When Martin Reagan went in to bat for women’s football

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

martin-reagan

In May 1984 the England women’s football team manager Martin Reagan returned from Gothenburg with a creditable 1–0 defeat for his team, and a blueprint for soccer success. Ex-pro Reagan knew exactly what England needed to do to reel in their continental rivals: copy the Super Swedes. In the days before women’s football was trendy he proudly shouted his support from the rooftops. But his sterling efforts were thwarted at every turn, by an unholy alliance of Football Association intransigence and – yes – sex bias, which was still firmly rooted in 20th Century British life.

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Players: Maggie Pearce

Morag “Maggie” Pearce (née Kirkland): England’s original and best left-back

Pearce with England in 1984

Pearce with England in 1984

Born: c.1957, Southampton

Position: Left-back

Debut: Scotland (A) 18 November 1972

Occupation: Schoolgirl (1972)

Southampton WFC great Maggie Pearce is the only player to start both England’s first ever match in 1972 and the UEFA Championship final 12 years later. At 15 she was the youngest player to make it throught the trials into Eric Worthington’s inaugural Lionesses XI. Cool and unflappable, she was an essential component of two great England teams and the all-conquering Saints. Pearce formed a formidable full-back partnership with starboard-sided Carol McCune/Thomas and successfully transplanted her understanding with Southampton lefties Sue Lopez and Pat Chapman to international level. She bounced back from the birth of her first daughter to round off a 40-cap career.

A 10-year-old Pearce was spotted charging about on the green in front of her house. She soon found her way to Southampton WFC, whose manager Norman Holloway saw “a little shrimp” with potential star quality.

Pearce was not in the Southampton 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’s, 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.

Pearce keeps tabs on Pia Sundhage in the Euro 1984 final

Pearce keeps tabs on Pia Sundhage in the Euro 1984 final

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”.

Players: Lorraine Hanson

Lorraine Hanson (née Dobb): Belles and England great

Hanson lines up for England in 1984

Hanson lines up for England in 1984

Born: c.1959, Worksop

Position: Defender/Forward

Debut: 1975?

Occupation: Sales receptionist (1983, 1985), Clerk (1986)

Considering Lorraine Hanson was such a brilliant footballer for Doncaster Belles and England, there is next to nothing about her on the internet. After starting out in her native Nottinghamshire with Carr Fastener and Nottingham Rangers, she joined Doncaster Belles in 1977 and became a key part of one of the most successful English club teams ever assembled. Equally capable at centre-forward or at centre-half, Hanson made around 30 appearances for England and played in the 1984 UEFA Championship final.

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.

England centre-backs Hanson (left) and Gallimore (right)

England centre-backs Hanson (left) and Gallimore (right)

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.

Match: Republic of Ireland 0–5 England, 3 May 1981, Dalymount Park

Reagan’s rampant England put five past Ireland

Guerin in her later guise as a hard-bitten crime reporter

Irish soccer starlet Ronnie Guerin in her later guise as a hard-bitten crime reporter

Classic match report: Debuts for Coultard and Gallimore as England drub Girls in Green

In June 2016 England blooded two new Lionesses in the shape of Rachel Daly and Nikita Parris, who both made their debuts in a 7–0 cakewalk against hapless Serbia. Some 35 years earlier England also handed out a double debut, to Gillian Coultard and Angela Gallimore, in this match with Ireland at Dalymount Park. In their first visit to the Emerald Isle, England eased to a 5–0 win. But Ireland’s team sheet included a star name of its own: Veronica “Ronnie” Guerin wore the famous green shirt before she turned into a leading journalist, got tragically gunned down and became the subject of a Holywood blockbuster…

Ireland


In 1981 Ireland’s national team had some talented players but lacked structure, resources and proper association backing – a state of affairs which may sound familiar to fans of the 2016 Girls in Green.

Like his English counterpart Martin Reagan, coach Tony Kelly had taken over a couple of years previously. And he had a similar remit to Reagan: cobbling together a functional national team from a patchwork of regional amateur leagues, while trying to raise coaching standards across the board.

