Players: Pat Firth

Patricia “Pat” Firth: Wunderkind striker and pioneering female coach

With Foden’s in 1974. Photo from the NFM #HiddenHistory project

Born: c.1957, Leeds

Position: Forward

Debut: Scotland (H) 23 June 1973

Occupation: Production worker (1976)

A striking prodigy from Leeds who burst on the scene in a flurry of GOALS. She blasted a sensational debut hat-trick – England’s first ever – against Scotland in June 1973. At club level she helped Foden’s wrest the WFA Cup crown away from Southampton in 1974, then returned to Yorkshire with the ever-improving Doncaster Belles in 1976. After nine goals in 11 England caps, a series of debilitating knee injuries saw her retrain as a goalkeeper and turn to coaching. As a pioneering female player/manager she passed her FA Preliminary licence and took both Rowntrees and Bronte to the WFA Cup semi-finals. In January 1987 she was appointed as Yorkshire and Humberside regional coach, the first woman to hold such a senior coaching role within the old WFA setup. She also coached the Welsh national team during the 1980s.

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Prenton Park, Birkenhead 27 April 1991 – Doncaster Belles 0–1 Millwall Lionesses

Yvonne Baldeo hits winner as Lionesses stun Belles and seize Cup

Midfield warriors Gillian Coultard and Debbie Bampton pose with D.J. Bear prior to locking horns again

Classic match report: Millwall end Belles hoodoo to win their first national Cup

…Back to the football then (craving your indulgence Eni!) England kick-off their latest bid for World Cup glory at Tranmere Rovers’ Prenton Park, in an opening qualifier against Russia later this month. And that’s all the excuse we need to recall Prenton Park’s first big women’s fixture; this classic Cup final in 1991 between Doncaster Belles and Millwall Lionesses. Odds-on favourites Donny lost out on a fifth win in their eighth final, as Yvonne Baldeo’s 65th-minute winner handed the spoils to first-time finalists Millwall.

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Match: England 2–0 France, 7 November 1974, Plough Lane

Plough Lane – England 2–0 France

England beat France to secure eighth straight win

Classic match report: Southampton duo Davies and Lopez score to down Les Bleues at Wimbledon

In 1974 the British economy was in the toilet due to crackpot ‘austerity’ measures. Terrorism lurked on the nation’s streets due to disastrous foreign policy failures. While a feeble government colluded with backward Loyalist bigots from Northern Ireland. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! Still, at least in those days England could beat France at women’s football, which they’ve never managed since…

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Report: Scotland’s moral right to the Women’s FA Cup

The real story of Eric Worthington and the Women’s FA Cup

Annual Scotland–England match trophy was repurposed as English WFA Cup

Women’s Football Archive sounds the pibroch for footballing justice

Last hurrah: Eric Worthington’s Cup gets its swan song in 1997

England’s first ‘official’ match on home soil took place in the rarefied environs of Manor Park, Nuneaton on 23 June 1973. The failure to secure a Football League ground for the event – even in the off-season – was a measure of the lasting sabotage wrought on women’s football by the FA’s 1921 ban. Opponents Scotland had been edged out 3–2 in the teams’ first fixture the previous November. In contrast to that blizzard by the Clyde, Nuneaton was in the midst of a scorching heat wave. With England leading 2–0 at half-time, the roof fell in on the peely-wally Scots. A final score of 8–0 remains their record defeat. Pat Firth’s debut hat-trick, braces from Pat Davies and moonlighting Scot Paddy McGroarty, and a late finish from sub Eileen Foreman undid Scotland, whose captain Mary Anderson had to go off at half-time.

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Report: Suffragettes of Football, National Football Museum, Manchester, 7 March 2017

Or, England’s Lost Generation tells us what it was really like

Our special correspondent ‘An Audience Observer’ writes from the front line of women’s football history…

As part of International Women’s Week, the National Football Museum and the BBC teamed up to present a discussion panel with regard to the pioneers of the women’s game. The list of attendees to the panel were Pat Gregory, Carol Thomas, Liz Deighan, Kerry Davis and Rachel Brown-Finnis, ably led by the BBC’s Eilidh Barbour.

The event opened with a short BBC film outlining the early history of the women’s game including contributions from the indomitable Gregory, Sue Lopez, Sylvia Gore and the champion of the women’s game in the day in the form of Lawrie McMenemy, who coined the phrase the “Suffragettes of football”.

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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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Review: Carol Thomas interview with BBC Radio Humberside, 14 November 2016

Ex-England skipper breaks cover for local radio chat

On a cold Monday night in November BBC Radio Humberside pulled off a significant coup, securing Carol Thomas as the guest in their 6pm nightly phone-in ‘Sports Talk’. In trying her hand at punditry Thomas proved herself an eloquent standard bearer for women’s football and sport in Hull. The episode link was here, but sadly is no longer available.

Local Matters


The programme began with a doleful air, as we learned England’s rugby league lads had been roughed up and thrashed by Australia the day before.

