Martin Reagan (1924–2016): The man who stepped up to save women’s football in England
Women’s football lost one of our own with Martin Reagan’s recent passing, but his deeds will never be forgotten
Carol Thomas (née McCune): England’s unsung heroine
Born: 5th June 1955
Debut: France (7th November 1974)
Last game: Republic of Ireland (22nd September 1985)
Occupation: Clerk (1974–85), Lunchtime Supervisor (1993–2001), Village Postie (2001–2013)
On 30th July 1966 football history was made at Wembley, but further north, a few days later, football history of a different kind was made. A young Carol McCune, inspired by those World Cup heroes, played her first competitive football game for a local side, BOCM. The shy 11 year old youngster started as a free scoring winger with a boundless appetite for the game. This talent was soon recognised by WFA stalwart and member of the England backroom staff, the late Flo Bilton. Flo quickly snapped up Thomas for her own team, Reckitts. After a couple of seasons, Thomas joined local rivals, Hull Brewery and it was there her career took off. She played in a variety of positions, which only served to enhance her all round knowledge and understanding of the game. Over time, it quickly became evident that those early days on the wing had seen her unwittingly assimilate the necessary skills to later become a world class full back, internationally respected throughout the women’s game.
AN ABILITY RECOGNISED
Her blossoming career was soon rewarded with representative honours – gaining a regular place in the Hull District representative side, quickly followed by the North of England squad whilst still being a teenager. She quickly secured the right back position as her own in the Northern regional squad, playing alongside England captain Sheila Parker. In August 1974, still only 19, she was invited to Lilleshall to take part in the first coaching course for women run by England manager, Tommy Tranter. This has to be put into context. Women footballers were still usually met with derision and scepticism, but the thought of a woman football coach was not only uncharted territory but sheer heresy. Coaching was viewed as sacrosanct, being considered fairly and squarely the sole preserve of men. Thomas gained her FA Preliminary Badge, one of only three who passed, along with then England physio Jane Talbot and Pauline Dickie, thereby becoming the first women coaches in England. During the course, Tranter recognised a like-minded footballing brain, with natural ball skills and a deep understanding of the game. As a result and following a successful Regional Trials campaign, it was little surprise that Thomas was invited to join the next England squad to play France that November at Wimbledon. Thomas made her first appearance coming on as a second half substitute at right back. A second substitute appearance against Switzerland followed, before the right back position was secured. In 1976, just 18 months and six caps into her international career, Thomas was surprisingly named the new England captain, replacing the England ‘taliswoman’ Sheila Parker.
On 31st October 1978, Thomas became the first captain to lead out an England side to play on a Football League First Division ground at the Dell, Southampton FC. She introduced her England team to the England manager, Ron Greenwood. A record crowd of 5,471 then saw England beat Belgium 3–0 with Thomas providing the cross for Elaine Badrock to open the scoring. In 1981 she became the first captain to lead an England women’s team outside of Europe, when they took part in that year’s Mundialito tournament in Japan (called that year, Portopia 81). At the height of her career Thomas turned down offers of full time professional playing contracts in Italy and full time player/coach roles in New Zealand in order to maintain her true amateur status and thereby ensuring a long international career.
In her 11-year England career, Thomas became at integral part and then leader of a truly great England squad which in tournament terms has an outstanding record to this day. With one of the meanest defences in the world, during Thomas’s time as captain, in 29 tournament ties, they lost only five games (two of those on penalty shoot outs) and conceded less than a goal a game.
It is testament to her abilities, and the respect that she had gained, that she continued to captain the England side under four successive managers, Tommy Tranter through to Martin Reagan. Whilst in the early days, she played alongside the likes of Sue Lopez, Sheila Parker and Sylvia Gore, she later captained Hall of Fame inductees Hope Powell, Debbie Bampton, Gillian Coultard, Marieanne Spacey and Brenda Sempare.
Described as anything from an uncompromising fullback to cultured defender and everything in between, the truth is she was all of the above and more. Those who watched and, particularly those that coached her, knew that she was a true football thinker and intellectual in possession of that perfectly timed and fearless bone shuddering tackle. A total of 56 caps (51 as captain) were gained over a period of 11 years. Thomas only missed one international against Wales in the Isle of Man, just two days before the 1985 Mundialito – along with most of the northern-based players due to logistical and financial restraints – during that period (what would that equate to in this modern era?). She became the first ever English woman to reach the 50 caps. Indeed, Thomas actually played in 56 of England’s first ever 63 internationals.
