th round.

Incredibly the lone ringside doc was unequipped and the ambulance which trundled through the dispersing crowd initially took Watson to the wrong hospital. It was well beyond the ‘golden hour’ for treating head injuries when Watson finally arrived at St Bart’s.

Top surgeon Peter Hamlyn battled all night to save Watson’s life but he remained in a coma and brain damaged. A slow and gutsy partial recovery took place over the following years at the family home in Chingford, under the watchful eye of mum Joan.

The fund raiser scooped around £86,000 towards Watson’s rehabilitation and he later clobbered the boxing authorities with a £1million lawsuit for their breathtaking negligence.

Schedule


Admission to the “extravaganza” was a fiver, and it was pay on the gate. The day began at 12:30 with an 11-a-side celebrity match between Arsenal fans and a team of sportsmen put together by Daley Thompson.

The Arsenal supporters’ team played semi-regularly for charity and featured the likes of ‘Lofty’, from TV’s Eastenders. Prior to his injury Watson had turned out for the side.

The women took to the field at 13:30, followed by a musical interlude at 15:00 courtesy of reggae legends Aswad. Once the widespread bogle dancing had subsided, it was time for the main event: Ex-Arsenal XI v Ex-Tottenham XI at 15:30.

The veterans’ match appeared imbalanced with Spurs fielding a string of soccer wrinklies including 1961 double hero Cliff Jones. On the other hand Arsenal had some younger legs in alongside their own golden oldies like squeaky-voiced World Cup winner Alan Ball.

John Lukic, Chris Whyte and David Rocastle were all coming off a terrible season with Leeds United, while “Champagne” Charlie Nicholas was still playing for Celtic. He was 31 but inhabiting the body of a much older man.

The finale at 17:30 saw spirited Watson wheeled onto the pitch to meet his public. At 19:00 there was an invitation-only gala dinner in Highbury’s glitzy Mezzanine Suite.

Arsenal


For the previous decade, the best players in the south of England had been hopping around together from team to team – desperately trying to knock Doncaster Belles off their perch.

Usually constellated around Debbie Bampton, these teams would battle the Belles in the WFA Cup before the formation of the inaugural National League in 1991.

On the cusp of the FA takeover of women’s football in 1993, Bampton’s Arsenal were the latest pretenders to Donny’s crown and perhaps the most dangerous, given their comparatively vast resources.

ARSENAL
1. Lesley Shipp
2. Kirsty Pealling
3. Michelle Curley
4. Vicki Slee
5. Gill Wylie
6. Sharon Barber
7. Sian Williams
8. Debbie Bampton
9. Jo Churchman (out 80)
10.Chris Couling
11.Naz Ball

Substitutes:
12.Sarah Mulligan
14.Michelle Sneddon
15.Kelley Few
??.Debbie Smith (in 80)

Coach:
Vic Akers

After casting envious glances at Millwall’s groundbreaking girls’ youth academy, Arsenal had built one of their own, which soon hoovered up all the best kids. Some came from as far afield as Scotland – in the case of Michelle Sneddon.

This had already started to bear fruit for the first-team in the shape of cultured full-backs Curley and Pealling. An infusion of talent from local rivals supplemented the youngsters. North London foes Tottenham were ruthlessly denuded of star players Gill Wylie and Sharon Barber.

England keeper Shipp (later Higgs), midfield duo Bampton and Williams, sweeper Slee and frontrunner Churchman were all ex-Millwall Lionesses. As was full-back Maria Luckhurst, who began the season with Arsenal but was not getting much of a look in.

In the week leading up to the match Arsenal had nicked yet another Millwall player – Keeley Salvage – who was a no nonsense centre-half bearing the sobriquet “Well Hard”.

Arsenal had won the previous season’s League Cup, beating Millwall Lionesses in the final at Alt Park, Knowsley. But Doncaster Belles were not one of the 18 entrants when it was hastily convened in January 1992 – apparently as an afterthought.

Since being promoted from the 1991–92 National League Division One South, Arsenal had made a mockery of their 12–1 ante-post odds for the top title. In fairness, manager Vic Akers had built a truly formidable outfit.