They had scored a notable 1–0 victory over Belgium in October 1980, in a controversial friendly at Dalymount Park. The scorer in that game, Grainne Cross (pronounced “Gron-ya”), left the field covered in blood after colliding with the Belgian goalie, who was stretchered off needing stitches in her chin.

IRELAND
1. Marian Leahy
2. Gabrielle Byrne
3. Mary Joyce
4. Pauline Boland
5. Janice Mooney
6. Philo Robinson
7. Grainne Cross
8. Teresa McCann
9. Debbie McGarry (out 68)
10.Barbara Kelly
11.Breda Hanlon (out 56)
Substitutes:
Catherine Fitzpatrick (in 56)
Ronnie Guerin (in 68)Coach:
Tony Kelly

With Anne O’Brien out of sight and apparently out of mind in Italy, midfielder Cross was perhaps the team’s closest thing to a star player. She spent a season in Italy herself, with Fiammamonza in 1986–87.

The rest of the time she played for local teams in Limerick, including Krups, De Beers and Greenpark United. She was reportedly one of FIVE sisters to play for Ireland, which must be some sort of record. Two other Cross sisters turned out on the Limerick League circuit.

Grainne later played rugby union for Old Crescent RFC.

After the Belgium match Ireland came back to earth with a bump in their next game, being hammered 5–0 at home by Scotland in March 1981. Goalkeeper Marian Leahy played exceptionally well to avert an even more embarrassing rout.

Leahy was another product of the Limerick League, who won a debut cap in Ireland’s first meeting with England; a 6–1 reverse at Exeter in May 1978. An IT professional, she captained Ireland in later games after becoming a buccaneering full-back, including the first women’s international to be held at Wembley in April 1988.

Like many Irish soccer fans of a certain vintage, Leahy keenly followed the Arsenal side graced by Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton. Even the floodlights at Dalymount Park, then Ireland’s national stadium, were hand-me-downs from the Gunners’ old Highbury ground.

There was another, more direct, link to Arsenal too: Frank’s footballing sibling Helena Stapleton was in the 20-strong squad for the match, having made her debut in the Scotland defeat.

Helena played for Dunseedy, a club based in the Raheny area of Dublin. There she formed a potent attacking tandem with her pal, a strong-willed youngster named Ronnie Guerin.

Ireland’s squad also included Denise Lyons, who was English-born but grew up in Waterford. She found success at college level in the United States; playing for Keene State Owls from 1986 to 1989 and then starting a long and glittering spell as head coach in 1992.

Philo Robinson also starred for Keene State Owls, from 1988 to 1991. She was from Dublin and orphaned at a cruelly early age. Like Lyons she was later named in Keene State’s athletic Hall of Fame.

Janice “Jan” Mooney was playing for the Suffragettes club in 1981, but later moved to London and went on to captain the Wembley LFC team which spawned Kelly Smith.

Included in the 20, but not – for some reason – in the team, was experienced skipper Linda Gorman. She was a veteran of Ireland’s first national team matches in 1973 and went on to become the national team’s first female boss in the 1991–92 season.

Tensions


In February 1980 a brace from Irish-descended Kevin Keegan settled a Euro qualifier in England’s favour, but men’s matches between the two nations were politically charged and relatively rare.

With “the troubles” at their height, many Irish citizens were still smarting over 800 years of British oppression, while the IRA’s bombing campaign in Britain had unleashed rampant Hibernophobia.

On the day of this match, the Irish revolutionary (and sometime left-back) Bobby Sands MP slipped into a coma on the 64th day of his hunger strike. His death two days later sparked riots all over Ireland.

Events took a turn for the worse when a second hunger striker, Francis Hughes, died the following week. A furious crowd tried to ransack the British embassy in Dublin.

The men’s home nations tournament was promptly cancelled when Northern Ireland’s opponents refused to travel.

But the two women’s associations forged very friendly relations, shared it seems by the players and staff on both sides.

England


At the time of this match, Martin Reagan’s ambitious revamp – introducing interregional fixtures as a route to the England team – had yet to bear fruit. In 1980 he won one, drew one and lost one of his three games in charge.