THE RELUCTANT WANDERER
At club level, Thomas had to follow where the footballing competition was the strongest, yet within a realistic travelling distances from her home town. The days of true amateurism: where players held down full time jobs during the week, training as many times as possible on weekday nights and playing on a weekend, paying all their own expenses!
She was fortunate to be allowed to train with the Hull City Juniors (men’s under 18 level) alongside future professionals such as Andy Flounders and others, attaining a very high level of fitness for the then women’s game. She made occasional guest appearances for Tottenham Hotspur Ladies, and for a season played for Preston Ladies, making the trans Pennine journey on the M62 every Friday night and returning late Sunday evening after the game. Also, CP Doncaster Ladies for a number of seasons before finishing her representative career at Rowntree’s Ladies coached by former England international forward, Pat Firth.
THE BIRTH OF INTERNATIONAL TOURNAMENTS – THE HIGHS, LOWS AND HIGHS
During Thomas’s era, international competitions were unofficial, invitation or in their infancy. Thomas started her reign as captain in fine style. In the 1976 Pony Home Internationals, England ran out as comfortable winners in a three sided affair against Wales and Scotland. This set a standard for the next nine years of Thomas’s captaincy. In 1979, England were losing semi-finalists against a strong Italian side in the Unofficial European Cup. There then followed a period of transition and consolidation under new manager Martin Reagan, having been retained as captain under Reagan, the period 1982 to 1985 saw glimpses of the successes to follow.
In all, Thomas captained the England side in seven consecutive tournaments, including three ‘Mundialitos’ (1981, 1984 and 1985 as winners), three European Championships (1979 as semi-finalists, 1982-84 as runners-up and 1985-87, before retiring in September 1985) and the 1976 Pony Home Championship (as winners). 1985 saw Thomas at the pinnacle of her footballing career. After two unsuccessful Mundialito campaigns, and the disappointment of the 1984 European Championship final defeat, Thomas led her England charges to Italy and ultimate victory in that year’s Mundialito tournament.
The creation, development and establishment of the English women’s game was well and truly cemented. A side formed from a ‘disparate band of sisters’, brought together in 1972 by Eric Worthington, developed by Tommy Tranter and refined by Martin Reagan, to winners of the ultimate world trophy of its day and international recognition, in just over 12 years. Thomas had been there for 11 of those years, leading the side for nine of them.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
In possession of a dry northern sense of humour, she was often heard to repeat Jack Charlton’s infamous, “the ball may get past me, the player may get past me, but never the two together!” followed by a wry knowing smile and wink.
The phrase “sports mad” became well and truly justified in 1979 following her marriage to her husband. After the wedding, Thomas had a moral dilemma: should she go on honeymoon with her new husband or join the England squad for the European games in Italy? It was no contest, in truth the ‘result’ was never in doubt. Finland and Switzerland were to suffer!! Even in retirement, Thomas often jokingly says that her eldest son is, “the only man to have played a full women’s international, without kicking the ball ………… do the maths!”
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT WITHIN AND BEYOND THE GAME
By the 1980’s her achievements were finally beginning to be acknowledged, both inside and outside the game. In 1978 and 1979 she was invited by the BBC to star in the popular sports show, Superstars. As an ambassador for the women’s game, in 1983 she received the Vaux Breweries North Sportswoman of the Year Silver Star Award. She was frequently in the local and national media (and when abroad, international media). In 1984 she became the first woman player to be interviewed on national television appearing opposite Frank Bough and Selina Scott on breakfast TV following the 1984 European Championship Final. In 1985 she was awarded the Sports Council Sports Award in recognition of her achievements in women’s football.
Post retirement her achievements were still being recognised. In 1986 she became the first woman footballer to have an entry in the Guinness Book of Records having become the first English woman to gain 50 caps, with entries to follow in subsequent years.
RETIREMENT… OR NOT?
