Debbie Bampton: Highly-decorated midfield powerhouse
Born: 7 October 1961, Sidcup
Debut: Netherlands (A) 30 September 1978
Occupation: Cashier (1981), Selector (1982), Courier (1987), Footballer (1988), Postwoman (2005)
Part One: England
England manager Tommy Tranter handed 16-year-old schoolgirl Bampton her England debut on 30 September 1978 in a friendly with the Netherlands in Vlissingen.
Bampton’s overriding memory of the event was the inordinately tight shorts supplied to England’s players. They were wholly unsuitable attire for running about on a reclaimed island on the windswept North Sea coast.
As a mere slip of a lass the offending garments did not present Bampton with too many problems. But some of her more mature, fuller-figured team-mates apparently struggled.
In Daily Mail parlance, they had to “pour their curves” into the “sultry numbers”.
Unsurprisingly, England crashed to a comprehensive 3–1 defeat, Pat Chapman scoring the goal. Bampton came off the sub’s bench for 20 minutes and hated it.
It was the typical sort of amateurish nonsense which saw several leading players quit the game in 1978 and 1979, clearing the decks for the next generation.
Bampton went to the 1981 Portopia Tournament in Japan. She hit England’s final goal in the 4–0 win over the hosts in Kobe.
Sadly, the debut micro-shorts were not to be the last sartorial scandal encountered by Bampton during her Three Lionesses career.
Trooping off after another match in Italy, she went to swap shirts with an opponent – but England boss Martin Reagan wasn’t having any of it.
His steely touchline glare had Bampton wriggling back into her top quicker than you can say: “Ciao”!
Martin was a straight-laced guy. After all, he was a product of the FA administration which picked Ron Greenwood over “Ol’ Big ‘Ed” himself, Brian Clough.
But he wasn’t scandalised by this airing of early sports-bra technology. More likely he knew the potless Women’s Football Association (WFA) could ill afford a replacement shirt!
A broken leg which washed out Bampton’s spell in New Zealand (see below) also kept her out of England’s first ever UEFA qualifiers starting in 1982.
Battling back into contention, she played a key role in the Denmark semi-final. At Gresty Road, Crewe, England edged a nervy encounter 2–1.
The WFA credited Bampton with England’s second-half winner, although Danish FA records suggest Liz Deighan did the damage.
In any event, the second-leg in Hjørring was settled by Bampton’s towering header from Pat Chapman’s corner. The team celebrated winning through to the final with an impromptu human pyramid.
The final first-leg at Sweden’s Ullevi national stadium was backs to the wall stuff. England were fortunate to escape with a 1–0 defeat, but Bampton so nearly grabbed a priceless away goal.
Collecting possession from Linda Curl, she burst into the box but flicked a weak shot agonisingly wide of Elisabeth Leidinge’s post.
When the second-leg in Luton went to penalties, Bampton showed an iron nerve to convert England’s third kick. But Curl and Hanson put theirs too near Leidinge, who, ankle-deep in mud, failed to dive out of the way.
In August 1984 the Charity Shield between Everton and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium took place in front of 100,000 fans.
The WFA was invited to stage a short curtain-raiser and plumped for a six-a-side knockabout between Bampton’s Howbury Grange, Millwall Lionesses, St Helens and a Merseyside/Wirral Select.
Billed as the first time women had played football at Wembley Stadium, Linda Whitehead hailed a major “breakthrough”.
Amidst farcical scenes, Millwall were eventually declared winners because their goalkeeper (Sue Street) had the fewest touches!
That was on the Saturday and on the Monday Bampton was basking in Venetian Riviera sunshine, as England’s Mundialito campaign kicked-off against Belgium.
A hectic schedule of Euro finals, Wembley and then the ‘little World Cup’ in Italy: it seemed women’s football was at last reaching critical mass.
Bampton was back in Italy for the following year’s Mundialito, which England won. They handily beat upstarts the United States 3–1 along the way.
