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
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)
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.
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”.↩
England crush German rivals at 1970 Women’s World Cup in Italy
Remember when England whupped Germany 5–1? No, not that time. Y’know… 1970… at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa? Before Stevie G, Michael O and, er, Emile H were even born. No? Then read on…
UPDATE: See below for a November 2016 update to this article.
The Women’s Football Association gingerly began life as the ‘Ladies’ Football Association of Great Britain’ in 1969.
For a few years they remained so bogged down in ludicrous ‘steering groups’ and ‘joint-consultative sub-committees’ that nothing actually got done in terms of putting a national team out.
Meanwhile, hard-headed realist Harry Batt got on and made things happen. Like all the best drivers of early women’s football he acted without waiting for permission.
Batt was the manager of Chiltern Valley Ladies, where his formidable wife June had played, and had taken it upon himself to put together an England national team.
Meanwhile an independent world women’s football governing body, FIEFF, had been formed as the brainchild of a group of Italian businessmen. Among them was Marco Rambaudi, furniture magnate and owner of the Real Torino women’s football club.
Martini & Rossi, purveyors of sickly fortified wines – popular in the pre-alcopop 70s – were the group’s main sponsors.
A Coppa Europa involving Batt’s England had proved to be a money-spinner for FIEFF in 1969. Thumbing their nose at FIFA, the Italian impresarios put together an even more ambitious eight-team Coppa del Mondo in 1970.
Another invitation winged its way to Batt, while teams from Mexico, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and West Germany were also rounded up. Czechoslovakia pulled out at late notice when they were refused visas.
Plans to invite Brazil were scuppered when it turned out women’s football there was not only banned – as it was in most places – but actually illegal.
Martini ponied up for a massive ornate trophy, to be collected by the tournament winners.
England’s star players Sue Lopez and Dot Cassell ultimately earned moves to full-time football in Italy off the back of their performances for Batt’s team.
Here the Italian press reported that Lopez had a distant relative in the Mexican squad, due to the great-granddad who had bequeathed her Iberian moniker.
Sue’s copious memoirs rather skirt over this 1970 tournament. It was apparently a bit naughty of her to take part: she was, after all, the nascent WFA’s assistant secretary.
Batt was said to be sweating on Cassell and Lopez turning up – they made their own way to Italy after starring for Southampton in the Deal International Tournament.
Sue Buckett, the great Southampton goalkeeper who became a fixture in the WFA’s England team, was in the team lists published by La Stampa on the morning of the match, with Everitt on the bench. But in the following day’s match report it was Everitt between the sticks with Buckett nowhere to be seen.
There were a few other interesting names in Batt’s line-up, which might suggest his team was stronger and more representative than it has often been given credit for.
Briggs and Seymour jump out: Joan Briggs and Jean Seymour were veterans of the big Northern works teams who dominated England’s domestic scene in the pre-WFA era.
Seymour had moved down to play for Southampton, while Briggs turned out for Leicester side EMGALS and was one of the last players to be cut from Eric Worthington’s 1972 England team. Briggs later became a Tory Councillor in the East Midlands (Boo! Hiss!)
Denmark proved too strong in England’s next match, winning 2–0 at a canter in Milan.
Neither Cassell or Lopez were in the England team which lost the third place play-off 3–2 to Mexico in Turin. Batt’s girls never recovered from a sensational early goal by Alicia Vargas, perhaps the Marta of her day.
The Germans did not set up an official women’s team until 1982. So the invite for this tournament was taken up by Heinz Schweden, coach of club team SC Bad Neuenahr.
The Rhine Valley outfit made headlines in 2000 when they signed former Southampton Saints and Reading frontwoman Sarah Stainer, making her the first English player in the Frauen-Bundesliga.
Like Batt’s England, the Germans bolstered their ranks with guest players. Captain Margaretha Holl joined from Bellenberg. Sieglinde Schmied and Anneliese Probst came in from Ludwigsfeld and Gannertshofen, respectively.
The Bad Neuenahr team had a youthful spine: Maria Nelles (later Breuer) was the 17-year-old goalkeeper and Elisabeth “Fritzi” Schuhmacher the midfield hub. Prolific 15-year-old Martina Arzdorf (later Hertel) was charged with leading the line and getting the goals.
England and West Germany both trained at Genoa’s impressive stadium on the day before the match, with Batt and Schweden soon at loggerheads over alleged spying!
The spat foreshadowed the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup – where the Chinese hosts subjected their opponents to creepy surveillance, involving bugged dressing rooms and two-way mirrors.
In its quaintly shambolic way, the bickering proved that the stakes were high. Batt and Schweden were contrary characters. They needed to be, too: by running their “unofficial” national teams they constantly shrugged off threats of dire consequences from football’s powers that be.
A crowd of around 3,000 were in place for the half nine kick-off, after which England quickly seized control of the match.