ENGLAND
Terry Wiseman .1
(c) Carol Thomas .2
Angie Gallimore .3
Sheila Parker .4
(out HT) Linda Coffin.5
(out HT) Linda Curl .6
Debbie Bampton .7
Liz Deighan .8
(out 54) Tracy Doe.9
Eileen Foreman.10
Janet Turner.11
Substitutes:
(in HT) Maureen Reynolds
(in HT) Gillian Coultard
(in 54) Christine HutchinsonCoach:
Martin Reagan

This was England’s first visit to Ireland and was a rather belated return fixture to the 6–1 win at St James’ Park, Exeter in May 1978.

Uncapped players Gillian Coultard and Angela Gallimore were drafted in ahead of this match, as Reagan began carefully crafting the side which went all the way to the inaugural European Championships final in 1984.

Coultard was 18 but had apparently been held back from senior international football to aid her development. Some four years earlier she had been playing in the old Probables v Possibles trials match (for the Probables).

It was the worst kept secret in women’s football that tough-tackling Doncaster Belle Coultard was already one of the best in the country. But Reagan made “keep it simple” her mantra in order to harness her fantastic talent for the team’s benefit.

Gallimore played for the Broadoak club, based in the Middleton area of Manchester. A defender who was strong in the air and possessed a wand of a left foot, she too went on to enjoy a fine England career, before a knee injury wrecked it after 35 caps.

Theresa “Terry” Wiseman had taken over as first-choice goalkeeper from Sue Buckett. It was reported in the Irish newspapers that Wiseman was a Londoner with green roots, as one of her parents hailed from County Cork. Presumably Martin Reagan and Liz Deighan could also boast of Irish heritage somewhere in their own family trees.

England were without Pat Chapman, so St Helens-born winger Janet Turner played on the left flank.

The match


After eight minutes England took the lead. Right-back Gabrielle Byrne, a Kells LFC player from Drogheda, inadvertently turned the ball into her own net under intense pressure from Janet Turner.

Ireland were outmatched but scrapped for a foothold in the match during the first half. Teresa McCann was prominent in midfield as the Girls in Green worked hard to shut down the wide open spaces of “Dalyer”.

Disaster befell Ireland on the stroke of half time; Tracy Doe’s fine cross was headed powerfully into the net by her strike partner Eileen Foreman.

The two-goal cushion persuaded Reagan to roll the dice at the interval. Coultard was brought on for Linda Curl, who at that stage was a fixture on the right of England’s midfield three.

That gave England their second debutante of the day. Gallimore had impressed after starting at left-back.

Inspired by what the Irish Independent called a “wonderful performance” from Coultard, England went further ahead on 50 minutes. Half-time substitute Maureen Reynolds of Lowestoft got the goal.

The fourth goal came from Christine Hutchinson on 58 minutes, five minutes after she entered the fray as England’s final substitute.

A tough Geordie with a talent for arm-wrestling, Hutchinson’s playing career took in Wallsend, Percy Main and Whitley Bay. But she was also a PE teacher and successfully got girl’s football on the timetable in 1986.

As Ireland ran out of steam Reynolds’s second goal made it 5–0 on 65 minutes.

The decidedly blunt match report in the now-defunct Irish Press blamed: “a blatant lack of stamina coupled with an extremely shaky defence”.

Reagan showered his squad with praise, taking the same 16 players to Japan later that year, insisting they had grabbed: “a host of friends and admirers and were a great credit to England”.

With one or two minor tweaks (and the addition of prolific young striker Kerry Davis) this squad formed the basis of the side who pushed Sweden all the way to penalties in the Euro 1984 final.

Coultard ruled England’s midfield roost for the next 19 years, famously becoming the first female England player to scoop a century of caps.

Veronica Guerin


With his Ireland team 5–0 down and the match ebbing away, coach Tony Kelly handed his impetuous substitute Ronnie Guerin a debut cap.

During her short cameo Dunseedy striker Ronnie failed to make any impression on an English defence led by vastly-experienced Sheila Parker – a holdover from the classic Dick, Kerr’s Ladies era.