Prolific strikers Naldra “Naz” Ball and Jo Churchman cut a swathe through the opposition, while a miserly defence shipped only 10 goals in 22 league and cup outings going into this game.

Akers’ team boasted a powerful spine in the shape of Gill Wylie the big Irish centre-half, Debbie Bampton and Welsh goal-machine Naz Ball. Each carried a potent aerial threat from set-pieces, at a time when heading was a sorely-underdeveloped skill in women’s soccer.

When Arsenal visited Doncaster’s Armthorpe Welfare FC Ground on 21 February 1993, a thumping 2–0 defeat brought an abrupt end to their season-long winning streak.

But just when it seemed that the Belles had slapped down the latest bunch of mouthy upstarts, as they had hundreds of times before, they came unstuck themselves in a shock 3–2 defeat at Wimbledon.

That meant Arsenal would require only a point from their last game at Red Star Southampton for the title: IF they could pull off their Belles revenge mission on this big day out at Highbury…

Doncaster Belles


Doncaster Belles were reigning double winners but entered the match beset by problems. Ex-Leicester City pro Paul Edmunds had returned to the managerial hot-seat, after Jo Broadhurst’s dad Brian (ex-Chesterfield) filled in the season before.

BELLES
1. Tracey Davidson
2. Julie Chipchase
3. Louise Ryde
4. Joy McQuiggan
5. Loraine Hunt (out 33)
6. Michelle Jackson
7. Mandy Lowe
8. Gillian Coultard
9. Karen Walker
10.Gail Borman
11.Jan Murray

Substitutes:
12.Lorraine Young
14.Sheila Edmunds
15.Ann Lisseman (in 33)

Coach:
Paul Edmunds

Edmunds was still without Karen “Skiller” Skillcorn as an ACL rupture sustained in Spring 1991 was misdiagnosed and then the repeatedly-delayed treatment botched. At the time, crocked players were at the mercy of the NHS waiting lists.

Similarly, key midfielder Jackie Sherrard had hurt her knee in England’s Euro defeat in Italy the previous November. She had tried to play through the pain but eventually got a diagnosis of cartilage trouble and had to go under the knife.

Matters reached a head on 14 March 1993 when the Belles sensationally crashed 3–2 at Wimbledon. Legend has it, their first league defeat in 15 years.

Playmaker Jo Broadhurst must have been feeling sheepish, having served the first of a three-match ban at Wimbledon. The team bounced back to thrash Stanton Rangers 8–0, but were staring down the barrel of two defeats in three games without their creative lynchpin.

Philosophically, the rivalry with Arsenal cast into relief a clash of cultures. Belles players and staff simply could not get their heads around Arsenal’s gamesmanship and the po-faced, win-at-all-costs mentality underpinning it.

In Pete Davies’s I Lost My Heart To The Belles (1996) Broadhurst recalled the aftermath of the match:

“Us Belles were all singing, messing around – we were disappointed obviously, but it’s a game, we’ll have another chance – and them, they were just stood there. If that had been us we’d have been out partying, we always stay together when we’ve won something – but them, they went home.”

Broadhurst may have revised her opinion, as by the time Davies’s book came out she had herself been tempted south by Arsenal – who dangled the carrot of a paid gig in the club shop. Reborn as a striker she promptly hit the goal trail and breathed new life into her England career.

Joy McQuiggan, who hit the WFA Cup final winner for Leasowe Pacific in 1989, was one of the players drafted in as cover. Aptly, she bore a boxing-related nickname: being dubbed “Barry” after near namesake Barry McGuigan.

Mandy “Flo” Lowe and Ann Lisseman – later a big cheese in the police – were also adjusting to the demands of Belle-hood, although both would prove their mettle in the following 1993–94 season.

Match


Disaster struck for Doncaster Belles when Gill Wylie gave Arsenal the lead after just five minutes, heading in Curley’s corner. Then the bad luck continued when elegant centre-half Loraine Hunt tore her hamstring and had to be substituted after half an hour.

Undeterred, the depleted Belles kept scrapping and skipper Gill Coultard tore up the script by nodding in an equaliser on the stroke of half-time.

