Patricia “Pat” Firth: Wunderkind striker and pioneering female coach
Born: c.1957, Leeds
Debut: Scotland (H) 23 June 1973
Occupation: Production worker (1976)
Firth’s footballing story began with Swillington Saints aged nine, before, in time-honoured tradition, she was booted out at 12 for being a girl.
A women’s team in nearby Kippax took her on but they were not yet affiliated to the WFA and only played charity matches at a dismal standard.
Sheffield League team Fleece Fillies, based in Ossett, swooped to sign the precocious talent in 1970 – just in time for the historic lifting of the FA’s 1921 woman-ban.
Despite their preposterous name, derived from a local boozer, Fleece Fillies were one of the top teams in the area. Firth’s reputation grew and she was soon on the radar of England’s national team selectors.
On a scorching hot day in June 1973 Yorkshireman John Adams, England’s stand-in coach, handed Firth her Lionesses debut against the Scots at Nuneaton.
It was a massive vote of confidence in the youngster’s abilities, given Pat Davies was moved out wide to accommodate her and the powerful Eileen Foreman dropped to the bench.
Showing the fearlessness which flows from youthful exuberance, Firth famously rattled in a hat-trick in England’s 8–0 win. The Nuneaton Evening Tribune hailed the prowess of England’s new star, a: “short, stocky, chestnut-haired forward” who had only just turned 16.
Keeping her place under new coach Tommy Tranter, she went on to form an “effective strike partnership” with Elaine ‘Baddy’ Badrock according to Wendy Owen (2005). While Sue Lopez (1997) recalled: “Pat had a tremendous shot and was an excellent header of the ball”.
She started the 5–1 win over Northern Ireland at Twerton Park, Bath, on 7 September 1973 under the floodlights. Firth wasn’t just a poacher; although she didn’t score she laid on the opening goal for Jeannie Allott.
Firth scored in a 5–0 win over Wales at Slough in on St. Patrick’s Day 1974, a match sponsored by an egg firm who gave all the players a carton of half-a-dozen eggs.
A carton of eggs! Given that this week Norway started paying its women’s national team players the same as the men it’s perhaps sobering to reflect on the progress made in recent times.
The Wales match programme listed Firth as a Fleece Filly but the following month she played for Foden’s in their 2–1 WFA Cup final win over Southampton.
Her England team-mate Sylvia Gore had apparently rounded up some of England’s top young players, including Firth and Liz Deighan, to bolster Sandbach-based Fodens’ chances of knocking dominant southerners Southampton off their perch.
The iconic Gore remained a friend and mentor. While managing the Welsh national team in the 1980s, she handed Firth a role in her coaching set-up.
By the Home Championship in May 1976, Firth had moved to Doncaster Belles – kick-starting the Belles’ fine tradition of supplying players to the England national team. She opened the scoring in the 4–0 win over Wales in Bedford.
Boasting a prolific nine goals in her 11 England caps, disaster struck for Firth when she blew her knee out while playing for Doncaster. She got the news NO footballer wants to hear when docs vowed she would never play again.
Firth had already clocked up a lot of football in those young legs. If her talent ran ahead of her physical development, perhaps her knees paid the price. Sports Science was in its infancy then, particularly with regard to female athletes.
The lure proved too strong and Firth was soon back involved, this time as a coach with Rowntrees LFC of York. She made a tentative playing comeback, then blew her other knee out.
But she had already put together a competitive side which, by 1983–84, included England captain Carol Thomas, her former Belles team-mate Gill Coultard and fleet-footed future England international Gail Borman.
Complemented by a smattering of competent regional-level players, like future Doncaster Belle Lorraine ‘Polly’ Young, Rowntrees reached the 1984 WFA Cup semi-final. They were edged out after a replay by eventual trophy winners Howbury Grange.
Despite her two dodgy knees Firth had kept goal for Rowntrees in the Howbury Grange games, as she extended her playing career by donning the gloves.
Also in 1984 Firth joined the small band of women with the FA Preliminary coaching licence, passing the course at Leeds alongside her old England skipper Sheila Parker and St Helens stalwarts Chris Slater and Yvonne Gagen.
Under Firth Rowntrees played attractive football; Leeds United and Scotland great Eddie Gray was known to take in their home matches on occasion. But their success rather fizzled out when Thomas retired due to pregnancy and Coultard went back to Doncaster Belles.
In January 1987 Firth made history when England coach and national coaching boss Martin Reagan appointed her regional coach for Yorkshire and Humberside, making her the first female to coach at such a senior level in England.
Romantically-named club Bronte was Firth’s next port of call. It was a change of scene as they played in the North West League despite being based near Bradford, West Yorkshire.
