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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Players: Carol Thomas

Carol Thomas (née McCune): England’s unsung heroine

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Born: 5th June 1955
Position: Right-back
Debut: France (7th November 1974)
Last game: Republic of Ireland (22nd September 1985)
Occupation: Clerk (1974–85), Lunchtime Supervisor (1993–2001), Village Postie (2001–2013)

Today, Carol Thomas remains the forgotten and overlooked captain of the England women’s team (excluding this website of course!) yet she is still the most successful and second longest serving captain to date. Her achievements, which would be remarkable even by today’s professional standards, in an era of little funding and scant recognition, can only be described as truly extraordinary. Her willingness to return to the grass roots of the game for over 16 years, under the radar of women’s footballs high level administrators, following a glittering international career and after the birth of her two sons, highlights a true football devotee.

EXPLOSIVE ENTRANCE


On 30th July 1966 football history was made at Wembley, but further north, a few days later, football history of a different kind was made. A young Carol McCune, inspired by those World Cup heroes, played her first competitive football game for a local side, BOCM. The shy 11 year old youngster started as a free scoring winger with a boundless appetite for the game. This talent was soon recognised by WFA stalwart and member of the England backroom staff, the late Flo Bilton. Flo quickly snapped up Thomas for her own team, Reckitts. After a couple of seasons, Thomas joined local rivals, Hull Brewery and it was there her career took off. She played in a variety of positions, which only served to enhance her all round knowledge and understanding of the game. Over time, it quickly became evident that those early days on the wing had seen her unwittingly assimilate the necessary skills to later become a world class full back, internationally respected throughout the women’s game.

AN ABILITY RECOGNISED


Her blossoming career was soon rewarded with representative honours – gaining a regular place in the Hull District representative side, quickly followed by the North of England squad whilst still being a teenager. She quickly secured the right back position as her own in the Northern regional squad, playing alongside England captain Sheila Parker. In August 1974, still only 19, she was invited to Lilleshall to take part in the first coaching course for women run by England manager, Tommy Tranter. This has to be put into context. Women footballers were still usually met with derision and scepticism, but the thought of a woman football coach was not only uncharted territory but sheer heresy. Coaching was viewed as sacrosanct, being considered fairly and squarely the sole preserve of men. Thomas gained her FA Preliminary Badge, one of only three who passed, along with then England physio Jane Talbot and Pauline Dickie, thereby becoming the first women coaches in England. During the course, Tranter recognised a like-minded footballing brain, with natural ball skills and a deep understanding of the game. As a result and following a successful Regional Trials campaign, it was little surprise that Thomas was invited to join the next England squad to play France that November at Wimbledon. Thomas made her first appearance coming on as a second half substitute at right back. A second substitute appearance against Switzerland followed, before the right back position was secured. In 1976, just 18 months and six caps into her international career, Thomas was surprisingly named the new England captain, replacing the England ‘taliswoman’ Sheila Parker.

Thomas lines up before her 50th cap against Scotland at Preston, March 1985 The cap was presented post-match by Sir Tom Finney

Thomas lines up before her 50th cap against Scotland at Preston, March 1985
The cap was presented post-match by Sir Tom Finney

On 31st October 1978, Thomas became the first captain to lead out an England side to play on a Football League First Division ground at the Dell, Southampton FC. She introduced her England team to the England manager, Ron Greenwood. A record crowd of 5,471 then saw England beat Belgium 3–0 with Thomas providing the cross for Elaine Badrock to open the scoring. In 1981 she became the first captain to lead an England women’s team outside of Europe, when they took part in that year’s Mundialito tournament in Japan (called that year, Portopia 81). At the height of her career Thomas turned down offers of full time professional playing contracts in Italy and full time player/coach roles in New Zealand in order to maintain her true amateur status and thereby ensuring a long international career.

In her 11-year England career, Thomas became at integral part and then leader of a truly great England squad which in tournament terms has an outstanding record to this day. With one of the meanest defences in the world, during Thomas’s time as captain, in 29 tournament ties, they lost only five games (two of those on penalty shoot outs) and conceded less than a goal a game.
It is testament to her abilities, and the respect that she had gained, that she continued to captain the England side under four successive managers, Tommy Tranter through to Martin Reagan. Whilst in the early days, she played alongside the likes of Sue Lopez, Sheila Parker and Sylvia Gore, she later captained Hall of Fame inductees Hope Powell, Debbie Bampton, Gillian Coultard, Marieanne Spacey and Brenda Sempare.