Young Ronnie grew up into Veronica Guerin, the fearless investigative journalist, immortalised in celluloid by Cate Blanchett.

Her 1996 murder by netherworld drug lords led to an outpouring of national grief and sweeping new laws which sent Dublin’s gangsters scuttling away overseas.

A year before her killing Guerin was shot in the thigh. She was saved from more serious injury when her femur stopped the bullet, a feat attributed to her soccer-toughened bones.

Sports nut Guerin also played basketball for Ireland, before destiny marked out a greater and more noble path than any ball sport.

In a world where “legends” and “heroes” are ten-a-penny, this is a genuine case. And the wider women’s football family can proudly claim her as one of our own.

Players: Liz Deighan

Liz Deighan: North-east football pioneer whose greatest legacy stands on Merseyside…

Deighan (left) making a splash at the Euro 84 final in Luton

Deighan (left) making a splash at the Euro 84 final in Luton

Born: c. 1953, Northumberland

Position: Midfielder

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.

Playing


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…”

Coaching


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!

Report: #SHEKICKSBACK 2, Doncaster, 23 November 2015

Walker, Smith and Coultard meet their public at Doncaster roadshow

On a rainy Monday night in November, the #SHEKICKSBACK roadshow rolled into Doncaster. Following an earlier event in London organisers chose Doncaster Belles territory for the second edition, in honour of the South Yorkshire giants’ proud history.A joint venture between women’s soccer bible She Kicks and Women’s Soccer Zone, #SHEKICKSBACK aimed to correct the perception that women’s football is rootless by publicly grilling big name players. It was manna from heaven for women’s football anoraks!

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…

 

Crowd:


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.

Venue:


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.

Karen Walker:


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.

Sue Smith:


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.

Special guest – Gill Coultard:


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.

Audience questions:


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!

Characters:


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…

Epilogue:


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?

Mundialito Femminile ’84 – The Little World Cup

Martin Reagan’s beaten Euro 84 finalists square off against Belgium, West Germany and Italy in Jesolo and Caorle

Mundialito1984

In the days before the FIFA Women’s World Cup there was the Mundialito…

An invitational tourney along the lines of the latter day Cyprus or Algarve Cups, it was a much bigger deal than these annual seaside jollies: pulling in both bumper crowds and RAI TV coverage.

In summer 1984 football-daft Italians were beside themselves with glee, having carried off the 1982 World Cup and then sealed the 1990 hosting gig in May 1984. Their semi-autonomous women’s football federation (FIGCF) teamed up with the national Olympic committee (CONI) for this joint venture. As well as the national broadcaster and local authority, backing arrived from sportswear company Diadora and La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. All the participating teams’ costs were covered in full – music to the ears of England’s hard up WFA.

CONI’s interest was down to their suspicion that Olympic medals might be afoot – bringing an attendant funding bonanza. They were lobbying hard for Olympic women’s soccer and fancied their chances if it happened. At this stage the United States had no team (they debuted at the following year’s Mundialito) while newbies West Germany had only started their own programme 20 months earlier.

Jesolo was awarded city status in 1984, for services to local tourism. Big in the 70s, its 15 miles of sandy beach was a hot destination for new-fangled package holiday tours. Later on it repositioned itself as a bit classier and more expensive, probably to dodge the sad fate of Benidorm: hordes of braying louts in Union Jack shorts and diced carrots in its gutters.

Jesolo’s stadium was named for Armando Picchi, the great Inter Milan and Italy sweeper. Temporary stands brought the capacity up to a reported 6–8,000. The smaller stadium up the road in Caorle bore the name of Giovanni Chiggiato, a local landowner and worthy from the early part of the century. Matches were apparently played in the cooler evenings at 9.15pm and were 40 minutes each-way.