Although a tedious minority sport performed by inflated muscle men, rugby league still enjoys plenty of traction in its traditional heartland of the M62 Corridor.

Host Mike White softened studio guest Thomas up by underarming a nice gentle opener(!): “Why do England’s sports teams always fail and how can we change it?”

It came couched in a five-minute ramble, culminating in a closed question. Of course, poor Thomas could only reply: “Dunno”.

C’mon Mike, if she knew that, she’d be a Sir Clive Woodward-style guru. She’d be strutting about in rimless glasses, babbling business-speak and banking exorbitant consultancy fees.

The next segment contained an interview with Paddy Madden, an amiable Dubliner who – we were told – had been among the goals for Scunthorpe United.

There followed some toe-curling banter between host White and Madden, the latter in his lilting Irish brogue. Typical fayre, perhaps, for a lower-league footballer and local radio sports presenter.

Thomas was brought in for a snap verdict on the facile premise that teams do better when they have good team spirit. They do, she quickly agreed.

Next up was Mr Emma Byrne himself, Marcus Bignot, who cut his management teeth with Birmingham City Ladies but has now popped up in charge of Grimsby Town.

An ebullient Brummie, Bignot was on sparkling form. He sung the praises of Omar Bogle – The Mariners’ free scoring forward and former Celtic youth player.

Hull City Heartbreak


With casual listeners’ interest sagging at this point (33:30), the spotlight finally moved to Thomas with an extended interview of ten minutes or so.

We learned that she went to her first Hull City game with her dad in 1966 and had remained a passionate and loyal fan ever since – that is, UNTIL this summer.

All through the tough times the McCune/Thomas clan had been there. They must have stood at a crumbling Boothferry Park, in tiny crowds marred by a stubborn infestation of far-right terrace thugs.

Then there was a decrepit Mark Hateley thundering about up front while ‘managing’ a team of no-hopers to the foot of the basement division. Dark days indeed.

With foreign investment, a shiny new ground, Wembley Cup finals and Premier League football, Hull’s recent renaissance should have fans walking on air.

But – Thomas explained – a contentious season ticket policy has many Hull City die-hards taking the painful decision to turn their backs on the club they love.

It sounded like a sort of football ticketing poll tax: the better off better off, but no discounts for those who can’t pay full whack. Legions of kids and OAPs have been priced out.

“Simpler and fairer” according to the owners’ PR doggerel. But like many thousands of others Thomas isn’t swallowing that and won’t be back until the hated policy is gone.

Thomas spoke well on an inflammatory subject, getting her point across in measured terms. She eschewed hyperbole in favour of diplomatic understatement.

That must be part of the reason England bosses Tommy Tranter and Martin Reagan saw her as captaincy material all those years ago.

Memories of a Lifetime in Football


While interviewer White lacked women’s football knowledge he accorded Thomas due respect throughout. He came across as a dedicated pro with an ear to the ground of his local beat.

The name Gail Borman was thrown into the mix – she’d been a pal of a pal at his school in Hull.

Donny Belles legend Borman must have been a tough player, ventured White. “A tough player to defend against,” said Thomas.

Thomas then recalled her spell across the Pennines with Preston Rangers and that she turned out for the Belles’ hometown rivals CP Doncaster.

As the pre-eminent northern club, Donny Belles were conspicuously absent from her CV. This mirrors Clare Taylor, who famously snubbed the Belles in a personal quest to knock them off their perch.

Thomas worked in the offices of Northern Dairies (who became Northern Foods) and turned out for teams including Reckitts, and Rowntrees (of York), who like CP Doncaster were factory teams.

Kindly Hull City youth team boss Pete Sissons let Thomas do her fitness training at Boothferry Park alongside the boys in his charge.

She spoke about going on a tour to Switzerland with Spurs, explaining that the WFA would allow two ‘guest players’ to go away on member clubs’ foreign jollies.

Although the date of the tour wasn’t mentioned the Spurs link may have come from the England goalie Terry Wiseman, or Vicki Johnson who was Thomas’s national team understudy at right-back.

She spoke of her pride at captaining her country and of bowing out to have sons Andrew (1986) and Mark (1988). Unable to shake off the football bug she was soon charging about at grassroots level.

White contrasted Thomas’s era with the much-improved lot of today’s top female players. He plucked from somewhere a fanciful FA funding figure of £17m.

“Oh that we had £17m back then!” said Thomas, casting her mind back to the days of the potless WFA.

National Hall of Fame


There was a hint of behind-the-scenes moves to induct Thomas – belatedly – into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame.

Clearly this year’s entrants, Rachels Unitt and Brown-Finnis, are in on merit. In Unitt’s case Thomas herself would appreciate a full-back with such consistency and tactical discipline.

Questions continue to be asked about the Hall of Fame’s opaque selection policy, though, and the continuing absence of pioneering greats like Thomas…

Come on, whoever you are, enough’s enough – make it happen! Get Carol Thomas in there!

A Carol Thomas Wikipedia page has recently materialised, which lays out her credentials in more detail.