Patricia “Pat” Firth: Wunderkind striker and pioneering female coach
Born: c.1957, Leeds
Debut: Scotland (H) 23 June 1973
Occupation: Production worker (1976)
Born: c.1957, Leeds
Debut: Scotland (H) 23 June 1973
Occupation: Production worker (1976)
…Back to the football then (craving your indulgence Eni!) England kick-off their latest bid for World Cup glory at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park, in an opening qualifier against Russia later this month. And that’s all the excuse we need to recall Prenton Park’s first big women’s fixture; this classic Cup final in 1991 between Doncaster Belles and Millwall Lionesses. Odds-on favourites Donny lost out on a fifth win in their eighth final, as Yvonne Baldeo’s 65th-minute winner handed the spoils to first-time finalists Millwall.
Born: c.1959, Worksop
Occupation: Sales receptionist (1983, 1985), Clerk (1986)
A Worksop-born Sheffield Wednesday supporter, Hanson cut her teeth in street football with the boys in a Nottinghamshire mining town, much like future team-mate Jackie Sherrard.
As a bright prospect with Carr Fastener (a factory team from Stapleford) she made Tommy Tranter’s England squad for the 2–0 win over France at Plough Lane, Wimbledon, on 7 November 1974.
She sat on the substitute’s bench alongside Carol Thomas and Liz Deighan, who came on to make the first appearances of their illustrious Lionesses careers.
At just 14 years old Hanson was there for the experience. But if she did make it on the pitch she must be England’s youngest ever senior player.
The programme for England’s match against Sweden at Ullevi on 15 June 1975 listed ‘Loiraina Dobb’ at number 7. The Swedes won 2–0 to inflict England’s first defeat.
Hanson’s opposite number Ann Jansson hit both goals in the game played over 30 minutes each-way before a Swedish WNT record crowd of 2,963.
Fifteen-year-old Pia Sundhage debuted for Sweden, the first of many duels Hanson fought out with the all-time great. Hanson later put on record that Sundhage was the best player she ever faced.
At the 1976 Pony Home Championships, schoolgirl Hanson was attached to Nottingham Rangers. She joined Notts League rivals Doncaster Belles in 1977.
In the 3–0 win over Belgium at The Dell, Hanson won a 14th cap. It was England’s first match on a top tier ground and attracted a record crowd of 5,500.
Hanson then quit England duty for a spell. She snubbed the unofficial 1979 Euros, being described as “retired” in Sue Lopez’s Women’s Football magazine report (Lopez’s scare quotes).
A few England players drifted away at this stage, disgruntled at the sport’s lack of progress. UEFA’s women’s sub-committee (all-male) had folded, so the prospect of proper tournaments receded.
In 1979 Eileen Lillyman of Bronte was drafted in as a replacement sweeper, but broke her leg the following year.
Hanson was recalled by England boss Martin Reagan in May 1982 for a friendly with Sweden in Kinna. Reagan made changes after seeing his side horsed 3–0 by Norway at Cambridge in October 1981.
She formed a front three with Tracy Doe and Janet Turner as England took credit from a bruising 1–1 draw.
Swedish FA records attribute England’s goal to Hanson, but Reagan’s report in the WFA News is clear that Doe did the damage.
Lorraine married Belles gaffer Richard Hanson on 20 November 1982 at Worksop Priory Church. On the first day of their honeymoon she played for the Midland region vs South East region at Leicester!
Romance had blossomed when her car broke down and Richard swooped with the offer of a lift to training and matches.
That season she put the Belles in their first ever FA Cup final, heading the winner in a tense 2–1 semi-final win over Friends of Fulham at Imber Court Metropolitan Police Ground.
The programme for the 1983 Cup final at Lincoln’s Sincil Bank named Hanson as the only England player in Donny’s squad.
She wore number 9, leading the line in the Belles’ 3–2 victory. But for England she nailed down a spot at centre-half during the Euro 84 qualifying campaign, alongside Angie Gallimore.
According to Cathy Gibb’s match report, Hanson conceded a “dubious” penalty in the Euro 84 semi-final at Crewe, despite her “faultless” performance.
Hanson played well in the final but suffered heartbreak when her kick was stopped by Elisabeth Leidinge in the Lionesses’ shoot-out defeat at Kenilworth Road, Luton. It was her 27th cap.