She dipped out of the starting line-up during the Euro 1987 qualifying campaign. Reagan perhaps allowing two creative ‘luxury players’ Hope Powell and Brenda Sempare free reign against the outmatched Irish and Scots.
But for the big games Bampton was always in there, usually alongside Gillian Coultard in a double pivot midfield. Both featured as England lost 3–2 to rivals Sweden in the Euro 87 semi-final, after extra-time.
Bampton’s toughness and famed aerial prowess meant she could also fill in at centre-half, like she did after the successful Angie Gallimore–Lorraine Hanson axis was broken up by the latter’s pregnancy in 1986.
Influential Bampton remained an England regular throughout the 1980s. When Carol Thomas (née McCune) retired in 1985, she was the natural choice to inherit the captaincy.
She clocked up her 50th cap in England’s 4–0 win at Love Street, Paisley on 6 May 1990 and was presented with a handsome silver plate.
An ill-timed injury during a period of upheaval saw Bampton lose the England captaincy. Barrie Williams – the WFA’s replacement for sacked Martin Reagan – handed Coultard the armband during his short time in the hotseat.
When the FA took over running the national team in 1993 Coultard was still captain, only to be publicly demoted by Ted Copeland on the eve of the 1995 World Cup.
Bampton was back as captain for the tournament in Sweden but the squad was riven with factions. There was no beef with Coultard, though, who remained Bampton’s room-mate.
The World Cup showed England were being left behind by other nations. This reached its nadir in May 1997 during back-to-back thrashings by the United States: 5–0 in San Jose then 6–0 in Portland.
Bampton, the sweeper in England’s ultra-defensive formation, toiled in the heat – and she wasn’t the only one.
Frequently moving as though wading through treacle, with a proverbial piano on her back, she was still among the better performers in England’s forlorn attempts at damage limitation.
Full-time athletes like Olympic superstar Mia Hamm were by then on a completely different planet to England’s enthusiastic but aging amateurs.
That was not the players’ fault of course. It was a result of chronic developmental failures, compounded over many years – as Bampton herself had long been saying.
Bampton’s 19-year, 95-cap England service came to an abrupt halt the following month.
She was unceremoniously bombed-out by Copeland, who had left it up to her whether she travelled to Norway for another meaningless friendly in June 1997.
Stressed by playing for and managing Croydon, she took Copeland up on his offer to sit the game out, but was never called upon again.
No thanks, no fanfare, no nothing!
Unimpressed Bampton later branded Copeland a decent coach but “too insensitive to work with women”.
Part Two: Club
Dad Albert and mum Ann played a key role in Bampton’s career and at many of her clubs. Sister Lorraine also dabbled in football, but not as seriously as Debbie.
A childhood judoka, Bampton recalled honing her football skills in time-honoured tradition: in the back garden with her dad.
Wendy Owen (2005) recalled Bampton as a highly-promising young team-mate at Maidstone. A crocked neck meant Owen’s own best days were well behind her by then.
But with Albert as manager, Debbie as captain and free-scoring Tracy Doe up front, Maidstone were soon a force to be reckoned with.
The Kent outfit reached the 1981 WFA Cup semi-final but were defeated by the holders, St Helens, at Maidstone United’s Athletic Ground.
Silverware-hungry Bampton switched to ambitious Lowestoft in 1981 and won the 1982 WFA Cup in her first season, playing in the final at Loftus Road.
She was chosen to play and coach in New Zealand with Auckland WFC from May to September 1982, alongside Audrey Rigby of Notts Rangers and Caroline Jones of Manor Athletic.
Rigby, a member of England’s 1976 Home Championships squad, thrived Down Under. She was their 1985 Player of the Year and won 14 caps as a NZ international.
Bampton endured a less enjoyable trip, consigned to the sidelines as a broken leg restricted her to coaching instead of playing.
