Hull recognises late WFA icon Flo Bilton with a plaque
…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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Born: c.1947, London
Occupation: BBC Sport special projects manager (1993, 2005)
First, an apology: until now the entire Women’s Football Archive project has been a pathetic joke. That’s because it has purported to tell the story of women’s soccer in England… with hardly any mention of Pat Gregory! This article is a small step towards putting that right.
Patricia Alice Jane Gregory took over as WFA secretary from founding father Arthur Hobbs and later served as chairperson. Alongside Flo Bilton and June Jaycocks in a small band of dedicated volunteers, she kept the light of women’s football flickering through its dark days. She remained involved even after the FA takeover in 1993.
Gregory founded White Ribbon FC in June 1967 aged 19 and got involved in the South East of England League setup. The team debuted at the Deal Tournament at Betteshanger Colliery.
Sue Lopez’s Women on the Ball (1997) relates the tale of a schoolgirl Gregory writing to the local rag asking why women can’t play football. This sparked an influx of letters from other girls wondering exactly the same thing.
White Ribbon were named for Tottenham Hotspur – Gregory’s dad was a Spurs fan, but her brother supported Arsenal. And Gregory herself was a Chelsea fan!
As a footballing force White Ribbon never scaled the heights. Although they got out of their regionalised group in 1971’s Mitre Trophy, they were pasted 23–0 by eventual winners Southampton in the quarter-final.
While playing for White Ribbon, Gregory also took ballet dancing lessons. “I wasn’t good at either,” she lamented. White Ribbon fizzled out after eight years. It was off the field where Gregory’s mark would be made.
In Kicking Against Tradition (2005), Wendy Owen related an anecdote about touring England players hiding stinging nettles in Gregory’s bed as a mischievous practical joke.
With the unnamed culprit(s) giggling behind the door, stoic Gregory denied them their punchline: de-nettling her sheets without so much as a tut, then swiftly nodding off.
Although not much older than some of the England players, level-headed Gregory kept them in check by enforcing curfews and the like. Owen concluded that Gregory “had a wry sense of humour, which was probably just as well.”
That sense of humour was in evidence again in May 1979, when England went to play a friendly in Denmark. On arrival the team trained in monsoon conditions – in what turned out to be the only kit they had brought.
Cue Gregory and her fellow WFA stalwarts frantically legging it round downtown Copenhagen in search of a launderette. England lost 3–1 in driving rain and the puny crowd of 300 or so was the lowest yet. But at least they didn’t debut a soggy, all-brown England kit.
Away from the practicalities of running a national football team on a shoestring budget, Gregory also developed a sideline in polite-but-firm letters. She fired off missives right, left and centre. Eventually, she prevailed on moderate elements within the FA – in 1970 Sir Denis Follows tore up the infamous 1921 woman ban.
A regular column penned by Gregory in the WFA’s newsletter sometimes posed bold questions, such as why were 14 of 19 regional leagues chaired by men? Pretty mild by today’s standards but radical stuff in the 70s.
Gregory was no revolutionary. She wanted the best for women’s football but her demands were modest: “Women who finish playing football should not be allowed to fade away; they are probably able to combine running a home with some administrative work for a club or league”.
Nor did she shy away from voicing inconvenient truths. Speaking to Donna Woodhouse in 2003, Gregory gave her withering verdict (“real dross”) on all too many male coaches taking up space in women’s football. This was coloured by personal experience at White Ribbon, who suffered: “a succession of appalling managers”.
On the other hand she was a long-time ally of Martin Reagan, a qualified and dedicated coach whose gracious personality was a perfect fit for the WFA.
Even the famed sense of humour had its limits. In 1988 fuming Gregory gave Linda Whitehead both barrels for unilaterally moving the WFA operation from London to Manchester.
She was also left raging at her replacement on the UEFA Committee for Women’s Football after 14 years. Following the FA takeover in 1993, Gregory still went to the meetings but found men increasingly colluded to keep women out.
The UEFA snub stung because, along with her German counterpart Hannelore Ratzeburg, Gregory had rebooted the committee in 1981. The original ran from 1971 to 1978 as an all-male affair, mandated to nip any chance of progress or development in the bud.
Ratzeburg and Gregory immediately got a Euro Championship up and running, then dug in for the long game: scrapping for every incremental improvement. Ditching Gregory for a stuffed County FA blazer was a step back to the dark ages. It was symptomatic of the FA’s disastrously high-handed approach since taking over.