In 1985, having successfully led her England team to three straight victories in the 1985-87 UEFA Cup, at the age of 30 and 11 years of international football, Thomas finally retired from the international football scene to have her first child, Andrew. However, for this football fanatic, it was never going to be for long. In 1993, five years after the birth of her 2nd child, Mark, she was persuaded out of ‘retirement’ to help local side AFC Preston. The ‘Corinthian’ arrangement was quickly dropped as the football bug once again bit. On becoming a regular player, she helped with coaching and team selection and was always heard encouraging and developing those around her. Meanwhile she set up a soccer club for youngsters aged five to ten years old in her village for the local children of the surrounding area and helped her husband coach their sons from the under 7 age group to under 18 level.
Her ability and reading of the game had not been lost and was soon to be recognised again when the East Riding County FA created its first women’s representative side in 1995. Although aged 40, she was a natural selection for the captaincy of the side, she worked with the management and coaching staff and again assumed a role of helping to develop players from the ‘middle of the park’. She remained playing at this level until 2002, when a second retirement followed. In 2004 she was again asked to be involved in the building of a new side, Bransburton Ladies. In 2009, she finally hung up her boots aged 54!
Her interest and involvement in the game continues to this day. She gets great pleasure in watching and encouraging her grandsons from the touchline.
FROM THE TOP OF THE WORLD TO… THE ROOF OF THE WORLD!
Outside the game, and with a desire for that ultimate challenge, Thomas has since developed a fervent interest in long distance walking/trekking, fell climbing and mountaineering. She has completed all 214 Wainwrights, the National Three Peaks Challenge and the Coast to Coast walk twice (in both directions) in Britain.
Further afield, her long distance trekking and mountaineering has taken her to Peru, Morocco, Nepal and India. She has successfully scaled peaks in the Andes, the Atlas Mountains and five in the Everest region of the Nepalese Himalaya. In addition she has traversed numerous high passes and is regularly found at altitudes in excess of 18,000ft. She has developed a passionate interest in the people and cultures of high altitude, and in particular helping and supporting the people of Nepal especially since the tragic earthquake of April 2015.
It is not difficult to put into words her footballing achievements. In pure domestic terms, trophies were confined locally, as the national competitions were dominated by the footballing powerhouses based in the north-west and south of England. This reflects the deep loyalty she possesses with regard to the local teams and individuals she respects and to those who have helped and stood by her throughout her career. It is safe to presume that top teams anywhere in the world would have welcomed her into their ranks.
Her international achievements need little elaboration as they speak for themselves. They surpass those of any of her predecessors and of her generation but equal many of those of the modern era. During her career at international level she became the second England captain at the age of 21, widely respected and accepted throughout the women’s game as one of the best defenders in the world, gaining a number of very significant firsts in the English women’s game over an 11 year period.
It is also safe to say that many local youngsters got their first experience of organised football through her local club, whilst many women players and teenage boys benefited from her coaching and guidance both on the pitch and from the touchline.
However, it is the off field role that she perhaps had her greatest and unquantifiable impact for the women’s game, leaving a genuine but little acknowledged legacy. As captain, she was a central figure representing international and regional players (particularly the North) during the transition of the fledgling organisation created in 1972, the amateur based WFA (which was given scant respect or regard by the FA, a shoestring budget and run by a band of tireless, unpaid volunteers, administrators and unsung heroes) into the emerging, and now fully backed, properly financed, media savvy, professional organisation of the current day.
For nearly ten years Thomas was the public face of the women’s game. She promoted the game with pride, passion, dignity and no little skill through her many media and function appearances at local, national and international levels, which continue to this day. She led England with a quiet, steely determination to succeed whilst displaying tact and diplomacy in her role. With these qualities, it could be said that she provided the blueprint for every future England captain. However, above all else, she always ensured that her performances on the pitch were her most important asset, responsibility and gift to the women’s game.
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Morag “Maggie” Pearce (née Kirkland): England’s original and best left-back
Born: c.1957, Southampton
Debut: Scotland (A) 18 November 1972
Occupation: Schoolgirl (1972)
Pearce was not in the Southampton WFC team which carried off the first ever WFA Cup at Crystal Palace in 1971. The full-backs on that day were Pat Judd and 14-year-old Karen Buchanan.
She was not listed in the team for the 1972 final either: Judd and Buchanan remained in the line-up, while Pauline Dickie wore the number 3 shirt.