Back in Blighty, Bampton captained Howbury Grange in the 1984 WFA Cup final at Sincil Bank, Lincoln. She collected her second winner’s medal as Doncaster Belles were seen off 4–2.
At some point in 1984–85 Bampton signed for Millwall Lionesses who were developing their pioneering link with the Millwall men’s club community department.
The Lionesses were beaten by Doncaster Belles in both the 1986 and 1987 WFA Cup semi-finals.
In 1987 Bampton was playing for Millwall and worked delivering mail for the Department of the Environment, when she left for Serie A club Trani.
She visited Trani’s Kerry Davis for a holiday and trained with the Italian giants, who promptly offered a two-year pro deal.
Like Denis Law and Jimmy Greaves a generation earlier, Bampton found performance-related pay taken to extremes in Italy.
That was okay for Davis, who had gone all-in. But for Bampton – trying to keep commitments ticking over at home – it proved unworkable.
She enjoyed the football: forming a formidable midfield duo with Viviana Bontacchio, having crossed swords with the tireless little Brescian while on England duty.
Trani lost the Cup final 2–1 to Modena and finished second in the league, twelve points behind Lazio. But Bampton had already decided to bail when Trani went bust on the eve of the 1988–89 campaign.
Back at Millwall Lionesses, Bampton was part of an ever-improving team. This culminated in claiming the 1991 WFA Cup at Prenton Park against Doncaster Belles.
When the WFA formed a National League in 1991, the Millwall team broke up and Bampton headed to London rivals Friends of Fulham, who were re-branding as Wimbledon.
The team started brightly, with a flurry of goals from Bampton’s England team-mate Marieanne Spacey, but never recovered from a 5–1 home thumping by Doncaster Belles in November 1991.
In 1992–93 Bampton played for newly-promoted Arsenal. As a self-confessed “Gooner” she was proud to collect a historic treble in her first season.
Vic Akers’s well-resourced Arsenal franchise made a mockery of the bookies’ questionable pre-season odds (12–1!) in the National League.
The 1993 WFA Cup final at Oxford’s Manor Ground saw Bampton inadvertently hospitalise her old friend and adversary, Doncaster Belles’ Gillian Coultard, after a first-half collision.
That coincided with Arsenal scoring twice in first-half stoppage time, in their eventual 3–0 win. Bampton pocketed her fourth winner’s gong from her fourth final.
A trophyless 1993–94 season with Arsenal preceded a move into player-management with Croydon, the club formed as Bromley Borough in 1991 by a few of Bampton’s old Millwall Lionesses pals.
In 1995–96 the team overcame a monster end of season fixture pile-up to beat the Belles to the title on goal difference. Despite being out on their feet, they also beat Liverpool on penalties in the Cup final at The Den.
Pete Davies’s I Lost my Heart to the Belles (1996) – unashamedly a lovelorn paean to Doncaster Belles – portrayed Bampton in the role of cartoon villain.
That was poetic licence by Davies. But Bampton’s brand of straight-talking did not endear her to everyone.
It possibly went against her when the FA appointed under-qualified Hope Powell, her Croydon skipper, over her head as England manager in 1998.
Forthright Bampton was never one to shirk a confrontation. Especially about complacency, for which she reserved a special loathing.
Steeped in football, Bampton’s intimate knowledge of the game meant she could wring the best out of her charges.
She balanced a relatively small squad and valued the – ahem – footballer’s footballers who played alongside gifted artisans like Hope Powell and Jo Broadhurst.
As well as dad Albert, ex-Millwall Lionneses boss Alan May was involved with the coaching. Broadhurst’s dad Brian also helped out but Bampton retained overall control, even while playing.
Tactical team talks were given via the medium of Subbuteo, much to the players’ hilarity.
This all fostered amazing team spirit at Croydon, who went unbeaten in the league for two years. Although they did develop an irksome habit of losing Cup finals to Arsenal.
