Administrator: Pat Gregory

Patricia “Pat” Gregory

PatGregorysmall

Born: c.1947, London

Position: Unknown

Debut: N/A

Occupation: BBC Sport special projects manager (1993, 2005)

Pat Gregory: A lifetime dedicated to women’s football

First, an apology: until now the entire Women’s Football Archive project has been a pathetic joke. That’s because it has purported to tell the story of women’s soccer in England… with hardly any mention of Pat Gregory! This article is a small step towards putting that right.

Patricia Alice Jane Gregory
took over as WFA secretary from founding father Arthur Hobbs and later served as chairperson. Alongside Flo Bilton and June Jaycocks in a small band of dedicated volunteers, she kept the light of women’s football flickering through its dark days. She remained involved even after the FA takeover in 1993.

Gregory founded White Ribbon FC in June 1967 aged 19 and got involved in the South East of England League setup. The team debuted at the Deal Tournament at Betteshanger Colliery.

Sue Lopez’s Women on the Ball (1997) relates the tale of a schoolgirl Gregory writing to the local rag asking why women can’t play football. This sparked an influx of letters from other girls wondering exactly the same thing.

White Ribbon were named for Tottenham Hotspur – Gregory’s dad was a Spurs fan, but her brother supported Arsenal. And Gregory herself was a Chelsea fan!

As a footballing force White Ribbon never scaled the heights. Although they got out of their regionalised group in 1971’s Mitre Trophy, they were pasted 23–0 by eventual winners Southampton in the quarter-final.

While playing for White Ribbon, Gregory also took ballet dancing lessons. “I wasn’t good at either,” she lamented. White Ribbon fizzled out after eight years. It was off the field where Gregory’s mark would be made.

In Kicking Against Tradition (2005), Wendy Owen related an anecdote about touring England players hiding stinging nettles in Gregory’s bed as a mischievous practical joke.

With the unnamed culprit(s) giggling behind the door, stoic Gregory denied them their punchline: de-nettling her sheets without so much as a tut, then swiftly nodding off.

Although not much older than some of the England players, level-headed Gregory kept them in check by enforcing curfews and the like. Owen concluded that Gregory “had a wry sense of humour, which was probably just as well.”

Nae troosers: Gregory's letter to the first ever England squad

Nae troosers: Gregory’s letter to the first ever England squad, from Kicking Against Tradition (2005)

That sense of humour was in evidence again in May 1979, when England went to play a friendly in Denmark. On arrival the team trained in monsoon conditions – in what turned out to be the only kit they had brought.

Cue Gregory and her fellow WFA stalwarts frantically legging it round downtown Copenhagen in search of a launderette. England lost 3–1 in driving rain and the puny crowd of 300 or so was the lowest yet. But at least they didn’t debut a soggy, all-brown England kit.

Away from the practicalities of running a national football team on a shoestring budget, Gregory also developed a sideline in polite-but-firm letters. She fired off missives right, left and centre. Eventually, she prevailed on moderate elements within the FA – in 1970 Sir Denis Follows tore up the infamous 1921 woman ban.

A regular column penned by Gregory in the WFA’s newsletter sometimes posed bold questions, such as why were 14 of 19 regional leagues chaired by men? Pretty mild by today’s standards but radical stuff in the 70s.

Gregory was no revolutionary. She wanted the best for women’s football but her demands were modest: “Women who finish playing football should not be allowed to fade away; they are probably able to combine running a home with some administrative work for a club or league”.

Nor did she shy away from voicing inconvenient truths. Speaking to Donna Woodhouse in 2003, Gregory gave her withering verdict (“real dross”) on all too many male coaches taking up space in women’s football. This was coloured by personal experience at White Ribbon, who suffered: “a succession of appalling managers”.

On the other hand she was a long-time ally of Martin Reagan, a qualified and dedicated coach whose gracious personality was a perfect fit for the WFA.

Even the famed sense of humour had its limits. In 1988 fuming Gregory gave Linda Whitehead both barrels for unilaterally moving the WFA operation from London to Manchester.