Ever since the 1990s Ratzeburg’s Germany have battled the United States for world supremacy. Meanwhile, with Gregory and Co sidelined, England rapidly hit the skids: pig-headedly repeating the same mistakes, heads stuck in the sand like ostriches.
“When you trundle through life you don’t always realise that what you are fighting for will have an impact on so many others.” – Pat Gregory in 2013
In 2013 The FA presented Gregory and Linda Whitehead with a polished stone at the annual women’s football awards, to be stuck to the Bobby Moore statue outside Wembley.
Given the FA’s shoddy treatment of both the WFA and Bobby Moore when they were around, the edifice stands as truly breathtaking in the scope of its revisionism and hypocrisy.
Gregory was chuffed with the belated recognition, though: “It was a lovely event and something we could not have imagined ever happening. I couldn’t believe the number of people who came to say thank you for what we had done all those years ago.”
A letter to erstwhile FA supremo David Bernstein earlier in 2013 seemed to be behind the gesture. Warning against “whitewashing” the WFA’s achievements, Gregory had told Berstein: “It’s a bit sad and disappointing that what the WFA did for so many years has just disappeared in to the ether.”
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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?
Born: 25 April 1966, Rochford
Debut: Wales (N) 17 August 1985
Occupation: Sport Development Officer (1989), FA Head of Equality (2015)
Defender Sue Law played around 40 times for England and represented Pelynt, Brighton, Millwall Lionesses and Bromley Borough with calm assurance. But she is perhaps best known as that rare thing: a brainy footballer! The old stereotype says any player with two ‘O’ Levels must be nicknamed “the professor”. But Law is in a different league altogether. After injuries took their toll she hung up her boots but vowed to move women’s football forward from the inside.
Essex-born Suzanne Law knew she wanted to play football for England when she was seven years old. As a pupil at Plymouth High School she sought out 5-a-side footie with Prince Rock LFC and soon graduated to the 11-a-side ranks with Pelynt LFC.
While taking a degree in Sports Science from Brighton Polytechnic, bright spark Law played for Brighton (then known as C&C Sports due to a sponsorship deal).
In 1987 she joined Millwall Lionesses. The London outfit were fiercely ambitious after losing two consecutive WFA Cup semi-finals to Doncaster Belles.
Millwall were in the market for decent players, after half a dozen regulars quit for the Italian Serie A over the preceding year or so.
It cost Law £20 a week to go back and forth from her Peacehaven base to train and play with the Lionesses. But she loved the set-up in South London, declaring:
“I needed the best possible training and play to secure my England place. No one else in women’s football had developed a whole structure of coaches, and youth and reserve sides, let alone things like the physiotherapy we get from Millwall’s physio. Millwall have done the work for women’s football that the FA should have done in this country.”
In 1991 Law was part of the great Millwall Lionesses team who finally wrested the WFA Cup away from Doncaster Belles, after a titanic tussle at Prenton Park, Birkenhead.
That season Law proudly served as team skipper, since club captain Raeltine Shrieves could not always crack an increasingly competitive first XI.
In the aftermath of that success the team broke up. Along with Hope Powell and coach Alan May, Law was part of the faction which set up Bromley Borough, the team which later became Croydon, then Charlton Athletic.
As a new club Bromley Borough started out at the very bottom: in the muck and nettles of the South East Counties League.
This meant lopsided scorelines, which became even more pronounced when silky England midfielder Brenda Sempare joined Bromley for their second season.
Law hung up her boots after a 1992–93 WFA Cup semi-final defeat by treble-winning Arsenal at Cambridge. Bromley gave a good account of themselves but succumbed to second-half goals from Arsenal’s Debbie Bampton and Naz Ball.
Martin Reagan handed 19-year-old Law her England debut in August 1985, in a 6–0 win over Wales staged on the Isle of Man.
As a promising right-back she had big boots to fill: ultra consistent Hullensian Carol Thomas had performed the role with distinction for over a decade.
In the Euro 1987 semi against Sweden, Law’s quick free-kick set up Kerry Davis to put England 2–1 up, but the Swedes hit back to win 3–2 in extra time.
Law’s finest hour as an England player came in the 1988 Mundialito (little World Cup) win. The “Lioness of Arco” Linda Curl bagged both England’s goals in a brave final win over hosts Italy.
Law shrugged off an injured ankle to repeatedly shut the door in the Italians’ faces.