Just before the hour mark Naz Ball delighted organisers and the 18,196 crowd by scoring what proved to be the winner. She connected with Jo Churchman’s cross for the third headed goal of the match.

Akers unleashed livewire youngster Debbie Smith (not among the substitutes listed in the programme) for the last 10 minutes.

When local ref Bill Saville blew his whistle for full-time it left the Belles needing snookers to retain their National League title.

Epistemology


David Mills’ interesting article in She Kicks recently highlighted the poor record keeping which continues to blight women’s football. Mills is RIGHT that older records are “sketchy”, but WRONG when he then suggests an arbitrary ‘year zero’ cut-off point. Sketchy records can – and must – be made unsketchy!

Having said that, this article only considers matches from the formation of the first National League in 1991. Barnstorming Dick, Kerr’s Ladies famously brought 53,000 to Goodison Park, with at least another 10,000 locked outside.

Players: Clare Wheatley

Clare Wheatley: Buccaneering left-back who overcame injury to become an Arsenal icon

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Born: 4 February 1971, Kingston upon Thames

Position: Left-back

Debut: Croatia (A) 18 April 1996

Occupation: PE teacher (1996)

Ten years as a player and ten more as an off-field exec have made Clare Wheatley part of the furniture at Arsenal Ladies. Women’s Football Archive looks back at the once-capped England international’s career, part of an ongoing quest to profile EVERY woman to have played for England…

Londoner Wheatley got her start in five-a-side football before being taken on at locally-based giants of the day Friends of Fulham. But an enforced hiatus arrived when her prissy grammar school slapped its pupils with a football-ban.

Undeterred, she re-emerged with Sheffield Wednesday, while in South Yorkshire for her PE Teacher training course at Sheffield City Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University).

Back in the Big Smoke after graduation, Wheatley signed for Chelsea WFC in summer 1993. Chelsea boss Tony Farmer discerned leadership qualities and immediately handed her the team captaincy.

While Sheffield Wednesday had been jockeying for promotion to the National Premier League, Chelsea were in only their second year of existence and languishing in the lower echelons of the regional Greater London League.

Billed as Clare Stevens, Wheatley scored on her league debut in a 2–0 win at Leyton Orient on 26 September 1993. She became a fixture in Chelsea’s number 8 shirt and won over fans with her high energy and consistent goal threat from midfield.

More eye-catching displays for Chelsea saw Wheatley and prolific Julie Newell spirited away to national champions Arsenal Ladies’ pre-season training camp in 1995.

Crocked left-back Michelle Curley had been with Arsenal since their 1987 inception and rose from being one of the first ever female YTS players to playing for England. But an extended spell on the sidelines left her spot in the team open for Wheatley.

Manager Vic Akers famously warned his charges that “Arsenal Ladies is not a social club”. Wheatley soon bought into this ethos and became a trusted on-field lieutenant. She could “only stomach one episode” of bawdy 90s TV show Playing The Field.

In Arsenal’s German-style 3–5–2 there was an onus on the wing-backs to get forward. So Wheatley and Kirsty Pealling on the other flank conducted most of their business in the opposition half.

Wheatley’s Gunners league debut came in the rarefied environs of Anfield on 2 September 1995. The team rattled six unanswered goals past hapless 15-year-old debutante Rachel Brown in the Liverpool goal.

England manager Ted Copeland was casting about for a left-back and wasted no time in drafting Wheatley into the setup for the Euro 1997 qualifying campaign.

She entered the honoured ranks of England internationals as a substitute in England’s tricky away tie in Osijek, Croatia on 18 April 1996.

England won 2–0 thanks to strikes from Wheatley’s former Owls team-mate Vicky Exley, her first for England, and Kelly Smith. The match was notable for the debut of Mary Phillip and – shamefully – a pre-pubescent boy aiming a Nazi salute at black England star Hope Powell.

Disaster struck for Wheatley in April 1997 during a 6–0 win over understrength Millwall Lionesses. After tapping up Wembley’s Kelly Smith at Christmas time – already the best player in the country – Arsenal had romped to the league title.

Meanwhile Millwall were ploughing through a monster fixture pile-up in preparation for the Cup final on 4 May. It was a dead rubber fixture with a terrible outcome for Wheatley: the universally dreaded ACL knee injury.