She was also left raging at her replacement on the UEFA Committee for Women’s Football after 14 years. Following the FA takeover in 1993, Gregory still went to the meetings but found men increasingly colluded to keep women out.

The UEFA snub stung because, along with her German counterpart Hannelore Ratzeburg, Gregory had rebooted the committee in 1981. The original ran from 1971 to 1978 as an all-male affair, mandated to nip any chance of progress or development in the bud.

Ratzeburg and Gregory immediately got a Euro Championship up and running, then dug in for the long game: scrapping for every incremental improvement. Ditching Gregory for a stuffed County FA blazer was a step back to the dark ages. It was symptomatic of the FA’s disastrously high-handed approach since taking over.

Ever since the 1990s Ratzeburg’s Germany have battled the United States for world supremacy. Meanwhile, with Gregory and Co sidelined, England rapidly hit the skids: pig-headedly repeating the same mistakes, heads stuck in the sand like ostriches.

“When you trundle through life you don’t always realise that what you are fighting for will have an impact on so many others.” – Pat Gregory in 2013

In 2013 The FA presented Gregory and Linda Whitehead with a polished stone at the annual women’s football awards, to be stuck to the Bobby Moore statue outside Wembley.

Given the FA’s shoddy treatment of both the WFA and Bobby Moore when they were around, the edifice stands as truly breathtaking in the scope of its revisionism and hypocrisy.

Gregory was chuffed with the belated recognition, though: “It was a lovely event and something we could not have imagined ever happening. I couldn’t believe the number of people who came to say thank you for what we had done all those years ago.”

A letter to erstwhile FA supremo David Bernstein earlier in 2013 seemed to be behind the gesture. Warning against “whitewashing” the WFA’s achievements, Gregory had told Berstein: “It’s a bit sad and disappointing that what the WFA did for so many years has just disappeared in to the ether.”

Player: Sue Buckett

Sue Buckett: England’s original goalkeeper

Born: c.1946, Portsmouth

Position: Goalkeeper

Debut: Scotland (A) 18 November 1972

Occupation: Clerical supervisor (1972), Senior project engineer (1992)

Sue Buckett is an English football great. As England women’s first ever goalkeeper she won 30 caps in a 12-year international career which took her all over Europe. In a brilliant club career with Southampton, she played in 11 WFA Cup finals and won eight of them. Those who saw her play describe a calm and unshowy presence, who made acrobatic saves and plucked crosses out of the air with minimum fuss.

Most of the following info about Buckett’s achievements comes from the indispensable works of her former team mates, Sue Lopez (Women on the Ball 1997) and Wendy Owen (Kicking Against Tradition 2005)…

Southampton

In 1966 the intersection of England’s World Cup win and Southampton FC’s promotion to the top-flight kick-started a women’s football revival in the unlikely setting of leafy Hampshire. The famous Dick, Kerr’s Ladies of Preston had folded the previous year, so the lights had all but gone out on women’s football in England.

Buckett was part of a ‘new wave’ of women’s footballers, who had little in common with Dick, Kerr’s hefty northern lasses who puffed Woodbines and ate bread and drippings. Instead these well-mannered young ladies sprang from a Tory heartland and espoused a “jolly hockey sticks” ethos.

A pupil at prim Western Park Girls’ School in Southampton, Buckett was a talented netballer and came close to representing Team GB in canoeing. After getting bitten by the football bug she quit the other sports, except badminton which kept her reflexes in tune.

By necessity, she was a completely self taught goalkeeper. She admired Gordon Banks and started going to The Dell in order to study the top professional goalies at close hand.

A women’s league popped up with matches played on a Sunday at the public pitches on Southampton Common. Buckett played for Flame United, a team of office girls from Southern Gas.

Flame narrowly won the first ever league title in 66–67, then inked a sponsorship deal with local bookie Charlie Malianza. They rebranded as ‘Inter Malianza’, a tongue-in-cheek homage to Helenio Herrera’s Inter Milan, who dominated Europe in the 1960s before being laid low by Jock Stein’s Glasgow Celtic.

Buckett made her bow for the Southampton representative XI on 7 October 1967, in a 9–0 destruction of Ipswich at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley. Interestingly she played outfield, Lynn Attwood of Cunard was the original Southampton custodian.