Briggs blasted an early two-goal salvo, inside the first minute and then on nine minutes. Stockley knocked in a penalty on 25 minutes, awarded by fussy Italian ref Loffi. Cross’s goal on the half hour mark gave England a commanding 4–0 half-time lead.
Germany’s Schmied reduced the arrears with an eye-catching solo goal on 49 minutes, before – who else? – Sue Lopez lashed in a fifth to make the game safe on 61 minutes.
The match made a small ripple in the West German press. Abendzeitung sports hack Veit Mölder, piqued at the Germans’ thrashing, instead focused on the players’ looks.
Scoffing at the Brits’ “tree-truck calves”, Mölder seedily branded the German teens “die schönere Elf” (the beautiful eleven). Well, it was the 70s!
Meanwhile the sweaty-palmed, dirty raincoat-wearing snappers trained their long lenses on German number 4 Helga Waluga. The same treatment was meted out to England’s own blond bombshell Jeannie Allott a couple of years later.
It would be 45 long years before Fara Williams’ trusty right boot gave England victory over Germany again, at the 2015 World Cup in Canada.
Italian preparations for the tournament were marred by internal politics and internecine strife.
The team was selected by FICF, who were based in Viareggio and then Turin. A rival Rome-based association, FFIGC, banned its players from taking part.
FFIGC league champions Gommagomma noisily bragged that they would thrash the FICF national team. The Milan outfit may well have done too – their 16-year-old striker was the legendary Betty Vignotto.
The Italians still put out a strong team, containing captain and golden girl Elena Schiavo and excellent goalkeeper Wilma Seghetti. As holders of FIEFF’s 1969 Coppa Europa, they were looking to underline their dominance in their own backyard.
Notorious slow starters, the Italians edged out the Swiss 2–1 in Salerno. Then Schiavo booked their place in the final, grabbing a double to see off highly-fancied Mexico in Naples.
Top club team Femina BK were invited to represent Denmark, as they had in the previous year’s Coppa Europa. They wanted to go one better having finished runners-up to their Italian hosts on that occasion.
The Femina ranks boasted a couple of talented Czechs in the shape of Jana Mandikova and Maria Sevcikova, a legacy of the club’s 1968 tour behind the old iron curtain. Sevcikova was already in the sights of Italian clubs and had been on trial at Real Torino alongside Sue Lopez.
Things got off to a rocky start when the hamper containing Femina’s iconic white kits failed to materialise. Suspicion fell on the Russian travel agents. Undeterred, the Danes sourced a job lot of AC Milan replica kits at a local sports shop and wore those instead.
Femina opened their campaign with a 6–1 win over West Germany, who were tired out by their England defeat and an exhausting train journey from Genoa to Bologna.
Two goals from Evers disposed of England in the semi-final in Milan – setting up a mouthwatering final rematch with Italy in Turin.
The match was staged at Turin’s Stadio Communale (now the Stadio Olimpico after it was refurb’ed for the 2006 Winter Olympics).
Ex-Juventus custodian Giovanni Viola was in evidence, later making measured and sensible comment about the quality of football on show.
24,000 ticket sales went through the books, but the actual number inside the ground was reckoned at more than 40,000. Marco Rambaudi and pals made a killing but rubbed FIFA up the wrong way.
The crooks at the world governing body felt quite strongly, then as now, that their own noses should always be first in the trough on such occasions.
After an even bigger, better FIEFF World Cup in Mexico the following year, FIFA redoubled their efforts. High-level interference blocked a tournament in fascist Spain after which FIEFF fizzled out.
On the pitch, Denmark duly took revenge on Italy with goals in either half from Hansen and their irrepressible Czech Sevcikova.
Femina returned home in triumph having scooped the world title. But there was something rotten in the state of Denmark: their civic reception turned into a damp squib when the team caught an earlier train and missed the festivities.
The club inked a big sponsorship deal with the FAXE brewery off the back of their “World Champions” tag. But the peevish Danish FA (DBU) did everything in their power to stamp Femina out altogether over the following couple of years.
An article in the Southern Evening Echo makes it clear that Sue Lopez and the Southampton players pulled out of the squad on the eve of the tournament and DID NOT take part, after all.
Quotes from Lopez indicate a mooted transport strike on the continent dissuaded the Southampton players from setting off at 8am the day after their Deal heroics. They were also wary about being seen to undermine the WFA.
The 2–0 semi-final defeat by Denmark in Milan was followed by unsavoury scenes, as players fled in terror from exuberant Italian fans invading the pitch. Batt insisted, not entirely convincingly: “The crowd did invade the pitch but the did not touch my girls. I can surely deny this. They may have been jostled a bit but nothing more.”
It seems Seymour in the England team was not Jean (née Gollin), the Mancunian veteran of Corinthians and Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, but Janice Seymour – a team-mate of Louise Cross of Patstone United.
Thanks to Neil Morrison of The Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation for additional info.