She sat out the entire 1997–98 campaign and could not do her day job teaching PE. But better news arrived when Vic Akers got the gig as the men’s team’s kitman. This left a vacancy for a club development officer role which Wheatley delightedly snaffled.

After knee reconstruction surgery, Wheatley was back for 1998–99. She crowned her return with the killer second goal in Arsenal’s Cup final win over Southampton Saints at The Valley.

By admission, Wheatley had always battled fragile confidence – especially after her injury. She was destined never to win a second cap.

Mentally she held back the extra 2–3% needed to be a top international player. She remained a functional part of the Arsenal juggernaut without ever putting the hammer down and going hell for leather.

Wheatley was briefly forced into playing retirement in August 2001, after being wiped out by Doncaster Belles keeper Leanne Hall in the Charity Shield match at Kingsmeadow.

Hall presented Wheatley with a bouquet of flowers at the teams’ next meeting – a touch of class typical of the Belles.

Irrepressible Wheatley battled back again to represent the Gunners in the new-fangled UEFA Women’s Cup. She scooped a third FA Women’s Cup winner’s medal in 2004 and finally hung up her boots after bringing up a decade at the club in 2005.

“I’m now a team-mate of Lianne Sanderson and I can remember her in nappies – she calls me ‘Mum’ and when that happens it’s time to hang the boots up.”

When Arsenal Ladies godfather Vic Akers quit his General Manager role with the team in 2014, Wheatley was promoted into his shoes.

Players: Debbie Bampton

Debbie Bampton: Highly-decorated midfield powerhouse

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Born: 7 October 1961, Sidcup

Position: Midfielder

Debut: Netherlands (A) 30 September 1978

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

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

Part One: England


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No thanks, no fanfare, no nothing!

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

Part Two: Club


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casey Stoney: The Early Years

The making of a champion: England and GB captain Casey Stoney

[Photo removed by request]

A look back at Casey Stoney’s start in the game with Chelsea: where England’s durable ex-skipper forged the mental toughness which separates good players from great ones.

UPDATE: article amended on 14 November 2015 to reflect new information. See corrections and clarifications below.

Archaic FA laws saw Stoney booted out of her boy’s team at 11. She spent a wasted year in park football before pitching up at Chelsea WFC.

Sources remain divided about exactly how the move came about.

Either Stoney’s mum Sandra contacted the club through the local council, or Chelsea’s boss Tony Farmer spotted her charging about in the park.

[Photo removed by request]

Anyhow, she arrived as a spindly 12-year-old: a girl with a future in a woman’s world.

She burst into the first team in 1995–96, plundering seven goals from 19 games as Chelsea’s stylish number 10.

In 1996–97 Stoney found goals harder to come by, netting just twice.

She sat out six weeks of the campaign with injured ankle ligaments, a souvenir of her first meeting with the tough-tackling Millwall Lionesses.

Farmer was a master motivator who did not shirk from applying stick as well as carrot. In his programme notes he criticised his young team for their “woeful” lack of goals from midfield:

One of the reasons our return from midfield has been so poor is the reluctance of players to get forward into the danger areas when the opportunity has arisen and that has resulted in chances going begging. — Tony Farmer, “Talking Tactics” 24 April 1997

Meanwhile, England boss Ted Copeland was conducting a countrywide talent-trawl. He hoped to turn up skilful youngsters to replace his golden oldies.

Chelsea sent Stoney along to a trial where the verdict was a polite but firm “not good enough”.

All this added up to a heavy burden to heap on any 14-year-old’s slender shoulders.

Most angsty teens only have school exams, spots and having to tidy their room to sulk about!

These knocks may have derailed a lesser character but only added to Stoney’s confidence. Not confidence in an arrogant sense, but a level-headed and respectful inner belief in her capabilities.

Reborn as a defender, she famously battled her way into the England reckoning and stayed there, also playing her way to the top at club level.


Factfile: Chelsea Ladies

Women’s football scribe Cathy Gibb recalls a strong Chelsea team from bygone days: “What about the great Pat Budd days and her Chelsea team mates in the late 70’s and early 80’s who were quite a force to be reckoned with.”