Lopez reports that Buckett’s first game ‘between the sticks’ came on 18 July 1969, in a prestige friendly against crack Czechoslovakian outfit Spartak Jihlava at Nursling recreation ground. A 4–1 win sent Spartak back behind the old Iron Curtain with their tail firmly between their legs.

The match was attended by Welshman Ron Davies, who was the star centre forward of the male Southampton FC team recently promoted into the top-flight. He was the Rickie Lambert of his day!

In August 1967 Davies bagged a four-goal haul against Manchester United at Old Trafford, after which United boss Matt Busby hailed him the best in Europe. Sue Lopez remembers down-to-earth Davies as fantastically supportive of the women’s team’s endeavours.

At the 1970 Deal Tournament final, Buckett was party to a curious one–v–one sudden death penalty shootout between Southampton’s Sue Lopez and Cambuslang Hooverettes’ Paddy McGroarty. Buckett saved future England teammate McGroarty’s first effort and saw the second kick missed. Lopez also missed her first kick but secured Southampton’s first trophy with her second.

In 1971 Southampton beat out more Scottish opposition, Stewarton Thistle this time, to secure the Mitre Trophy (also known as the WFA Cup). Ultimately Buckett played in all ten of Southampton’s WFA Cup finals and collected eight winner’s medals.

When other Southampton players started to hang up their boots, around about 1978 or so, Buckett was determined to soldier on. She had won everything it was possible to win, but as a relative latecomer she had plenty of football left in her and wanted standards kept high.

When Southampton WFC folded in 1986, Buckett was among a group of players who headed to Red Star Southampton.

Hardy perennial Buckett was still around when the inaugural National League kicked off in 1991. In the opening match Red Star hosted Merseysiders Knowsley United at their Cam Alders ground on 15 September 1991.

Irish international Geraldine Williams famously netted the League’s first ever goal to put Red Star ahead after 17 seconds. Lee doubled the advantage on seven minutes, before Knowsley’s Woollam crashed a volley past Buckett on 17 minutes.

Red Star held on to win 2–1 and finished second to all-conquering Doncaster Belles that season. They also lost 4–0 to the Belles in the 1992 WFA Cup final at Prenton Park.

Forty-seven-year-old Buckett made a record 11th final appearance, but Donny’s Karen Walker extended her record of scoring a hat-trick in every round to ensure there would be no fairytale finish for Buckett.

Sue Lopez reported that Buckett hung up her gloves in 1994 and became the club physio. These days that would mean many years of exams and poring over boring diagrams. Luckily back then you only needed basic first aid training and an ability to hold a wet sponge.

Red Star were promptly relegated, but linked up with Southampton FC men and became Southampton Saints in 1995. In Saints’ 2–0 Cup final defeat to Arsenal Ladies in 1999, Fifty-something (!) Buckett was named on the bench as substitute goalkeeper.

While coaching at the Saints Buckett unearthed promising goalie Aman Dosanj, who later signed for Arsenal and won a scholarship to the US. Dosanj made a little bit of football history when she won a youth cap and became the first British Asian to represent England at any level.

Buckett later became a more than useful golfer on the veterans’ circuit, turning out for the prestigious Royal Winchester club.

England


Buckett and Sue Lopez were among a handful of Southampton players in Harry Batt’s England XI, which travelled to Northern Italy for the FIEFF European Cup in 1969.

When the WFA put together an official England team in 1972, Buckett was the obvious choice at number 1. But she still had to go through the regional trials to secure her place alongside young understudy, Susan Whyatt of Macclesfield.

England team mate Wendy Owen (2005) wrote:

“Sue Buckett, at twenty-eight years old, was their highly experienced goalkeeper. Eric [Worthington] chose her to be the backbone of the England team, a role she was to fulfil for many years. She was a supremely agile shot stopper, decisive on crosses and prepared to marshal her defence with calm authority.”

In the first match at Greenock’s Ravenscraig Stadium, England went behind when Buckett was beaten by Scotland’s Mary Carr. The ball came through a ruck of players—what the Scots might call a “stramash”— and past unsighted Buckett who dived in the icy mud.