England line up before the European Championship final 2nd leg, Luton 1984, including Wiseman, Thomas, Hanson, Gallimore, Pearce, Coultard, Deighan, Bampton, Curl, Davis, Chapman, Powell, Turner, Sempare, Parker, Irvine

England line up before the European Championship final 2nd leg, Luton 1984, including
Wiseman, Thomas, Hanson, Gallimore, Pearce, Coultard, Deighan, Bampton, Curl, Davis, Chapman, Powell, Turner, Sempare, Parker, Irvine

Described as anything from an uncompromising fullback to cultured defender and everything in between, the truth is she was all of the above and more. Those who watched and, particularly those that coached her, knew that she was a true football thinker and intellectual in possession of that perfectly timed and fearless bone shuddering tackle. A total of 56 caps (51 as captain) were gained over a period of 11 years. Thomas only missed one international against Wales in the Isle of Man, just two days before the 1985 Mundialito – along with most of the northern-based players due to logistical and financial restraints – during that period (what would that equate to in this modern era?). She became the first ever English woman to reach the 50 caps. Indeed, Thomas actually played in 56 of England’s first ever 63 internationals.

THE RELUCTANT WANDERER


At club level, Thomas had to follow where the footballing competition was the strongest, yet within a realistic travelling distances from her home town. The days of true amateurism: where players held down full time jobs during the week, training as many times as possible on weekday nights and playing on a weekend, paying all their own expenses!

Thomas in action in the 1984 WFA Cup Semi Final for Rowntrees Ladies against Debbie Bampton’s Howbury Grange

Thomas in action in the 1984 WFA Cup Semi Final for Rowntrees Ladies against Debbie Bampton’s Howbury Grange

She was fortunate to be allowed to train with the Hull City Juniors (men’s under 18 level) alongside future professionals such as Andy Flounders and others, attaining a very high level of fitness for the then women’s game. She made occasional guest appearances for Tottenham Hotspur Ladies, and for a season played for Preston Ladies, making the trans Pennine journey on the M62 every Friday night and returning late Sunday evening after the game. Also, CP Doncaster Ladies for a number of seasons before finishing her representative career at Rowntree’s Ladies coached by former England international forward, Pat Firth.

THE BIRTH OF INTERNATIONAL TOURNAMENTS – THE HIGHS, LOWS AND HIGHS


During Thomas’s era, international competitions were unofficial, invitation or in their infancy. Thomas started her reign as captain in fine style. In the 1976 Pony Home Internationals, England ran out as comfortable winners in a three sided affair against Wales and Scotland. This set a standard for the next nine years of Thomas’s captaincy. In 1979, England were losing semi-finalists against a strong Italian side in the Unofficial European Cup. There then followed a period of transition and consolidation under new manager Martin Reagan, having been retained as captain under Reagan, the period 1982 to 1985 saw glimpses of the successes to follow.

In all, Thomas captained the England side in seven consecutive tournaments, including three ‘Mundialitos’ (1981, 1984 and 1985 as winners), three European Championships (1979 as semi-finalists, 1982-84 as runners-up and 1985-87, before retiring in September 1985) and the 1976 Pony Home Championship (as winners). 1985 saw Thomas at the pinnacle of her footballing career. After two unsuccessful Mundialito campaigns, and the disappointment of the 1984 European Championship final defeat, Thomas led her England charges to Italy and ultimate victory in that year’s Mundialito tournament.

Thomas makes a spectacular goal line clearance to keep England in the 1st leg of the 1984 European Championship against Sweden in the Ullevi Stadium, Gothenburg

Thomas makes a spectacular goal line clearance to keep England in the 1st leg of the 1984 European Championship against Sweden in the Ullevi Stadium, Gothenburg

Two weeks later, a heartbroken Thomas is consoled by England manager Martin Reagan after the penalty shoot-out defeat in the 2nd leg at Kenilworth Road

Two weeks later, a heartbroken Thomas is consoled by England manager Martin Reagan after the penalty shoot-out defeat in the 2nd leg at Kenilworth Road

The creation, development and establishment of the English women’s game was well and truly cemented. A side formed from a ‘disparate band of sisters’, brought together in 1972 by Eric Worthington, developed by Tommy Tranter and refined by Martin Reagan, to winners of the ultimate world trophy of its day and international recognition, in just over 12 years. Thomas had been there for 11 of those years, leading the side for nine of them.