Results:

Group stage:

Date Venue Team 1 Score Team 2 Scorers
19 August Stadio Giovanni Chiggiato, Caorle Italy 1–2 West Germany ITA: Carolina Morace
FRG: Petra Bartelmann, Rosi Eichenlaub
20 August Stadio Armando Picchi, Jesolo England 1–1 Belgium ENG: Linda Curl
BEL: Carla Martens
21 August Stadio Giovanni Chiggiato, Caorle Italy 4–0 Belgium ITA: Carolina Morace, Betty Vignotto, Rose Reilly, Betty Secci
22 August Stadio Armando Picchi, Jesolo West Germany 2–0 England FRG: Silvia Neid (2)
23 August Stadio Giovanni Chiggiato, Caorle Belgium 2–0 West Germany BEL: TBC1
24 August Stadio Armando Picchi, Jesolo Italy 1–1 England ITA: Carolina Morace
ENG: Linda Curl

Third place play-off:

Date Venue Team 1 Score Team 2 Scorers
25 August Stadio Giovanni Chiggiato, Caorle England 2–1 Belgium ENG: Marieanne Spacey, Linda Curl
BEL: TBC (pen)

Final:

Date Venue Team 1 Score Team 2 Scorers
26 August Stadio Armando Picchi, Jesolo Italy 3–1 West Germany ITA: Carolina Morace, Rose Reilly, Betty Vignotto (pen)
GER: Anne Kreuzberg

Hors concours:

Date Venue Team 1 Score Team 2 Scorers
27 August Monfalcone Italy 1–3 England ITA: TBC
ENG: Angie Gallimore, Hope Powell, Pat Chapman

Stadio Armando Picchi:

Some public domain snaps of the stadium in Jesolo, taken in September 2015.

Team notes:

England

Since their gutsy defeat by Sweden in the Euro 84 final shootout, England had lost three loyal campaigners to international retirement. Irish-born goalkeeper Terry Irvine, left-back Maggie Pearce (née Kirkland) and original skipper Sheila Parker (née Porter) were all footballing mums. They went out with heads held high.

Martin Reagan was also without fleet-footed Euro 84 revelation Kerry Davis and midfield terrier Gillian Coultard, who was away on holiday. That gave an opportunity to some fresh blood, including teenaged future-greats Marieanne Spacey (18, Friends of Fulham) and Jo Broadhurst (16, Sheffield).

There were also debut caps for defenders Sallie Jackson (Howbury Grange) and Jackie Slack (Norwich). Slack had skippered Lowestoft to the 1982 WFA Cup. Cup specialist Jackson played alongside Slack in that game and repeated the feat in May 1984 with Howbury Grange.

A few of England’s players had been involved in a six-a-side curtain-raiser to an Everton v Liverpool Charity Shield clash at Wembley, staged the day before the Mundialito started. The bizarre knockabout pitted WFA Cup winners Howbury Grange against national 5-a-side champs Millwall Lionesses. St Helens and a Mersey/Wirral select were also roped in, a sop to the 100,000 scousers in attendance.

The Wembley exertions might explain the sluggish start from England, who fell behind in their opening match when Belgium’s Carla Martens ruthlessly capitalised on new girl Jackie Slack’s error.

Linda Curl brought England level after running onto a Brenda Sempare pass. It was the best possible tonic for Curl, who laid to rest the ghost of her Kenilworth Road penalty miss at the earliest opportunity.

England’s next match was an inauspicious 2–0 reverse at the hands of slick upstarts West Germany. Midfielder Silvia Neid, later named Player of the Tournament, put England to the sword with two well taken goals.

It was to be 31 long years, before Fara Williams’ 2015 World Cup penalty finally ended England’s German hoodoo. Neid, by then the unified Germany manager, was rendered incredulous by her team’s extra-time defeat and failure to land a bronze medal.

In the final group match against the Italian hosts, Linda Curl put England ahead in torrential rain. Morace hit back as the teams ground out an entertaining 1–1 draw in Jesolo. According to the WFA’s one-person media operation, the incomparable Cathy Gibb, Hope Powell “won the Italian crowd over with astounding delicate skills”.

The third place play-off saw another meeting with the underrated Belgians. Spacey lashed England ahead, but profligate finishing proved costly when Jackson’s handball conceded a penalty which pegged it back to 1–1.

Jackson made amends by hitting a long pass to Curl, who expertly rounded Belgian custodian Annie Noë and knocked in her third goal of the tournament to win the match for England.