Things looked ropey when England went 2–0 down in the first half, a corner kick sailing over Buckett’s head and straight into the net. To be fair, the scorer was a certain Rose Reilly – one of the greatest players of all time. Buckett’s blushes were spared when gutsy England hit back to win 3–2.

Redoubtable centre-half Wendy Owen gave Buckett’s safe hands much of the credit for England’s success in the following years, when they saw off all comers until being soundly beaten by Sweden (1975), then Italy (1976).

England’s 3–0 win over Belgium at the Dell on 31 October 1978 was a big deal for Buckett, who had often stood on those terraces as a paying supporter.

With evergreen Buckett maintaining top form into her mid-thirties and beyond, 1980s England boss Martin Reagan nevertheless had to do some long-term planning.

Terri Irvine, the Irish-born Aylesbury stopper who found fame on TV’s It’s a Knockout, was drafted in for a few games. But Buckett’s long-term successor in England’s gloves proved to be Terry Wiseman, the footballing illustrator who eventually became a legend in her own right.

Buckett collected a total of 30 England caps from 1972–1981 and a brief comeback in 1984. She never played in a major tournament because UEFA and FIFA shamefully dragged their heels in setting them up.

The Deal International Tournament

Fact:

The Deal Tournament (later known as the Deal International Tournament) was a women’s football competition first organised in 1967 by Arthur Hobbs, a carpenter with Deal Town Council.

Hobbs had been a decent amateur footballer in his youth and he settled in Kent after being posted there with the army in the 1940s.

A driven man possessed of great energy and focus, Hobbs became The Founding Father of women’s football in England.

Visionary Hobbs pioneered summer football for women more than 40 years before the FA WSL.

To get things moving, Hobbs reckoned a high profile tournament was in order. This would bring the top players and teams together, showcase the best the game had to offer and provide a focal point.

Held over a weekend in July, players were put up in local Bed and Breakfast establishments in Deal on the Kent coast. Wendy Owen (2005) recalled that matches were 15 minutes each way and played before decent crowds, but as far as the players were concerned, the social aspects outstripped the football.

The winning combination of women’s football and a seaside jolly would be repeated in the evolution of the sport at La Manga, Cyprus and so on.

The local male club Deal Town FC were keen to act as hosts, and even more keen to snaffle any proceeds via the “Mayor of Deal’s Appeal Fund for Deal Town FC”.

Deal Town had left the Southern League in 1966 after a humiliating season in which they won three of 46 league games.

Records indicate they pitched up back in a reformed Kent League in 1968, after languishing in the Greater London League for two seasons.

Their modest Charles Sports Ground had hosted two low-key women’s matches during 1966–67, which apparently went under the radar.

It was into 1967’s “summer of love” that Hobbs launched his tournament. He wanted to aid the development of women’s football, to give it purpose and direction.

The Kent County FA blocked use of the ground, on the pretext that 1921’s infamous ban on women remained on the FA’s dusty statute books.

To their enormous credit, Deal Town’s chairman and one other committee member immediately quit in disgust. They fired off a suitably angry broadside to the East Kent Mercury, the local rag.

Undaunted, Hobbs was backed to the hilt in his quest by David Ennals, later Baron Ennals, the great Labour Party statesman who was the local MP.

It is sometimes overlooked that women were banned from football not only by the FA, but also, notionally at least, by the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR; now the Sport & Recreation Alliance), the Government’s Department of the Environment (now part of DEFRA) and the Sports Council (now Sport England).

Kent’s famously militant miners1 came to Hobbs’ rescue and the first tournament went ahead on the playing fields of Betteshanger Colliery in Deal.

Politically savvy and always with an eye on the bigger picture, Hobbs knew he could not be seen to be funding the miners’ latest strike. Instead proceeds went to British Empire Cancer Campaign (BECC), which merged into Cancer Research UK in 2002.

Sue Lopez (1997) wrote that all teams for the inaugural edition were sourced from local workplaces or youth organizations. Staff from St Augustine’s Hospital in Canterbury, a lunatic asylum which later became notorious for its abuse of patients, also took part. Dover’s GPO (general post office) scooped the title.