So Pearce must have come from virtually nowhere to catch the eye of England boss Eric Worthington during that summer’s national team trials. An inter-League tournament sponsored by Lillywhites whittled down about 300 hopefuls to a provisional squad of 25 who met at Loughborough College in September.
Lionesses team-mate Wendy Owen recalled Pearce was “already an accomplished overlapping full-back” by the time of England’s debut match in Greenock. Playing behind fellow youngster Jeannie Allott, Pearce was one of four Southampton players to start England’s 3–2 comeback win over the Scots.
The following year’s return match in Nuneaton saw Scotland whupped 8–0. Margaret Miks of Coventry Bantams came in for a debut cap at right-back, giving England two Maggies as their full-back pairing.
Southampton-born Pearce lived in Weston-Super-Mare at the time of England’s 5–1 win over Northern Ireland at Twerton Park, Bath. Always hungry for a local angle, the Bath Chronicle branded her a “West Country Girl”.
A 2–0 win over France at Plough Lane in November 1974 saw Carol McCune debut as England’s new right-back. Over the following decade, Yorkshirewoman McCune (later Thomas) replicated Pearce’s consistency over on the other side of the Lionesses’ defence.
England were progressing nicely until a comprehensive 2–0 defeat by Sweden in June 1975. Pearce missed out as she was reportedly sitting her ‘O’ levels. Coach Tommy Tranter handed out another four debut caps.
Judging by the dates it seems more likely she was doing her ‘A’ levels, unless they were re-sits. In any event Tranter lamented his teenage left-back’s absence: “The inexperience told then. And with Morag concentrating on her ‘O’ levels we had little to offer at the back.”
In summer 1977 she tied the knot with Gordon “Gordie” Pearce, taking his surname having hitherto been billed as Maggie Kirkland. Some Programme lists shortly after the wedding spelt her new moniker ‘Pearse’ but this usage soon died out.
Gordie was fully supportive of Maggie’s soccer endeavours and was himself gaffer of local no-hopers Redbridge Rovers.1 He altered the course of football history when he interceded to get Sue Lopez back into the Southampton WFC fold in 1976.
There had been some sort of bust-up or drama behind the scenes, so – reading between the lines – Lopez had gone in a huff for a year. She still played for England, but as a Totton player.
Accordingly, Lopez doffed her cap to Gordie in Women on the Ball (1997): “I will always be grateful for the way he resurrected my Southampton career”.
“Flattering comments were often made about Maggie and none sums up her talent more than when people genuinely and complementarily said ‘she plays like a lad’.” — Sue Lopez (1997)
In the 1976 Cup final, Pearce’s Southampton beat sworn rivals QPR 2–1 after extra-time. Lopez was off the scene but later recollected that Pat Davies hit the extra-time winner.
The annotations in the ITN archive attributes the winning goal to Pearce, but the footage shows the slight figure of number 9 Davies emerging from the bottom of the celebratory pile-up.
Jeannie Allott’s departure to Dutch football in 1976 gave Southampton southpaw Pat Chapman her opportunity with the Lionesses. Renowned motormouth Chapman had sky-high standards and could be demanding to play alongside (Sue Lopez quipped she was sometimes glad to be deaf in one ear when lining up alongside Chapman).
But Pearce proved an excellent foil for Chapman’s bountiful talents and the duo soon struck up a firm understanding, to the benefit of club and country.
In October 1976 at Ebbw Vale, buccaneering Pearce punctured surprisingly stodgy Welsh resistance when her “pinpoint cross” was turned in by Droitwich’s Rayner Hadden for the opening goal. The Lionesses departed with a narrow 2–1 win.
In the 1978 Cup final, Southampton avenged their 1977 defeat by QPR with a stirring 8–2 win over the same opponents at Slough. Neat interplay down the left from Pearce and Chapman laid on the second goal for Lopez, before Chapman hit an astonishing double hat-trick.
Lopez (1997) recalled that Maggie’s proud husband Gordie Pearce was left purring: “Ten more trophies should have been made, for in fact, this was a complete team performance.”
In-form Pearce started England’s 3–0 win over Belgium at The Dell in October 1978, bouncing back after Alison Leatherbarrow had taken the left-back berth for the 6–1 win over Ireland at Exeter earlier that year.
At club level classy Lancastrian Leatherbarrow turned out for Foden, Welsh cracks Prestatyn and St Helens. She mounted a strong challenge for Pearce’s place in the national team under Tommy Tranter.