Sue Mott of The Times quoted Law after the match: “We all had cramp, our muscles were knotting and still the referee played on and on in the hope that Italy would equalise. It was incredible.”
“We’re treated wonderfully abroad,” said Law. “Funnily enough, it’s just at home we’re snarled at and laughed at.”
Law sat out England’s historic 2–0 defeat by Sweden at Wembley in May 1989, still recovering from a shoulder operation. She graced the hallowed turf a year later, as England stuffed Scotland 4–0 in a short “demonstration” before the Man United v Crystal Palace FA Cup final.
In November 1990, Law was absent from the squad who lost heavily to ruthless Germany and missed out on a place in the inaugural 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
After that disappointment Martin Reagan was sacked and replaced with eccentric former schoolmaster Barrie Williams. The new boss reckoned his charges were incapable of playing a flat back four so switched to five at the back.
That suited Law who had played as a centre-half for Millwall. Although she was now plying her trade in the basement divisions with Bromley Borough, she retained her England place for the Euro 93 campaign.
Barrie Williams quit after six months as the WFA went into meltdown. He was replaced by his goalkeeper coach John Bilton.
Sue Lopez’s Women on the Ball (1997) detailed the “ignominious end” to Law’s international career, which came in the second leg of the Euro 93 quarter-final with Italy at Rotherham United’s old Millmoor ground:
“Law played bravely, despite agonising back pain, probably not helped by a vigorous pre-match fitness test with shoulder charges from the solid six-footer John Bilton.”
It was the last ever England game under the WFA. Law scored an own goal and Lou Waller was red carded for deliberate handball in a 3–0 defeat. Italian star Carolina Morace picked off England who were forced to chase a 3–2 deficit from the first leg.
Despite her battles with injury, loyal servant Law made around 35 to 40 appearances for England, depending on whether matches like the shortened curtain-raisers are included.
Persistent injuries forced Law’s premature retirement from playing before she was 30. But she had already made her mark off the field as a proselytiser.
In the November 1986 edition of the WFA News, Law was already seeking out alliances and asking questions years – if not decades – ahead of their time:
“We would like to know why women’s football is not taken seriously? Why we don’t receive media coverage we feel we deserve?”
In April 1987 Law and England team mates Terry Wiseman and Marieanne Spacey were among candidates for the FA’s Preliminary Coaching Badge. The intensive residential course at Lilleshall was not for the faint-hearted but Law passed with flying colours.
When Channel 4 started showing women’s football in 1988–89, producers Trans World International picked cerebral and well-spoken Law as their expert summariser.
Before long Law’s work in her day job with the National Coaching Federation (latterly Sports Coach UK) was subject to admiring glances.
In 2000 she was headhunted by the FA as its child protection tsar. During the 90s the FA had been in an embarrassing fankle after its clumsy attempts at child protection excluded legions of young players.
Pettifogging FA rules blocked kids from adult football. But because there were precious few girls’ teams and girls remained banned from school football, there was nowhere for them to go. It led to a massive talent drain.
After sorting out that mess, high flyer Law was then promoted to overall “head of equality” in 2006.
Born: c.1954, Southampton
Position: Right winger
Debut: Scotland (A) 18 November 1972
Occupation: Trainee machine operator (1972)
Most of the following info about Hale’s achievements comes from the indispensable works of her former team mates, Sue Lopez (Women on the Ball 1997) and Wendy Owen (Kicking Against Tradition 2005)…
Youngsters Hale and Davies had been blooded by coach Dave Case, first with Patstone United then in the combined Southampton team.
Lopez (1997) said of her team mate Hale that she: “had an amazing right foot that enabled her to power her way past defenders, and had, perhaps, the hardest shot of any woman.”
The work of football historian Gail Newsham means Hale can now be put into context alongside Lily Parr of Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, an earlier player who also lay claim to the hardest shot title, albeit with her left foot rather than right.
Like Parr, Hale’s rocket shot was as much to do with technique, or timing, as it was brute strength.
This was in evidence at the 1970 Deal Tournament, under the watchful eye of FA supremo Sir Denis Follows.
Sir Denis went along under his own steam and was left purring at the quality of football on show. Particularly a fizzing shot from Hale which he fondly recalled years later: “nearly broke the crossbar”.
This brought the WFA their most significant convert to the cause and a powerful ally against the more backward elements in the FA. Sir Denis played no small part part in finally getting the 1921 ban lifted. He afforded the WFA the space they needed, to not exactly thrive, but to keep plugging away.