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE


In possession of a dry northern sense of humour, she was often heard to repeat Jack Charlton’s infamous, “the ball may get past me, the player may get past me, but never the two together!” followed by a wry knowing smile and wink.

The phrase “sports mad” became well and truly justified in 1979 following her marriage to her husband. After the wedding, Thomas had a moral dilemma: should she go on honeymoon with her new husband or join the England squad for the European games in Italy? It was no contest, in truth the ‘result’ was never in doubt. Finland and Switzerland were to suffer!! Even in retirement, Thomas often jokingly says that her eldest son is, “the only man to have played a full women’s international, without kicking the ball ………… do the maths!”

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT WITHIN AND BEYOND THE GAME


By the 1980’s her achievements were finally beginning to be acknowledged, both inside and outside the game. In 1978 and 1979 she was invited by the BBC to star in the popular sports show, Superstars. As an ambassador for the women’s game, in 1983 she received the Vaux Breweries North Sportswoman of the Year Silver Star Award. She was frequently in the local and national media (and when abroad, international media). In 1984 she became the first woman player to be interviewed on national television appearing opposite Frank Bough and Selina Scott on breakfast TV following the 1984 European Championship Final. In 1985 she was awarded the Sports Council Sports Award in recognition of her achievements in women’s football.

Italy 1985, and the Mundialito Trophy: ‘World Champions!?!’

Italy 1985, and the Mundialito Trophy: ‘World Champions!?!’

Post retirement her achievements were still being recognised. In 1986 she became the first woman footballer to have an entry in the Guinness Book of Records having become the first English woman to gain 50 caps, with entries to follow in subsequent years.

RETIREMENT… OR NOT?


In 1985, having successfully led her England team to three straight victories in the 1985-87 UEFA Cup, at the age of 30 and 11 years of international football, Thomas finally retired from the international football scene to have her first child, Andrew. However, for this football fanatic, it was never going to be for long. In 1993, five years after the birth of her 2nd child, Mark, she was persuaded out of ‘retirement’ to help local side AFC Preston. The ‘Corinthian’ arrangement was quickly dropped as the football bug once again bit. On becoming a regular player, she helped with coaching and team selection and was always heard encouraging and developing those around her. Meanwhile she set up a soccer club for youngsters aged five to ten years old in her village for the local children of the surrounding area and helped her husband coach their sons from the under 7 age group to under 18 level.

Her ability and reading of the game had not been lost and was soon to be recognised again when the East Riding County FA created its first women’s representative side in 1995. Although aged 40, she was a natural selection for the captaincy of the side, she worked with the management and coaching staff and again assumed a role of helping to develop players from the ‘middle of the park’. She remained playing at this level until 2002, when a second retirement followed. In 2004 she was again asked to be involved in the building of a new side, Bransburton Ladies. In 2009, she finally hung up her boots aged 54!

Her interest and involvement in the game continues to this day. She gets great pleasure in watching and encouraging her grandsons from the touchline.

FROM THE TOP OF THE WORLD TO… THE ROOF OF THE WORLD!


Outside the game, and with a desire for that ultimate challenge, Thomas has since developed a fervent interest in long distance walking/trekking, fell climbing and mountaineering. She has completed all 214 Wainwrights, the National Three Peaks Challenge and the Coast to Coast walk twice (in both directions) in Britain.

Thomas shares her lunch with a Peruvian shepherdess and her young child, high in the Cordilleras Huayhuash mountain range in the Andes

Thomas shares her lunch with a Peruvian shepherdess and her young child, high in the Cordilleras Huayhuash mountain range in the Andes

Further afield, her long distance trekking and mountaineering has taken her to Peru, Morocco, Nepal and India. She has successfully scaled peaks in the Andes, the Atlas Mountains and five in the Everest region of the Nepalese Himalaya. In addition she has traversed numerous high passes and is regularly found at altitudes in excess of 18,000ft. She has developed a passionate interest in the people and cultures of high altitude, and in particular helping and supporting the people of Nepal especially since the tragic earthquake of April 2015.

International Footballer meets International Mountaineer: Thomas shares summit success on the Parang La (5,600m) after being guided by Valerie Parkinson (the first British woman to climb Manasulu, Nepal) to the top

International Footballer meets International Mountaineer:
Thomas shares summit success on the Parang La (5,600m) after being guided by Valerie Parkinson (the first British woman to climb Manasulu, Nepal) to the top

LASTING LEGACY


It is not difficult to put into words her footballing achievements. In pure domestic terms, trophies were confined locally, as the national competitions were dominated by the footballing powerhouses based in the north-west and south of England. This reflects the deep loyalty she possesses with regard to the local teams and individuals she respects and to those who have helped and stood by her throughout her career. It is safe to presume that top teams anywhere in the world would have welcomed her into their ranks.