They must have been no strangers to the M62!
When long-serving gaffer Chris Beaumont left to take over at a local male team, Firth took the coaching reins. Again she combined her role with goalkeeping duties.
Bronte were solid in defence, boasting the talents of cricketing/football legend Clare Taylor, Scottish international Lorraine Kennedy (daughter of Bobby) and ex-England sweeper Eileen Lillyman.
In 1988–89 Firth’s charges won through to the WFA Cup semi-final at Sincil Bank, Lincoln, after shocking fancied Millwall Lionesses 3–2 in the quarter final.
But they missed out on an appearance at the televised final at Old Trafford, losing 3–0 to Friends of Fulham, for whom Livvy Hughes, Terri Springett and Hope Powell did the damage.
Flo Bilton penned a warm tribute to Firth in the April 1982 edition of the WFA’s Northern Newstime: “This remarkable girl took the international scene by storm … Pat’s first love has always been football … they did not take into consideration the determination of the lass … as with everything Pat does, she made a great job of it too.”
A small place in Rugby League history
Firth sprang from Rugby League country and cropped up in the memoirs of eminent Castleford Tigers historian Dr John Davis.
In Never to Be Forgotten: Memoirs of a Cas Follower to 2015, Davis briefly recounted his modest soccer exploits with Escrick in the “Charles Rice Under-13s Selby League”.
He recalled: “Swillington Saints had a girl playing on the wing who could dribble and cross like no-one else. They beat us 24–1 but I scored with my only shot of the game (a 100% strike rate)”.
Never mind John, that girl was no ordinary player…
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!↩
Born: c.1957, Crewe
Debut: Scotland (A) 18 November 1972
Occupation: Schoolgirl (1972)
Featured in the Sports Illustrated ‘Faces in the Crowd’ column in the 29 November 1965 issue:
Jean Allott, 8, a Crewe, England schoolgirl, scored two goals in her debut at center forward for the Wistaston Green Primary School boys’ soccer team. Said her headmaster, “She passes intelligently with her left foot and goes into the tackle as hard as any of the boys.”
Sue Lopez described “a phenomenally fast, strong, tricky left-winger.”
Allott had reportedly been playing for Fodens for eight years when selected to the first England team in 1972, but was only 16. Branded “a real livewire” character by Wendy Owen, she was the team’s joker.
Some sources credit a goal to Allott in England’s famous 3–2 debut win in Greenock. The footage shows Allott collecting a partly-cleared corner and hoisting an effort from the left hand angle of the penalty area, which is spilled over the line by Scotland goalkeeper Janie Houghton. Pat Davies was also in close attendance but the England players ran to congratulate Allott.
It is now thought Allott was only 15 at the time of England’s first match.
Original England boss Eric Worthington told the FA News in March 1973: “This girl has it all, she’s good with her head, she has perfected the chest trap and her work rate is unbelievable.”
Worthington also claimed that Frank Blunstone (who knew a thing or two about outside-lefts) had tried to sign Allott while back in his native Crewe taking in a schools match. Only to be told: “He’s a girl!”
In England’s fourth match, under the floodlights at Bath City’s Twerton Park, Allott scored the first in a 5–1 win over Northern Ireland. She swept home Pat Firth’s cross after six minutes.
Allott was part of Fodens’ famous 1974 WFA Cup winning team, beating Southampton 2–1 in the final. She was always the journo’s favourite with photogenic long blonde hair.
She continued her footballing education in signing for Dutch outfit Zwart-Wit ’28 Rotterdam in 1976. Southampton’s Pat Chapman took over on England’s left wing.
In the 1987 Women’s FA Cup final programme, Doncaster Belles’ Lorraine “Polly” Young name-checked Allott as the best women’s player she had ever seen.
February 2017 update:
In the Netherlands Allott found League and Cup success with KFC ’71 during the 80s.
She made such an impression that Oranje boss Bert van Lingen handed her a national team call-up.
Inevitably, she was brilliant and hit eight goals in 12 caps from 1985 to 1987.
Allott stunned France with the only goal in her March 1985 debut. Then blasted a hat-trick in the return match that October, as the Dutch left Cambrai with a 5–3 win.
Six of her 12 caps came in Euro 87 qualifiers, so it is not clear if UEFA were unaware of her earlier appearances for England, or had granted dispensation.
Shortly before crossing the North Sea, Allott played against the Dutch in England’s 2–1 win at Borough Park, Blackpool, in May 1976.
The birth-date on her Dutch FA (KNVB) records suggest she had turned 16 the day before her England debut in 1972.