Tony Farmer got the naming rights for a new Chelsea WFC in 1992, after a year of tough negotiations with Chelsea’s larger-than-life owner Ken Bates.

Farmer had been around the local circuit with Palace Eagles and Bedfont United. He drafted in Dave Impett as his trusty lieutenant.

The duo successfully badgered the Greater London League into letting Chelsea straight into Division Three, not the Division Five basement.

When they won Division Three at the second time of asking, the League parachuted them up into Division One for 1994–95.

But finishing second that season they entered the Premier Division for 1995–96, only for injuries to bite and Arsenal to nick a couple of their better players in Julie Newell and Clare Wheatley.

That was the football context into which young Stoney was thrust.

In summer 1996, wacky Ken Bates decreed that the ‘Women’ must become ‘Ladies’.


Verdict:

While Stoney blossomed in Chelsea’s shop window, a young seedling named Fara Williams was germinating in the club’s reserves.

Madcap boss Tony Farmer was clearly doing something right to bring through TWO of England’s all-time top talents.

But how many other potential world-beaters might have wilted under the hothouse glare?


Corrections and clarifications:

This article in its original form contained a number of inaccuracies, which have been corrected in the light of new evidence. Variously:

  • That “bowing and scraping” to Ken Bates was involved setting up the Chelsea women’s club.
  • That Stoney suffered “second season syndrome” (i.e. a loss of form) in 96–97.
  • That Chelsea’s elevation through the Greater London League’s divisions was akin to Man City’s artificial insertion into the WSL – and further that it “danced on the grave of sporting integrity”. In fact Chelsea were not moved up at other clubs’ expense, partly due to league reconstruction and partly because rival clubs promoted on sporting merit had refused their own places at the higher level.
  • That Ken Bates threatened removal of rights to the Chelsea name over the Women/Ladies nomenclature. Actually the dispute was over the women’s club’s links to their main sponsor, the Chelsea Independent Supporters Association (CISA), who Bates hated. In any case he could only remove the rights to club branding, not the name “Chelsea”. This may explain why the 1990–91 Greater London Premier Division had a team named Chelsea, as well as a Spurs AND a Tottenham!
  • That direct criticism of the team in the matchday programme notes amounted to “public berating”.
  • Any (indirect) implication that Chelsea enjoyed a financial advantage over rival teams, or did not enjoy good team spirit, was unintentional.

Administrator: Linda Whitehead

Linda Whitehead

Linda Whitehead ensconced at WFA HQ

Linda Whitehead ensconced at WFA HQ, 1980

Linda Whitehead: A lifetime’s dedication to women’s football in England

The smiling public face of the Women’s Football Association from 1980 to 1993, who later served Millwall Lionesses and Arsenal Ladies with distinction. Whitehead is a diligent and well-regarded sports administrator. With her contribution stretching across four decades, icon Whitehead is often hailed the greatest living authority on English women’s football.

In late 1980 a Sports Council handout let the Women’s Football Association hire its first paid employee: an ‘Administrative Assistant’. Blackburn’s bright and ambitious Linda Whitehead swept into the WFA’s swanky Westminster offices, wowed the interview panel and got the job.

In her 2013 interview with the estimable Girlstalkfooty website — delivered in flat vowels betraying her North West roots — Whitehead admitted her surprise at getting the gig.

Whitehead’s CV boasted a football background through short spells as PA to the commercial manager at Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers. After quitting teacher training college, she also spent a year on Mothercare’s management development programme and worked as a secretary for an engineering firm in Blackburn.

A football fan (Blackburn Rovers, with a soft spot for Birmingham City), Whitehead never played the game herself – her genius is for sports administration. On occasions when a ball came near her, she would even pick it up and chuck it back instead of kicking it.

Up against it from the start, Whitehead and the WFA operated in an extremely hostile environment for women’s football. Loons would send in rambling letters about Deuteronomy 22:5. Others found outlets for their antipathy which, while not as overtly deranged, were no less dangerous. Whitehead also copped some internal flak as the only salaried employee in what was always a completely voluntary organisation.

She must have needed thick skin and – at times – sharp elbows. But Whitehead quickly shored up her power base and by 1982 was the WFA’s secretary as well as administrator.