In 1971 Southampton beat Ayrshire cracks Stewarton Thistle 4–1 at Crystal Palace to secure the first ever Mitre Trophy (also known as the WFA Cup). Hale started the match and Sir Denis and his wife were present as guests of honour.
In 1971 Hale visited Rome after befriending an Italian player when Southampton faced Sue Lopez’s Roma in a series of matches in the USA.
This was much to the fury of Southampton and the WFA, who were already whipped into a lather by a moral panic about professional Italian clubs “poaching” the top English players.
No one really knew where the money was coming from for all these pro teams and “unsanctioned” national team tournaments.
Perhaps inspired by reading The Godfather (the film came out the following year), Saints boss Norman Holloway reckoned the Mafia were involved.
Holloway’s moany letter to the WFA got a reply saying that Stanley Rous, the English president of FIFA, was personally looking into the allegations.
In any event Hale was not seriously considering a transfer to the pro ranks, according to Lopez.
Hale won the WFA Cup again in 1972 and in 1973 she scored in Southampton’s 2–0 final win over Westhorn United: “a fine strike,” said Lopez.
Before the 1973 Cup final Hale had scored 22 goals across 18 League and Cup matches that season. Not a bad return for a wide player, but over on the other wing Pat Chapman had plundered 82 (eighty-two!) in 21 matches.
The 1974 final was famously lost to Fodens, but Southampton bounced back to reclaim the trophy in 1975 and 1976.
In 1977 Hale scored “a superb solo effort”, the winner in a pulsating 3–2 League Cup final win over rivals QPR. But Southampton lost 1–0 to the same opponents in the WFA Cup final at Dulwich Hamlet.
A measure of revenge was gained in the following year’s final when Southampton’s Sharon Roberts, sister of notorious Spurs hatchet man Graham Roberts, put in an early ‘reducer’ on QPR’s Hazel Ross. QPR fell apart and lost 8–2, Pat Chapman helping herself to a double hat-trick.
Again Southampton bounced back, beating Lowestoft 1–0 to win the 1979 edition of the Cup. But the team was on the wane, and got beat by Cleveland Spartans at the quarter-final stage in 1979–80.
A last hurrah came in 1981, but by then Hale had moved on to form a nearby club called Solent. Versatile Clare Lambert later came through Solent’s ranks to emulate Hale and play for England.
In 1972, 18–year–old starlet Hale made it through a costly and gruelling set of regional trials into Eric Worthington’s first ever official England squad.
That November she patrolled the right wing berth in England’s first ever official match, a 3–2 win over Scotland at Ravenscraig Park in Greenock, near Glasgow.
With England 2–1 down in blizzard conditions, Hale beat two defenders and the goalkeeper in a race to the ball and her composed, low finish from inside the area brought England back on level terms. Jeannie Allott hit England’s winner from the other flank.
A grainy black and white photo reproduced in Wendy Owen’s book shows Hale in the squad for the 3–0 win over France in April 1973, but wearing a substitute’s sweatshirt.
She started England’s fourth match, against Northern Ireland at Twerton Park, Bath, and hit two goals under the floodlights – the second a “35-yard lob”.
She was also listed on the team sheet as England thumped Scotland 8–0 at Nuneaton in June 1973, under interim coach John Adams.
But competition for places was especially fierce in Hale’s position. In the 1973 England v Possibles match, the culmination of that season’s trials, Hale’s opposite number seven was Lesley Stirling, the tough Lancastrian from Preston North End.
By November 1974’s 2–0 win over France at Plough Lane, Hale’s place on the right had been taken by QPR’s Sandra Choat, who won praise for her tricky wing play.
The match programme for England’s first ever defeat, against Sweden in June 1975, lists Hale at number 3. With no other obvious left-back in the team it seems like she was filling in.
Hale was apparently not fancied by Tommy Tranter and her England career was much shorter than some of her Southampton colleagues’.
Missing out on the 1978 Belgium game before a record crowd at The Dell must have been a particular disappointment.
But she certainly played her part: Who is to say where we would all be if Hale had not caught the eye of Sir Denis Follows and given him his Road to Damascus moment?
Or if she had not equalised and England had suffered an embarrassing draw—or even defeat—to the Scots?
Or if her Italian transfer rumours had not got the authorities’ knickers in a twist, prompting them to take tighter control of women’s football and (eventually) run it properly?