Her international achievements need little elaboration as they speak for themselves. They surpass those of any of her predecessors and of her generation but equal many of those of the modern era. During her career at international level she became the second England captain at the age of 21, widely respected and accepted throughout the women’s game as one of the best defenders in the world, gaining a number of very significant firsts in the English women’s game over an 11 year period.

It is also safe to say that many local youngsters got their first experience of organised football through her local club, whilst many women players and teenage boys benefited from her coaching and guidance both on the pitch and from the touchline.

An official looking Thomas at Heathrow before the team’s long haul flight to Japan

An official looking Thomas at Heathrow before the team’s long haul flight to Japan

However, it is the off field role that she perhaps had her greatest and unquantifiable impact for the women’s game, leaving a genuine but little acknowledged legacy. As captain, she was a central figure representing international and regional players (particularly the North) during the transition of the fledgling organisation created in 1972, the amateur based WFA (which was given scant respect or regard by the FA, a shoestring budget and run by a band of tireless, unpaid volunteers, administrators and unsung heroes) into the emerging, and now fully backed, properly financed, media savvy, professional organisation of the current day.

For nearly ten years Thomas was the public face of the women’s game. She promoted the game with pride, passion, dignity and no little skill through her many media and function appearances at local, national and international levels, which continue to this day. She led England with a quiet, steely determination to succeed whilst displaying tact and diplomacy in her role. With these qualities, it could be said that she provided the blueprint for every future England captain. However, above all else, she always ensured that her performances on the pitch were her most important asset, responsibility and gift to the women’s game.


This magnificent article was kindly provided to Women’s Football Archive by a writer known only as ‘A Trusted Source’. We’ve checked the facts out independently and are happy that the piece stands as a wonderful, fitting tribute to one of England’s finest ever players.

Womensfootballarchive.com have sought and gained permission to use the images reproduced in the article and where appropriate, further use is subject to copyright.
© 1974-2016, Thomas Family Archive, All Rights Reserved

An ‘Original’ writes

England ‘keeper Sue Whyatt: Forget me not!

Embed from Getty Images

1972 England goalkeeper Sue Whyatt recently got in touch with Women’s Football Archive:

Hi I am Sue Whyatt, I played goalkeeper for Macclesfield Ladies and alongside Janet Bagueley also from Maccs team. I also played for England. I was on the first England squad in 1972 and won 1 cap playing against Scotland. I was the reserve goalie. I seem to have been missed out of all the history of England Ladies. I still have my cap and a scrap book though I can’t find my picture of us at Wembley when we were issued with bags and boots, all of which we had to give back !!

That’s Sue on the right, leaning over to share a joke with Macclesfield pal Bagguley. Both sport the controversial barely there knicker-shorts issued to the squad, while a trendy platform shoe lies discarded by Sue’s foot.

Beside her, footballing ex-nun Paddy McGroarty beams as she rips open her on-loan Mitres. The late Sylvia Gore is in the corner, beside the obligatory tea urn. Young Maggie Kirkland (later Pearce) sits behind Bagguley on the floor.

Thanks for getting in touch Sue – it’s always an honour to hear from players who played their part in making the game we all love into what it is today.

Administrator: Pat Gregory

Patricia “Pat” Gregory

PatGregorysmall

Born: c.1947, London

Position: Unknown

Debut: N/A

Occupation: BBC Sport special projects manager (1993, 2005)

Pat Gregory: A lifetime dedicated to women’s football

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.”

Nae troosers: Gregory's letter to the first ever England squad

Nae troosers: Gregory’s letter to the first ever England squad, from Kicking Against Tradition (2005)

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.”

Players: Liz Deighan

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

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

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

Born: c. 1953, Northumberland

Position: Midfielder

Debut: France (H) 7 November 1974

Occupation: Computer programmer (1981), electronic test engineer (1983), technical training tutor (1991)

Elizabeth “Liz” Deighan is an English soccer great. That a generation of Lionesses fans have grown up in ignorance of her footballing deeds is both a scandal and a travesty! On the pitch, midfield dynamo Deighan won 48 England caps and resembled (a scaled-down version of) her modern equivalent: fellow north-easterner Jill Scott. The lynchpin of the great St Helens team which reached four WFA Cup finals in the 80s, she also graced the Euro 84 final with England. Off the park she was a bright and innovative tactician who served as coach for the north-west region, England under-21s and the club she founded in 1989: Newton Ladies, who became Liverpool Ladies.