In the 1979 unofficial European Championships, Pearce was first-choice. But when she was crocked in the semi-final defeat by hosts Italy, Leatherbarrow came in for the third place play-off.
Incoming England manager Martin Reagan was apparently less taken with Leatherbarrow, who drifted out of the reckoning and later won caps for Wales as a centre-forward. But Reagan retained Pearce, impressed by her level-headed dependability.
She played in a 1–1 draw with Sweden at Filbert Street, Leicester in September 1980. But she sat out the 1981 England games and Southampton’s last Cup final due to pregnancy. While England toured Japan in September 1981, Pearce that month welcomed daughter Laura Jane.
Another bruising friendly with Sweden in May 1982, a 1–1 draw in Kinna, saw Pearce make a swift return to the team. During Pearce’s absence England had found another option at left-back in the shape of Angie Gallimore.
But for the UEFA Championship qualifiers Pearce came back in, with Gallimore moving inside to centre-half and Linda Coffin dropping out. Reagan hailed Pearce as “outstanding” – her left-footed distribution “out of this world” – in the decisive 4–0 win over Scotland in Dumbarton.
In the UEFA 84 final first-leg against Sweden, Pearce was part of a disciplined and compact Lionesses rearguard.
In the debit column, she will have been disappointed that the goal came down her side: Swedish defender Burevik lumbered forward with Pearce temporarily posted missing and measured a fine cross onto Pia Sundhage’s head.
After England’s penalty heartache in the return leg, Pearce retired from international football. She was presented with a shield by the Mayor of Preston at Deepdale on 17 March 1985, after England beat Scotland 4–0.
The November 1984 edition of WFA News carried a warm tribute from Martin Reagan:
“Maggie Pearce always appears to have things under control, and few can suspect the fighting temperament there is under that calm exterior. A very cultured left foot, one of the best in women’s football, made her a difficult player to beat. […] One of Maggie’s greatest delights was to score a goal in a practice match, with her right foot. The determination of this young lady, was typified when she retired to give birth to her daughter, and then took up the game again and fought her way back to the top.”
The 1984 Mundialito tournament in Italy saw a first call-up for Norwich’s Jackie Slack, an excellent left-sided defender in her own right, who had to bide her time for a chance with England.
Maggie’s younger sister Heather Kirkland was also a Southampton player. Heather started out as a full-back like big sis, but was repurposed as a forward when Southampton’s fortunes began to wane.
The WFA News of June 1985 congratulated Pearce and Gordie on the recent birth of their second daughter. Pearce was not among the exodus to the Red Star club when Southampton WFC folded in 1986, instead she focused on coaching her other great sporting love, netball.
Pearce was later (2010) a primary school teaching assistant and made the local press when trapped in the Costa del Sol by unpronounceable Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull.
Women’s Football Archive Verdict:
It’s always poor form comparing women players to the top men. That’s why Lorraine Hanson‘s article contains no mention of her illustrious forerunner in the centre-back/centre-forward stakes, John Charles.
But in this case the Southampton WFC players themselves widely acknowledged their debt to England’s heroes of ’66. So it’s not gratuitous to say Ray Wilson’s calm demeanour was reflected in Pearce’s play.
In football’s family tree Rachel Unitt was perhaps Pearce’s god-daughter, Claire Rafferty and Alex Greenwood her impetuous grandchildren.
1. Not to be confused with the fictional team of the same name in the recent Craig Cash television comedy “Rovers”.↩
Lorraine Hanson (née Dobb): Belles and England great
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.
Liz Deighan: North-east football pioneer whose greatest legacy stands on Merseyside…
Born: c. 1953, Northumberland
Debut: France (H) 7 November 1974
Occupation: Computer programmer (1981), electronic test engineer (1983), technical training tutor (1991)
Elizabeth “Liz” Deighan is an English soccer great. That a generation of Lionesses fans have grown up in ignorance of her footballing deeds is both a scandal and a travesty! On the pitch, midfield dynamo Deighan won 48 England caps and resembled (a scaled-down version of) her modern equivalent: fellow north-easterner Jill Scott. The lynchpin of the great St Helens team which reached four WFA Cup finals in the 80s, she also graced the Euro 84 final with England. Off the park she was a bright and innovative tactician who served as coach for the north-west region, England under-21s and the club she founded in 1989: Newton Ladies, who became Liverpool Ladies.