For the second tournament in 1968, teams came from far and wide. The legendary Manchester Corinthians carried off the title.

Getting Corinthians involved was something of a coup for Hobbs. The Manchester outfit had drawn massive crowds all over the world, raising over £275,000 for charities like Oxfam and the Red Cross. Their veteran Secretary Manager Percy Ashley had also compiled a contact book fatter than Donald Trump’s wallet.

By 1969 52 teams entered the burgeoning tourney. Some of the more exotic entrants included Start Praha and Slavia Pramen Kaplice from Czechoslovakia, Austrians LFU from Vienna and Scottish champions, Cambuslang Hooverettes.

David Ennals MP presented the Cup to Corinthians, who retained their trophy by seeing off Deal Hockey Club in the final.

On 6 July 1969 after another successful tournament, Hobbs triumphantly announced the formation of “The Ladies Football Association of Great Britain”, which became the WFA.

In the 1970 final Southampton battled to a 0–0 draw with the Hooverettes. After normal time, a curious one-v-one sudden death penalty shootout between Southampton’s Sue Lopez and Hooverettes’ Paddy McGroarty decided the tie in the English team’s favour. Saints goalie Sue Buckett saved future England teammate McGroarty’s first effort and saw the second kick missed. Lopez also missed her first kick but gave Southampton their first trophy with her second.

1971 saw Ayrshire crackshots Stewarton & Thistle win, inspired by the incomparable Rose Reilly.

1972 was the final edition of the tournament, as the “Mitre Trophy” (WFA Cup) had started, while Hobbs stepped back from women’s football as his health failed. An upwardly mobile Thame Ladies team featuring Wendy Owen and Paddy McGroarty won the last ever title.

The second WFA Newsletter reported that 10 teams took part in 1972: Thame, Hooverettes, Southampton, Aston Villa, Willie Walker Wonders (later Watford LFC), FC Davo, Deal, Emgals, Fodens and Crystal Palace. By then, thanks to the hard work of Hobbs and others, Deal Town’s Charles Sports Ground was the venue.

Owen said that Thame’s run to the semi-finals of that year’s WFA Cup had qualified them for the Deal Tournament.

In 1975 Hobbs died after a heart attack on the Deal seafront he loved. He wrote his name in the stars. The success of the game today stands as a living, breathing monument to Arthur Hobbs’ vision.

When Team GB beat Brazil in front of a packed Wembley Stadium in the 2012 Olympics, it is tempting to imagine that Hobbs was looking down with a broad smile on his face.

Year Winners Score Runners–up
1967 Dover GPO
1968 Manchester Corinthians
1969 Manchester Corinthians Deal Hockey Club
1970 Southampton 0–0 Cambuslang Hooverettes
1971 Stewarton & Thistle
1972 Thame Fodens

Opinion:

By the end of the swinging 60s the FA’s 1921 ban of women’s football was an anachronism. Like one of those quaint but ridiculous English laws which remain on the statute book long past their sell by date.

Y’know, like the one allowing the murder of a Scotsman within York’s walls, so long as it is with a bow and arrow.

Or the one giving a pregnant woman carte blanche to pee ANYWHERE. Even—it is said—in a policeman’s helmet.

The previous summer, England’s male footballers threw off their perennial loser status to win the 1966 World Cup at Wembley Stadium.

That sent legions of England’s little girls scurrying outside with a football, eager to emulate the figures on their grainy black and white television sets.

Then an unwelcome intrusion from the distant past arrived with a thuddering jolt. The local FA pathetically tried to ban the Deal event, pointing to the FA’s 1921 “quite unsuitable for females” edict.

In doing so Kent’s blazers marked themselves out as surely the thickest and most reactionary of all the county FAs.

But scarily they were by no means alone. This was the awful situation Hobbs’ journey started out in.

Bigotry held no truck with Hobbs. His revulsion was the motor which drove the formation of the WFA and kick-started women’s football in England.


1. A few of the more incorrigible lads had even been out on strike during World War Two!