She scored both Donny’s goals in their 2–4 1984 final defeat by Howbury Grange. She was denied a hat-trick by a “last minute despairing Sallie Jackson tackle”.
In 1985 she played in the final at Craven Cottage, but England midfielder Brenda Sempare led the Belles a merry dance in Friends of Fulham’s 2–0 win.
Hanson started England’s first two Euro 87 qualifiers, but was absent from the 85 Mundialito. She also missed the Belles’ 1986 Cup final defeat by Norwich, as she was three months pregnant.
After welcoming daughter Jenna, she came back in 1986–87, only to find Kaz Walker installed at centre-forward. Walker promptly hit the goal trail, and didn’t let up for 20 years!
Doncaster Belles recaptured the Cup in 1987 at the City Ground and retained it the following year with a 3–1 over Leasowe at Gresty Road, Crewe.
Hanson left Donny after 12 seasons in 1989 and is believed to have hung up her boots.
Wheelchair-bound boxer Michael Watson on the Highbury turf, surrounded by chart-toppers Aswad
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…
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
As well as being the editor of She Kicks, Jen O’Neill played to a high standard with Sunderland. The north-easterner is steeped in the game. So she was uniquely qualified to pull off the event and did an excellent job as host and interviewer.
Kieran Theivam who runs Women’s Soccer Zone was a sort of compère. Sharp-suited and clutching his iPad, Theivam greeted you in his soothing podcast voice then ticked you off the digital register.
With O’Neill on this momentous occasion were Belles legend Karen Walker and chirpy TV scouser Sue Smith, as well as a very special mystery guest…
The great and good of this famous old club descended on Doncaster’s Cask Corner Dive Bar, resulting in a healthy turnout. Everywhere you looked sparked vague flickers of recognition, faces who grin out from photos of Belles triumphs in years gone by. Gail Borman a prime example.
Janet Milner’s shock of blonde hair was also in evidence, a familiar sight for regulars at the Keepmoat where she is a steward. Goalie Milner was herself capped by England before a knee injury scuppered her Belles career and she turned her hand to coaching little ‘uns.
Legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly famously invited the press corps to circumnavigate his strapping new centre-half Ron Yeats. In much the same way, guests had to circumnavigate Belles’ current skipper Leandra Little to get to the bar!
Other dignitaries included founder Sheila Edmunds, high-powered exec Faye Lygo and influential fans’ chief Sarah Maye. There was a smattering of youngsters, who must have been youth teamers, some with their dads.
It all added up to a very special vibe, if not an aura. If the #SHEKICKSBACK roadshow rolls round to Doncaster again there’s surely fertile ground for a follow up.
A range of drinks were available with Peroni (£4) among the offerings. On one occasion Peroni’s barrel needed changing so a Czech alternative, named Zot, or similar, was pressed into action. The crisps were of the premium, kettle chip variety: thick and crunchy but with a somewhat oily aftertaste.
The bubbly barmaid addressed customers as Doll. It seemed like a quaint Doncastrianism but subsequent checks with genuine Doncaster folk trashed this theory. The cosy venue afforded a handful of seats in three short rows as well as one or two comfy pleather sofas and standing room at the back.
Bizarre decor (“random tat” was overheard) adorned the walls and was suspended from the ceiling. Worryingly, one such item was a dusty scythe – which ensured grisly Final Destination-style visions marred the evening for those underneath.
First up was Karen, or Kaz, Walker and it quickly became clear why the organisers had sought her out. She was a straight-talking embodiment of what journos term “good value”.
She quipped that no-one understands her Barnsley accent, even in Hull where she works as a cop. Throughout proceedings, extroverted Walker called it exactly as she saw it. As well she might. No offence to Hull, but its hard to imagine too many shrinking violets policing its gritty streets!
She joined the Belles as a teen because her next door neighbour Karen “Skiller” Skillcorn was already there. After the centre-forward (this must be Lorraine Hanson?) got pregnant Walker nailed down a regular place up front. She soon discovered a happy knack for rattling in goals.
Walker voiced a suspicion that the best players in the South would all hop from team to team, congregating at places like Fulham and Millwall. All part of a dastardly plot to try and topple the Belles.
It does have a ring of truth about it. Remarkably Sallie Jackson won three successive WFA Cups with three different Southern teams in ’84, ’85 and ’86, dumping the Belles in all three finals. Perhaps a future edition of #SHEKICKSBACK will track down Jackson for the other side of the story?