Deighan upped sticks from her native Northumberland to football-daft Merseyside as a teenage centre-forward, reportedly to improve her game. If that’s partly true, it might not have been the whole story. She enjoyed a high-powered career outside football and must have been about university age at the time she relocated.1
When she made her England bow in a 2–0 win over France she was 21 and playing for WFA Cup-holders Fodens. Tommy Tranter handed debuts to Deighan and future skipper Carol McCune (later Thomas) in England’s eighth official match, staged at Wimbledon FC’s Plough Lane on 7 November 1974.
Although Deighan’s early national team appearances came in attack, Lionesses team-mate Wendy Owen (2005) recalled “an excellent attacking midfielder”. It was in the engine room where Deighan was to make her mark. She was a players’ player, a driver on. Her wiry frame belied a gritty determination and a toughness rarely matched in players twice her size.
In September 1975 England were back at Plough Lane, facing a Sweden team who had handed them a first ever defeat that June in Gothenburg. Deighan had apparently moved on from Sandbach-based Fodens and was now listed as a Southport player. The Swedes’ FA records credit Deighan with England’s sole goal in a miserable 3–1 defeat.
Deighan retained the number 10 jersey for England’s next match; a 2–1 win over the Netherlands in May 1976 at Borough Park rugby ground, Blackpool. But she was absent from the list for the Pony Wine Home Championships later that month, as Tranter shuffled his pack.
In April 1977 Deighan scored in England’s 9–1 thrashing of Switzerland at Hull’s Boothferry Park. She was a late inclusion in the XI which beat Belgium 3–0 at The Dell, Southampton, before a record 5,471 fans on 28 October 1978. She wowed the watching England men’s boss Ron Greenwood, who branded her “the female Kevin Keegan”.
By this stage Deighan had moved on from Southport to St Helens, who formed in 1976. She was part of the 1980 WFA Cup-winning team who eliminated holders Southampton then beat local rivals Preston 1–0 in the final at Enfield. Hirsute Spurs icon Ricky Villa was guest of honour and handed over the trophy.
In the 1981 final on home turf at Knowsley Road rugby ground, St Helens crashed 4–2 to resurgent Southampton in a Battle of the Saints.2
Two years later, a titanic tussle with Doncaster Belles at Sincil Bank, Lincoln, was lost 3–2. Deighan’s late “neatly executed free kick” gave St Helens hope but a goal in each half by Belles founder Sheila Stocks secured Donny’s first Cup win.
Meanwhile, UEFA had belatedly organised a European Championship and wise old head Deighan was one of England manager Martin Reagan’s on-field lieutenants. The Danish FA reckon she scored the semi-final first leg winner at Gresty Road, although WFA records attribute the goal to Debbie Bampton.
In the final first leg in Gothenburg, it was backs to the wall stuff. Reagan’s midfield trio of Coultard, Bampton and Deighan were compact and disciplined. The slight figure of Deighan bristled with nervous energy throughout, typifying England’s gutsy defeat.
The emergence of Hope Powell and Brenda Sempare signified the end of Deighan’s tenure as an England first-teamer. She started the Euro 1987 campaign as a squad player, coming off the bench in the opening 4–0 win over Scotland at Deepdale on St Patrick’s Day 1985. She was left out of the party for the 1985 Mundialito that August and remained two caps shy of her half-century.
Spotting the writing on the wall, Deighan told the Lancashire Evening Post:
“I don’t know how long I can go on playing. It may be my last season for England but I am also aware that manager Martin Reagan is keen to bring in younger players with a view to the future and that I might be dropped after the Preston match.”
In the 1987 Cup final at Nottingham’s City Ground, Deighan captained St Helens to another gallant defeat by Doncaster Belles. Manager John Mayer’s withering verdict on the WFA’s shambolic post-match arrangements got the club booted out of the following year’s competition.
On the subject of his skipper, Saints boss Mayer affectionately quipped in his 1987 WFA News column: “Her Geordie dialect causes many problems, nobody understands a bloody word she’s saying, we just nod and agree with her…”
Reforms at the Women’s Football Association in 1986–87 – including league and boundary changes – proved controversial. Deighan was a beneficiary, though, as she scooped a new job as north west regional coach.