Croydon recaptured the League title in 1998–99 and the squad cheekily went along to the Cup final, to cheer on Arsenal’s opponents Southampton Saints.
Arsenal gaffer Vic Akers was left seething after finding a boozy a capella rendition of “Where’s Yer Treble Gone?” on his answerphone messages. The culprit was never found, although Bampton naturally fell under suspicion!
Another double was secured in 2000 when Doncaster Belles were controversially edged out 2–1 in the Cup final at Bramall Lane in Sheffield.
When Croydon were franchised to Charlton Athletic in summer 2000, Bampton sensationally quit.
By all previous indications, Bampton was not averse to a tie-up with a bigger men’s club, which had been on the cards for a while.
But something about the way it was handled did not sit right. Bampton had her principles and voted with her feet. Even with vastly improved resources, the club never enjoyed success on the same scale.
Postponing retirement yet again, Bampton’s next destination as a player raised eyebrows: Doncaster Belles.
Not only is Doncaster 200 miles north of Croydon, but Bampton’s club career was hitherto defined by numerous ding-dong battles against the Belles, over some 20 years.
On the opening day of the 2000–01 season, Donny faced Premier League new girls Barry Town in Wales. A goal down after 79 minutes, they roared back to win 3–1 with 38-year-old Bampton notching the second.
On her induction to the National Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2005, Bampton could proudly say: “By the time I finished I had achieved everything I wanted in the game”.
Bampton played on for a few years with Eastbourne Borough in the lower divisions, under – who else? – dad Albert. She also held brief coaching assignments at Whitehawk and Lewes.
Born: 12 June 1975, London
Debut: Portugal (A) 11 February 1996
Occupation: Housing officer (1996)
In a departure for Women’s Football Archive, we give yesteryear a swerve and profile a current player still doing the business at a high level: Claire Lacey of C&K Basildon Ladies.
Lacey joined newly reformed West Ham United Ladies in 1992–93 as a total beginner. Roger Morgan, the ex-QPR and Tottenham winger, had relaunched the team as part of his club community officer remit.
An earlier iteration of West Ham Ladies FC had been around in the 1970s but had subsequently died out.
John Greenacre had been involved with the original club and was brought back for the relaunch. John was hugely respected in women’s football circles and much missed after his untimely death from cancer in 2008.
The first team entered Division Three of the Greater London League, while a reserve team entered Division Four. Under the astute stewardship of Greenacre and West Ham academy coach Trevor Lewin, the Ladies were promoted twice and took their place in Division One for 1995–96.
After the 1995 World Cup, England boss Ted Copeland was casting around for goalkeeping backup to Pauline Cope. He had alienated Tracey Davidson and Lesley Shipp, who both retired from international football.
Young Doncaster Belle Debbie Biggins was also called-up and warmed the bench a few times, without getting a cap. Rachel Brown was already on the radar too, but being held back on grounds of age. She debuted against Germany in February 1997 immediately after turning 16.
Lacey’s day in the sun came on 11 February 1996. Aged 20, she was an 81st-minute substitute for Cope in England’s routine 5–0 win over Portugal at Campo das Portas do Sol in Benevente.
The Euro 1997 qualifying match was also notable for the goalscoring debut of Wigan Ladies’ 16-year-old Marie-Anne Catterall.
Disaster struck in 1996–97 when Lacey injured her back and had to start playing outfield for her club. In 2007 she reluctantly left the Hammers after a stormy AGM saw manager Kay Cossington’s departure.
She moved on to Millwall Lionesses and, back between the sticks, was part of their 2009 promotion-winning team. That capped Lacey’s remarkable rise from the lower echelons of regional football, to the very top of the English pyramid.
As Millwall club captain, Lacey was crocked during 2009–10 and out of football until joining C&K Basildon in Jan 2011.
She remains the Essex outfit’s inspirational skipper, capable of doing a job at centre-half or utilising her height and strength further up the pitch.