Life at the WFA was never dull. In April 1988 the Football League held a ‘Mercantile Credit Football Festival’ at Wembley and told the WFA to get a friendly organised. Holland had already been pencilled in when the organisers announced that the slot was only 15 minutes each-way.

The fiasco drew a stinging response from the Dutch FA: “women’s football is not a circus”. Whitehead took a more considered line, telling the Football League that the cancellation knocked a potential 5,000 fans off the event’s puny attendance. The 15 minutes each-way match went ahead though, with plucky Ireland standing in at late notice.

Barnsley-supporting women’s football historian Donna Woodhouse (2003) reported that Whitehead controversially moved the WFA’s offices from London to Manchester’s Corn Exchange in 1988.

To Whitehead it was a no-brainer to leave behind the Big Smoke’s exorbitant rents and life as a small fish in a big pond. But it put her at loggerheads with the other WFA officers, who were said to be hopping mad.

The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year Awards, the brainchild of pioneering sportswriter Sue Mott, made Whitehead their 1989 Administrator of the Year.

In 1986 Whitehead had invited the Football Trust’s Richard Faulkner (later Baron Faulkner of Worcester) into the WFA. A Labour Party grandee and quango regular, it was a major feather in the WFA’s cap to have someone of that calibre in the ranks.

Little did Whitehead know then that she had signed the WFA’s death warrant. Faulkner promptly set about rerouting Sports Council and Football Trust funding through the FA. In 1991 he deliberately nobbled the WFA by quitting as chairman, leaving them high and dry and making his goal of an FA takeover inevitable.

Many men view attempts by women to take up playing the game as tantamount to an invasion of privacy — Linda Whitehead, 1988

The potless WFA then spent a year or two drifting, rudderless. In an unguarded moment Whitehead’s frustrations boiled over: “it’s always the men who cause the problems,” she snapped. Woodhouse (2003) reported that the FA already had sneaky tentacles in women’s football since at least 1990, through their competitions department.

When the FA finally stepped in and wound up the WFA in 1993, Whitehead was made redundant. A folly which enraged the managers of the leading clubs, set things back many years and made the FA look profoundly clueless. Sadly, the pattern was set.

It speaks to Whitehead’s dignity and character that she stayed on as unpaid secretary of the National League in 1993–94.

When the FA took over direct running of the Women’s National League in 1994–95, an influx of County FA blazers dominated the new management committee. Much impetus was lost and progress stifled.

Although Whitehead and one or two other stalwarts remained, they were marginalised and not allowed to rock what became quite a cushy boat. Chairman and vice Chairman Peter Hough (Dorset) and Ray Kiddell (Norfolk) are still snoozing through meetings and munching complementary sandwiches 20 years later!

Football’s loss was athletics’ gain as Whitehead was soon snapped up by the South of England Athletic Association (SEAA), which remains her day job. A confirmed workaholic, she considers it a perk that the SEAA later let her carry on her football commitments in her own time.

Football was in her blood and in 1998 Whitehead was installed as Millwall Lionesess secretary. She had a tough act to follow: replacing Sue Prior who had been ousted in the most shameful episode in the great club’s long history.

In 2001 Arsenal Ladies boss Vic Akers headhunted Whitehead for a match day administrator and UEFA co-ordinator role. She became a valued part of the club’s expensive off-field operation and scooped an FA Special Achievement Award in 2007. In recent seasons Arsenal hit a slump and failed to qualify for Europe, scaling back Whitehead’s involvement somewhat.

She proudly attended Buckingham Palace in 2013 as one of 150 volunteers to be honoured as part of the FA’s 150th anniversary. Also that year Whitehead and Pat Gregory were presented with a commemorative stone at the FA Women’s Awards, belated and inadequate recognition of the WFA’s achievements against all the odds.

When England debuted at the new Wembley in November 2014, being horsed 3–0 by Germany, Anna Kessel’s pre-match article in The Guardian said of Whitehead:

The answer to almost every question regarding the history of women’s football since 1980 is “You’ll have to ask Linda Whitehead for that”.

Arsenal Ladies FC are a franchise

Vic Akers

Franchisee: Vic Akers

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.