This was shortly after Pat Firth, notable as England’s first hat-trick scorer, took the Yorkshire and Humberside gig in January 1987. In doing so Firth became the first female regional coach.
Deighan had the trust of Martin Reagan and when an England under-21 team was mooted she got the nod as coach. She promptly arranged trials at Lilleshall, 3–5 July 1987: “expenses to be met by the individuals themselves, £36,” the WFA News reported.
Eight of the squad at the 1995 World Cup were products of Deighan’s successful under-21 setup. But the rudderless WFA was fast running out of time – Reagan was sacked and his replacement Barrie Williams was soon following him out the door. Deighan also lost her post to Williams’ stopgap replacement John Bilton, before the under-21 team was scrapped altogether.
Deighan was particularly miffed at this turn of events, having given up the regional job for the under-21s. Predictably, the folly had a deleterious effect on the senior national team. Under the FA things continued to drift aimlessly until 2004 (2004!) when an under-21 side was finally reinstated under Hope Powell.
In 1989 Deighan founded Newton Ladies, the team who would eventually become Liverpool Ladies. Thumbing her contact book she cobbled together some old St Helens mates and drafted in players from reigning WFA Cup-winners Leasowe Pacific. The team debuted at the pre-season Lancashire Cup and served notice of their intentions by carrying off the trophy.
Newton finished 5th and then third in two seasons in the regional NWWRL, then teamed up with Knowsley United – a now-defunct men’s non-League team – to join the inaugural national league in 1991–92. At this point 38-year-old Deighan brought the curtain down on her glittering playing career to focus on management.
Under Deighan Knowsley had a great DIY ethic: left-back Jill “Thommo” Thomas was the club secretary and forwards Viv Cutbill and Diane Woollam the press and PR officers, respectively. National treasure Sylvia Gore was club development officer.
An ambitious transfer spree in the summer of 1992 landed England stalwarts Clare Taylor and Kerry Davis. The team reached the Premier League Cup final at Wembley, played as a low-key curtain-raiser to one of the interminably dull Sheffield Wednesday versus Arsenal men’s Cup finals taking place that season.
Arsenal won and their manager Vic Akers opined that the match might have gone over better with a sceptical public if it was billed as Arsenal v Liverpool. Whether they took Vic at his word or the wheels were already in motion, Knowsley duly came under the wing of England’s most successful male club Liverpool in time for the 1994–95 season.
But by then Deighan had already had enough and quit in 1993. She brought in ex-England pal Angie Gallimore from Wigan as player-manager and moved upstairs to take a symbolic role as honorary chairperson. She told Sue Lopez in Women on the Ball (1997):
“I retired completely from the game in 1993. Managing my club was taking over my life, and was starting to jeopardise my full-time job as I was getting so many phone calls at work. I recently asked how I could become involved at a higher level again and was told to get involved locally. I’ve started helping out a bit at Preston Rangers.”
The original tie-up saw newly-minted Liverpool Ladies playing a couple of matches per season at Anfield, which helped to land a sponsorship with DHL. Since then the relationship with the male club has waxed and (usually) waned. A shake up in 2013 saw the introduction of an alleged “one club mentality” and investment in top notch players who captured back-to-back WSL titles.
At this stage a penny for founding mother Deighan’s thoughts would surely have given food for thought!
In 2015 Gill Coultard commended Deighan as the best female player currently outside the English Football Hall of Fame.
1. In a March 2017 interview with Sportsister, Deighan clarified that she did move purely for football reasons, leaving behind a job at the DSS. She had been playing for Wallsend but needed better competition after getting on the national team’s radar. Sylvia Gore helped fix her up with a job on Merseyside.↩
2. Women’s Football Archive hasn’t yet got the line-ups and scorers for this final, so it remains ‘a book with seven seals’. It’s of particular interest in case suspected all-time Cup final record goalscorer Pat Chapman got on the score sheet. Please get in touch if you can help!↩
Debbie Bampton: Highly-decorated midfield powerhouse
Born: 7 October 1961, Sidcup
Debut: Netherlands (A) 30 September 1978
Occupation: Cashier (1981), Selector (1982), Courier (1987), Footballer (1988), Postwoman (2005)
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.
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.