Claire Lacey was not an England great. Not everyone can be: life’s not like that.
With Pauline Cope blocking her path, more than one cap was always going to be an uphill struggle for Lacey. At the time Ted Copeland – with some justification – hailed Cope the world’s best.
Loyal Hammer Lacey plied her trade in the Greater London Leagues, when most of her England rivals were dining at the top Premier League table.
She is one of a select band of players to know the pride of pulling on the three lions at senior level. No-one will ever take that away from Lacey.
The bottom line is this: anyone good enough to play competitive football for their country is inherently worthy of lasting recognition and respect.
England’s first taste of women’s football at youth team level
England’s under-19 team have been in Norway this past week, in UEFA Championship action, while next week the under-20s take centre stage at their World Cup in Canada.
Now a regular part of the football calendar, it is only in recent years that youth tournaments for women’s national teams came into being.
For decades UEFA and the national associations had conspired to artificially hold back women’s football. The associations said they could not cobble together teams as there were no official tournaments,1 while mealy-mouthed UEFA claimed they could not start tournaments as there were no teams. ‘Disingenuous’ doesn’t even come close!
It was not until November 1996 that UEFA’s Committee for Women’s Football finally drew a line under this nonsense: a 24-team UEFA Under-18 Championship was put together for the 1997–98 season.
England found themselves in group 6, alongside France and hosts Belgium. To save on costs, the groups were played as a mini-tournament at a single location: in this case Oostduinkerke (“East Dunkirk”) on the West Flanders coast.
Senior boss Ted Copeland ran the England team. One of the perverse effects of having no youth teams was that a handful of youngsters already had experience at senior level. Under-18 captain Danielle Murphy had been in and around the senior set-up since she was 15, while goalkeeper Rachel Brown, Sue Smith, Kate Massey, Natasha Daly and Rachel Yankey all boasted top-team caps.
At a sparsely-attended floodlit training pitch England braved the cold North Sea winds to record a 2–1 win over Belgium on 10 November 1997. A Belgian defender turned Rachel Yankey’s cross into her own goal to give England the lead, before Kate Massey lashed in a second on 29 minutes. Belgium hit back just before full-time but an eye-catching display from goalie Rachel Brown saw England hold firm to grind out the win.
In the next match against France two days later, England faced a barrage of early pressure and were a goal down after 20 minutes. A spirited second-half performance saw Rachel Yankey provide a close-range finish to Natasha Daly’s cross, tying the game at 1–1.
In an interview with Tony Leighton, published in the October 2010 edition of She Kicks, legend Yankey branded this match “the most memorable England game in my long career”:
It was actually an Under–18 international against France. I’d already played for the seniors, but the Under–18 team had only just been set up and players like Sue Smith and Rachel Brown were also involved. We were in a tournament in Belgium – the first time any of us had experienced tournament football – and whereas we’d had hardly any time together the French had already played a number of games together. They battered us in the first 10 minutes and we went a goal down, but we stuck together, battled really hard for each other and equalised with a goal that was so ironic – our manager, Ted Copeland, had been banging on all week about how many goals were scored at the far post from decent crosses and we’d got really bored of this. But that’s how we equalised and I was involved – but we were all so delighted with the goal that I honestly can’t remember whether I crossed or scored! We went behind again but came back a second time and it finished 2–2 [?] So okay, it wasn’t a big World Cup tie or anything like that, but it was a fantastic game to play in and for me it showed what team spirit and togetherness can achieve on a football pitch.
When France beat Belgium 2–0, England were edged out on goal difference. The French went on to the inaugural final, where they went down to Denmark over two legs.
1. Exceptions to this were found in Scandinavia, whose thriving youth tournaments gave them a distinct advantage at senior level. And, oddly, the Celtic fringe: where Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales seem to have contested regular youth matches through the 1990s despite not always putting out national teams at senior level.↩