Walker said she was taken to the 1988 Mundialito tournament for squad experience, but was pressed into action when Jane Stanley fainted during the first match. She scored with her first touch in England’s 3–0 win over hosts Italy’s B team.
She remained proud of her record – surely never to be broken – of hitting a hat-trick in every round of the FA Women’s Cup, including the final. This got the first clap of the night. Although she’d forgotten the year and the opposition (It was Red Star Southampton in 1992, fact fans).
In a surprising development, Walker namechecked the recent FAWPL Charity Trophy match in Stratford as one of the best moments of her career. Her face lit up as she described how magical it was to be reunited with old pals from bygone England days. Brenda Sempare got a mention in this context.
O’Neill asked about the time England boss Ted Copeland summarily bombed Walker out. Instead of buttonholing her after training or picking up the phone, Copeland instead typed up and posted Walker a litany of alleged defects in her game.
Sadly this intriguing piece of football history has been lost. Walker now sees the funny side, but still bristles at the suggestion that she didn’t work hard or wasn’t a team player. She wondered aloud if her habit of sticking up for others had left Copeland’s nose out of joint.
Copeland soon had egg on his face when Karen Farley, England’s other powerhouse forward, blew her knee out. That left veteran midfielder Hope Powell leading the line for England’s Euro 1997 qualification play-off against Spain in September 1996.
A toothless defeat cost England a place at the finals. There had even been chat of England hosting. All the experience, exposure and (probably) funding that would have gone with it went up in smoke. With the benefit of hindsight it was not one of Ted’s better decisions!
Despite all her success, Walker – a self-confessed Manchester United fan – admitted to limited actual football knowledge. She would implore her team-mates: “Just cross it in!” So she never went into coaching or kept up the punditry after dabbling at the 2007 World Cup.
Current Belle Sue Smith replaced Walker for the next segment, a different proposition with at least a couple more chapters still to be written in her own brilliant career.
She had a polished and relaxed speaking style, honed by her years of media work. On occasion O’Neill playfully teased behind the diplomatic responses: “What’s the non media-friendly answer?”
Smith became firm friends with Rachel Yankey, despite being rivals for England’s left-wing berth. The pals share a sunny disposition and a similar outlook on life. As dressing room young guns they were the practical jokers with a string of pranks behind them.
The night’s special guest was revealed as none other than ex-Belles and England stalwart Gill Coultard. After being clapped up onto the stage, Coultard’s answers were usually quieter and more considered than Walker and Smith’s – but just as engaging.
It was soon clear that, unlike Walker, deep thinker Coultard keeps bang up to date with the women’s football whirligig. Her eyes seemed to twinkle with pride as O’Neill expertly reeled off some career highlights.
The biggest cheer of the night went up for Coultard’s greatest achievement of all: beating breast cancer. Ten years cancer-free, she told the applauding audience.
It was no surprise. Week after week, year after year this great champion was out in the middle of the pitch waiting for the very best the opposition could throw at her.
As Coultard still had her finger on the pulse she could cover ground Walker couldn’t. Did she think money would spoil women’s football like the men’s? Things are heading that way. Did she think too many WSL foreigners could harm young English players’ development? It was a worry.
All three players displayed a startling lack of bitterness, considering today’s England players get everything on a plate and pull down serious spondulicks into the bargain. While acknowledging their own part in moving things on, they insisted they’d not swap a minute of their careers.
The first question from the floor asked the panel how come they never signed for foreign teams. Smith, who at one time had American colleges falling over themselves, said she never fancied it as her family and mates took precedence.
Ditto Coultard and Walker, who dubbed themselves “home birds”. A knowledgeable comeback from the questioner mentioned Scots great Rose Reilly and the pro Italian league of the day.
Walker agreed that she would have made a decent fist of Serie A (like Reilly rather than costly flops like Luther Blissett and Mark Hateley). But she was just too proud to play for the best team in the country and too loyal to those who gave her the chance.
Next up: which male player were the panel most often compared to by the press? Walker and Coultard shot each other a glance and appeared to be stumped by this one.
Of course in Coultard’s case the correct answer to this question was Bryan Robson, or sometimes Sammy Lee. In many respects Coultard was the player ‘Captain Marvel’ Robson could have been, if he reined in the bevvying and stopped picking up daft injuries.