There was more to come as a hastily-arranged bounce game against an understrength Italian team took place the day after the final. This was just up the coast in Monfalcone, near the border with what was then Yugoslavia.

Some sources describe the opposition as an Italian “B team”, but England’s 3–1 win was notable for Jo Broadhurst’s first Lionesses appearance and Hope Powell’s first international goal. It is also thought that Sue Buckett filled in for Terry Wiseman, marking an emotional farewell between the sticks for the Southampton legend.

It its coverage of the tournament, local broadsheet La Stampa said of the English squad:

“They train running barefoot on the beach, eat in joy, stuff themselves with sweets, seem to appreciate the good Italian wine: for them this “Mundialito” is almost a holiday.”

The same article cited “Patricia Curry” and “Andrienne Powel” as England’s best players – apparently garbled compounds of Hope Powell, Marieanne Spacey, Linda Curl (?) and Pat Chapman.

Andrienne Powel was described as a professional ballerina and coach Martin Reagan as a former Liverpool player.2 Either the hack responsible was the victim of a wind-up, or they were no stranger to appreciation of the good wine themselves!

Italy

Italy had hosted previous tournaments under the auspices of rebel women’s football governing body FIEFF, which had long since been stamped out by peevish rivals UEFA and FIFA.

Mundialito organisers tenuously claimed their lineage from the 1981 International Ladies Football Festival in Japan. Even more tenuously they claimed that Italy were defending a title won at the curious, unfinished Japanese tournament.

Inevitably, the wily Italians had a couple of trump cards up their sleeves. The first was Rose Reilly. A deadly cocktail of pace and power, Reilly was already box office dynamite in Italy’s Serie A. So much so that the Italians were trying to marry the charismatic Kiki Dee look-alike into Italian citizenry.

In November 1972, aged 17, she had starred in Scotland’s first ever international fixture, against England at a frost-bitten Ravenscraig Stadium in Greenock. In the first-half Reilly scored direct from a corner to put the Scots 2–0 ahead, only for the team to somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in time-honoured Scottish style.

RoseReilly1984

Reilly gives her verdict to Italian TV

The Scots made a big play of getting Reilly back in the fold for the winner-take-all Euro qualifier with England at Dumbarton in October 1982. British Caledonian were lined up to jet her in, but her employers at Alaska Lecce (named for their ice cream company backers) had other ideas. Kerry Davis bagged four unanswered goals in England’s romp at the ramshackle Boghead Park ground.

Reilly gave the marriage offers a swerve, but did become an honorary Italian footballer: forming a formidable front three with Carolina Morace and Betty Vignotto.

The Italians’ second trump card was the home officials, who presided over what Cathy Gibb called: “refereeing at its worst”. They waved through three offside goals as Italy drubbed Belgium 4–0, recovering from their shock 2–1 opening day defeat by West Germany.

This set the tone for what was to follow. Some 32 years later at a Mundialito-type event in America, preposterously entitled the SheBelieves Cup, the refereeing was equally diabolical. Although this time it was female referees. And the public no longer had to take Gibb’s word for it, since live BBC television coverage beamed it into the nation’s living rooms.

In 1984 relations between the Italian Women’s FA (FIGCF) and the Italian [male] FA (FIGC) were strained. A telegramme from the Chinese FA inviting the women’s team to a Xi’an tournament in October had not been passed on. Seething, the FIGCF were left pondering whether apathy or spite had underpinned the snub.

The team did get to China but were handed a humiliating 3–2 semi-final defeat by Dallas Sting, a youth club who had been cleared by the USSF to play as the United States. Among the Sting players, mostly high school girls, was Carla Werden (Overbeck) who went on to become a “99er”, an Olympic gold medallist and a full-time professional with the Carolina Courage.

Notes:


1. Women’s Football Archive contacted the Belgian FA (KBVB) to tell them they had this score the wrong way about on their website. But to date they have not replied or fixed their error. Inevitably, the German FA’s “statistik center” is correct!

2. Reagan never played for Liverpool, England’s most successful male club. Although he did play against them three times, twice with Middlesbrough and once with Portsmouth.