The making of a champion: England and GB captain Casey Stoney
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A look back at Casey Stoney’s start in the game with Chelsea: where England’s durable ex-skipper forged the mental toughness which separates good players from great ones.
UPDATE: article amended on 14 November 2015 to reflect new information. See corrections and clarifications below.
Archaic FA laws saw Stoney booted out of her boy’s team at 11. She spent a wasted year in park football before pitching up at Chelsea WFC.
Sources remain divided about exactly how the move came about.
Either Stoney’s mum Sandra contacted the club through the local council, or Chelsea’s boss Tony Farmer spotted her charging about in the park.
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Anyhow, she arrived as a spindly 12-year-old: a girl with a future in a woman’s world.
She burst into the first team in 1995–96, plundering seven goals from 19 games as Chelsea’s stylish number 10.
In 1996–97 Stoney found goals harder to come by, netting just twice.
She sat out six weeks of the campaign with injured ankle ligaments, a souvenir of her first meeting with the tough-tackling Millwall Lionesses.
Farmer was a master motivator who did not shirk from applying stick as well as carrot. In his programme notes he criticised his young team for their “woeful” lack of goals from midfield:
One of the reasons our return from midfield has been so poor is the reluctance of players to get forward into the danger areas when the opportunity has arisen and that has resulted in chances going begging. — Tony Farmer, “Talking Tactics” 24 April 1997
Meanwhile, England boss Ted Copeland was conducting a countrywide talent-trawl. He hoped to turn up skilful youngsters to replace his golden oldies.
Chelsea sent Stoney along to a trial where the verdict was a polite but firm “not good enough”.
All this added up to a heavy burden to heap on any 14-year-old’s slender shoulders.
Most angsty teens only have school exams, spots and having to tidy their room to sulk about!
These knocks may have derailed a lesser character but only added to Stoney’s confidence. Not confidence in an arrogant sense, but a level-headed and respectful inner belief in her capabilities.
Reborn as a defender, she famously battled her way into the England reckoning and stayed there, also playing her way to the top at club level.
Factfile: Chelsea Ladies
Women’s football scribe Cathy Gibb recalls a strong Chelsea team from bygone days: “What about the great Pat Budd days and her Chelsea team mates in the late 70’s and early 80’s who were quite a force to be reckoned with.”
Tony Farmer got the naming rights for a new Chelsea WFC in 1992, after a year of tough negotiations with Chelsea’s larger-than-life owner Ken Bates.
Farmer had been around the local circuit with Palace Eagles and Bedfont United. He drafted in Dave Impett as his trusty lieutenant.
The duo successfully badgered the Greater London League into letting Chelsea straight into Division Three, not the Division Five basement.
When they won Division Three at the second time of asking, the League parachuted them up into Division One for 1994–95.
But finishing second that season they entered the Premier Division for 1995–96, only for injuries to bite and Arsenal to nick a couple of their better players in Julie Newell and Clare Wheatley.
That was the football context into which young Stoney was thrust.
In summer 1996, wacky Ken Bates decreed that the ‘Women’ must become ‘Ladies’.
While Stoney blossomed in Chelsea’s shop window, a young seedling named Fara Williams was germinating in the club’s reserves.
Madcap boss Tony Farmer was clearly doing something right to bring through TWO of England’s all-time top talents.
But how many other potential world-beaters might have wilted under the hothouse glare?
Corrections and clarifications:
This article in its original form contained a number of inaccuracies, which have been corrected in the light of new evidence. Variously:
- That “bowing and scraping” to Ken Bates was involved setting up the Chelsea women’s club.
- That Stoney suffered “second season syndrome” (i.e. a loss of form) in 96–97.
- That Chelsea’s elevation through the Greater London League’s divisions was akin to Man City’s artificial insertion into the WSL – and further that it “danced on the grave of sporting integrity”. In fact Chelsea were not moved up at other clubs’ expense, partly due to league reconstruction and partly because rival clubs promoted on sporting merit had refused their own places at the higher level.
- That Ken Bates threatened removal of rights to the Chelsea name over the Women/Ladies nomenclature. Actually the dispute was over the women’s club’s links to their main sponsor, the Chelsea Independent Supporters Association (CISA), who Bates hated. In any case he could only remove the rights to club branding, not the name “Chelsea”. This may explain why the 1990–91 Greater London Premier Division had a team named Chelsea, as well as a Spurs AND a Tottenham!
- That direct criticism of the team in the matchday programme notes amounted to “public berating”.
- Any (indirect) implication that Chelsea enjoyed a financial advantage over rival teams, or did not enjoy good team spirit, was unintentional.