Smith demurred although at another point in the night she told an anecdote – about getting marooned in a rowing boat – which was striking in its similarity to a famous maritime mishap which befell Celtic’s Jimmy Johnstone. “Wee Jinky” would have approved of Smith’s skilful wing play.
Barrie Williams, briefly manager of England in 1991, once gave an interview hailing Walker as the female Kevin Keegan. Although that may have had more to do with the fashionable perm she was sporting at the time!
Another questioner had a slightly different twist on the same theme: which current player was most like the panelists themselves?
Fara Williams was Coultard’s verdict, as she praised the Liverpool midfielder’s influential displays at the recent World Cup. She was much too modest to say it, but perhaps Coultard could be described as marrying Williams’s finesse with a dash of Katie Chapman’s steel.
Walker came clean, saying she couldn’t answer as she hadn’t seen enough recent stuff. O’Neill ventured the name Julie Fleeting and said if only the Ayrshire hotshot had been English, Walker’s loss may not have been so keenly felt by the Lionesses.
Asked for her view, Belles supremo Sheila Edmunds shouted from the floor that neither the club nor England had ever replaced Walker. That’s probably true and you might need to widen the net to include recently-retired Yank Abby Wambach to find a recent facsimile of Walker’s all-action style.
Another fine exponent of getting across the pitch and defending from the front was Gutteridge, recently of Sunderland. Grafter Gutteridge stood out by playing with her hair down and never gave defenders a second’s peace, although she lacked Walker’s myriad other attributes.
Then came Women’s Football Archive’s moment in the sun: what were Walker and Coultard’s memories of their first England boss Martin Reagan?
With a chuckle they settled on “eccentric”, unimpressed by Reagan’s droll habit of teaming snug-fitting sports shorts with sensible dress shoes and socks. Walker also remembered her debut when the ball was blasted into Reagan’s face from close range. Remaining inscrutable, he never even flinched.
Both had obvious affection for the man who gave them their shot at being England players, albeit they weren’t too sure of his footballing credentials.
With a smile Coultard recalled Reagan’s strong faith. He would get WFA boss Linda Whitehead on the case wherever England were playing: “Have you found me a church yet Linda?”
During World War Two the mysterium tremendum et fascinans came upon Reagan in his tank after he cheated death. Then he witnessed the spectacle of three horses galloping across a field only for the middle one to be exploded by a land mine.
To be fair, if he wasn’t a religious man before his wartime exploits, you can see why he was afterwards!
The names Becky Easton and Karen Burke cropped up in dispatches once or twice. They were scousers but adopted Doncastrians. Salt of the earth types who impressed everyone when they came to play for the Belles and wove themselves into the fabric of the club.
By all accounts Chantel Woodhead was every bit as kooky as her portrayal immortalised in Pete Davies’s I Lost My Heart to the Belles (1996). Tough Huddersfield lass Sam Britton got into countless scrapes down the years, the recollection of which raised laughs all round.
Just when it seemed nothing could top that, it was said that any stories involving Jo Broadhurst were off-limits. Too X-rated even for the post watershed audience. The mind boggles…
It was the day before Sue Smith’s birthday, so a cake materialised amidst a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday. Theivam bounded back on stage to announce the night’s proceeds were winging their way to a breast cancer charity.
With that it was out the doors and back to reality with a depressing thud. Freezing, horizontal rain battered the concrete dystopia of Doncaster town centre. A local simpleton harangued passers by as the grim A1 beckoned.
Ho hum. When’s #SHEKICKSBACK 3?
Born: 7 October 1961, Sidcup
Debut: Netherlands (A) 30 September 1978
Occupation: Cashier (1981), Selector (1982), Courier (1987), Footballer (1988), Postwoman (2005)
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”.
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.
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.
Twenty-five years ago Gillian Coultard’s 60th minute goal condemned Friends of Fulham to their second successive WFA Cup final defeat, before 3,000 fans at Derby’s Baseball Ground. It was the Belles’ fourth Cup win from their seventh appearance in the season’s showpiece. Resurgent Doncaster settled a score from their 1985 defeat by the Londoners and also made up for the previous year, when a shock quarter-final defeat by Leasowe Pacific had denied them their annual Cup final outing.
Channel 4 provided coverage of this, the competition’s 20th final, with an hour-long highlights programme screened at 5.30pm the following day.
The top-flight stadium in Derby was free because Derby County men were away at Man City that day. They won 1–0 thanks to a goal from Mark Wright, who was playing his way into Bobby Robson’s Italia ’90 squad.
Back at the Baseball Ground a crowd of 3,111 showed up for the women’s final. Not spectacular, but still three times more than the paltry turnout who rattled around inside Old Trafford at the previous season’s showpiece.
Although the Baseball Ground was notorious for the often shocking state of its pitch, this match took place on a warm, sunny day with conditions dry and hard underfoot.
Neither team were clad in their traditional colours. Doncaster Belles were in royal blue shirts with white shorts, while Friends of Fulham donned a fetching “yellow and emerald” affair.
Doncaster Belles entered the final unbeaten for four seasons in their regional League. Friends of Fulham had won their sixth consecutive Home Counties League Cup two weeks before.
The teams had met in the 1985 final at Craven Cottage, when two goals in three first-half minutes from Cheryl McAdam and Cathy Hynes gave Friends of Fulham a 2–0 win to claim their first Cup. It was known as The Sempare Final after a virtuoso display by England midfielder Brenda.
Two years previously the Belles reached their first final only after a titanic semi-final with Friends of Fulham at Imber Court Metropolitan Police Ground. After Elaine Cozens had cancelled out Denise Pittock’s opener to bring Fulham level, Lorraine Hanson’s thumping header sent the Belles through.
These closely-fought previous meetings ensured that the teams approached their latest encounter with a healthy degree of mutual respect.
En route to the final Friends of Fulham beat Arsenal Ladies 4–0 in the quarter-final at Enfield Town. Marieanne Spacey scored the opening goal against the Gunners, her future employers.
In the semi-final at Millwall’s Den, Friends of Fulham triumphed 3–0 over tough Lancastrian outfit Preston Rangers. Another goal from Spacey and a Brenda Sempare double did the damage. Women’s football writer and historian Gail Newsham was playing for Preston that day and still recalls with some pride her tackle on Spacey, or her “claim to fame”!
In the quarter-final, Doncaster Belles exacted crushing revenge on Cup holders Leasowe Pacific. The Merseysiders had the temerity to boot the Belles out at the same stage the previous year, but were swept aside 5–0 this time.
The semi-final game at Millwall produced an even more ruthless display, as a St Helens team in sad decline were beaten 7–0. Gail Borman and Jackie Sherrard scored hat-tricks to add to Karen Skillcorn’s strike.
Belles’ midfield general Gillian Coultard went into the 1990 final at her imperious best. Newly-installed as national skipper in the absence of crocked Debbie Bampton, she had struck the only goal as England beat Belgium 1–0 at Bramall Lane three weeks previously.
Spacey and Sempare lined up alongside Coultard in Sheffield, but old friendships were put on ice for 90 minutes while Cup winner’s medals were at stake.
England’s Belgium victory was achieved with Fulham’s Terry Wiseman on the bench, as her long-time understudy Tracey Davidson got the nod from England boss Martin Reagan. Wiseman had a cracked rib, a legacy of Friends of Fulham’s semi-final against Preston.
The friendly rivalry continued with both goalkeepers at opposite ends of the pitch for the Cup final. Both were desperate to impress, with big qualifying games against Norway and Germany coming up and the first ever FIFA-sanctioned World Cup looming on the horizon.
Derby County and England keeper Peter Shilton had an open training session with Wiseman and Davidson the day before the final. The Women’s Football Association hoped it would serve as a photo op and drum up some much-needed publicity.
Since Wiseman’s England career overlapped with Shilton’s she was inevitably branded his female equivalent. As a girlhood Nottingham Forest fan Davidson had idolised “Shilts”, who held England’s all-time cap record until he was surpassed by Rachel Yankey in July 2013.
Wiseman took her place in goal but was among Fulham’s walking wounded, as a bruising season of club and international football took its toll.
The right-back was Lori Hoey, resplendent as always in her Johan Cruyff-style number 14 jersey. An experienced campaigner, she had three England caps including one from the Euro 87 semi-final defeat by Sweden. She might have had more caps but for the form of Carol Thomas and Sue Law.
Promising England under-21 cap Mandy O’Callaghan played at left-back. At centre-back Friends of Fulham named Karen Gale, a revelation since signing that season from lower-division Bracknell Ladies.
Alongside Gale was another new signing, Welsh international Deborah Fox – a seasoned campaigner who cut her teeth at Maidstone beside Wendy Owen and already boasted a winner’s medal collected with Howbury Grange in 1984.
The Fox–Gale axis at the heart of Fulham’s defence unshackled Marieanne Spacey who had spent much of the previous season playing at centre-half. Instead, her quicksilver blend of brawn and brilliance was put to use in midfield.
Fiona Curl and Brenda Sempare – the star of the 1985 final – joined Spacey in a midfield three. Record-goalscorer Cheryl McAdam and livewire youngster Livvy Hughes flanked reigning club Player of the Year Lynn Jacobs in attack. Jacobs was preferred to Republic of Ireland cap Cathy Hynes, who warmed the bench alongside utility player Terry Springett (daughter of Ron).
Since their defeat in the previous year’s final, Friends of Fulham had lost the talent and goals of Hope Powell who had returned to Millwall Lionesses. The club had also installed a new manager in Fred Brockwell, whose predecessor George Curl stayed on as a coach.
Davidson lined up in her fifth Cup final for the Belles. She had stood in for Janet Milner in 1983, then returned to the club two years later to play in the 1986, 1987 and 1988 events. She famously saved Ali Leatherbarrow’s penalty in 1987 to help break the club’s Cup final hoodoo of three successive defeats.
Future Belles boss Julie Chipchase was at right back with high-kicking Taekwondo champ Louise Ryde in the other full-back berth.
Michelle “Mickey” Jackson and Loraine Hunt were the centre-halves. Both were bank workers who also played for England. Hunt was a stylish sweeper who modelled her game on Franz Beckenbauer and Ray Wilkins.
That did not square with her club nickname (“bone head”) which hinted at a willingness to get stuck in where the boots were flying!
England regulars Coultard and Jackie Sherrard formed a central midfield partnership of commitment, courage, stamina and skill. Football maverick Jo Broadhurst was a nominal right winger with license to get on the ball wherever possible. She was nursing a toe injury reportedly caused by falling down the stairs at home.
Diligent utility player Karen Skillcorn was deployed on the left flank. She was in the terrific form which won her a couple of England caps before a “Gazza knee” laid her low.
Striking powerhouse Karen Walker led the line alongside Gail Borman. The week after the Cup final Borman crowned her England debut with a goal, in a 4–0 win over Auld Enemy Scotland at Love Street, Paisley.
Coach Paul Edmunds risked the ire of wife Sheila by naming the club founder and two-goal hero of the 1983 win on the bench. Since their last Cup win two years previously the Belles had lost club stalwart Lorraine Hanson to retirement.
Seven minutes into the game, Coultard needed extensive treatment after being unceremoniously dumped by England pal Spacey. Broadhurst’s free kick was on target but smartly touched over the bar by an alert Wiseman.
Friends of Fulham were working like Trojans to limit the Belles’ chances, but they still relied heavily on the inspired form of goalkeeper Wiseman. England’s Euro 84 legend made notable first-half saves from Sherrard and Walker.
While Fulham were never overrun – they were much too good for that – they struggled to impose their own attacking armoury on the game. Spacey ended up marking Coultard, while Brenda Sempare could not run the show as she had in the sides’ 1985 final at Craven Cottage.
An efficient, well-oiled unit under coach Edmunds, Doncaster Belles favoured a high-tempo pressing game. They hunted in packs and quickly swarmed round opposition threats in twos and threes.
Karen Walker was locked in a running battle with flinty Deborah Fox, who had an excellent game. Walker’s string of neat passes and flicked headers fed Borman, whose tireless running occupied the rest of the Fulham defence.
The all-important goal came on the hour. Marauding Gillian Coultard played a one-two with Borman and hit an accurate drive into the side of the net from just outside the penalty area. Unsighted by a stray defender, Wiseman was finally beaten.
Coultard, sporting a new perm for the television cameras, was always at the heart of the action. In the second-half she returned Spacey’s first-half compliment, clattering Fulham’s club captain into a heap.
Then Springett, on for McAdam who had tweaked her Achilles tendon, decked Coultard for the second time in the match and was promptly booked by Barnsley ref Dave Phillips.
On 80 minutes Edmunds shored things up by replacing Broadhurst with defender Yvonne Bagley. The Belles held on to win the Cup although Fulham never stopped fighting and Spacey was crowded out by a packed defence in the final moments.
Outspoken former Man United boss Tommy “The Doc” Docherty hailed Coultard’s strike as one of the goals of the season.