Playing


Deighan upped sticks from her native Northumberland to football-daft Merseyside as a teenage centre-forward, reportedly to improve her game. If that’s partly true, it might not have been the whole story. She enjoyed a high-powered career outside football and must have been about university age at the time she relocated.1

When she made her England bow in a 2–0 win over France she was 21 and playing for WFA Cup-holders Fodens. Tommy Tranter handed debuts to Deighan and future skipper Carol McCune (later Thomas) in England’s eighth official match, staged at Wimbledon FC’s Plough Lane on 7 November 1974.

Although Deighan’s early national team appearances came in attack, Lionesses team-mate Wendy Owen (2005) recalled “an excellent attacking midfielder”. It was in the engine room where Deighan was to make her mark. She was a players’ player, a driver on. Her wiry frame belied a gritty determination and a toughness rarely matched in players twice her size.

In September 1975 England were back at Plough Lane, facing a Sweden team who had handed them a first ever defeat that June in Gothenburg. Deighan had apparently moved on from Sandbach-based Fodens and was now listed as a Southport player. The Swedes’ FA records credit Deighan with England’s sole goal in a miserable 3–1 defeat.

Deighan retained the number 10 jersey for England’s next match; a 2–1 win over the Netherlands in May 1976 at Borough Park rugby ground, Blackpool. But she was absent from the list for the Pony Wine Home Championships later that month, as Tranter shuffled his pack.

In April 1977 Deighan scored in England’s 9–1 thrashing of Switzerland at Hull’s Boothferry Park. She was a late inclusion in the XI which beat Belgium 3–0 at The Dell, Southampton, before a record 5,471 fans on 28 October 1978. She wowed the watching England men’s boss Ron Greenwood, who branded her “the female Kevin Keegan”.

By this stage Deighan had moved on from Southport to St Helens, who formed in 1976. She was part of the 1980 WFA Cup-winning team who eliminated holders Southampton then beat local rivals Preston 1–0 in the final at Enfield. Hirsute Spurs icon Ricky Villa was guest of honour and handed over the trophy.

In the 1981 final on home turf at Knowsley Road rugby ground, St Helens crashed 4–2 to resurgent Southampton in a Battle of the Saints.2

Two years later, a titanic tussle with Doncaster Belles at Sincil Bank, Lincoln, was lost 3–2. Deighan’s late “neatly executed free kick” gave St Helens hope but a goal in each half by Belles founder Sheila Stocks secured Donny’s first Cup win.

Meanwhile, UEFA had belatedly organised a European Championship and wise old head Deighan was one of England manager Martin Reagan’s on-field lieutenants. The Danish FA reckon she scored the semi-final first leg winner at Gresty Road, although WFA records attribute the goal to Debbie Bampton.

In the final first leg in Gothenburg, it was backs to the wall stuff. Reagan’s midfield trio of Coultard, Bampton and Deighan were compact and disciplined. The slight figure of Deighan bristled with nervous energy throughout, typifying England’s gutsy defeat.

The emergence of Hope Powell and Brenda Sempare signified the end of Deighan’s tenure as an England first-teamer. She started the Euro 1987 campaign as a squad player, coming off the bench in the opening 4–0 win over Scotland at Deepdale on St Patrick’s Day 1985. She was left out of the party for the 1985 Mundialito that August and remained two caps shy of her half-century.

Spotting the writing on the wall, Deighan told the Lancashire Evening Post:

“I don’t know how long I can go on playing. It may be my last season for England but I am also aware that manager Martin Reagan is keen to bring in younger players with a view to the future and that I might be dropped after the Preston match.”

In the 1987 Cup final at Nottingham’s City Ground, Deighan captained St Helens to another gallant defeat by Doncaster Belles. Manager John Mayer’s withering verdict on the WFA’s shambolic post-match arrangements got the club booted out of the following year’s competition.

On the subject of his skipper, Saints boss Mayer affectionately quipped in his 1987 WFA News column: “Her Geordie dialect causes many problems, nobody understands a bloody word she’s saying, we just nod and agree with her…”

Coaching


Reforms at the Women’s Football Association in 1986–87 – including league and boundary changes – proved controversial. Deighan was a beneficiary, though, as she scooped a new job as north west regional coach.

This was shortly after Pat Firth, notable as England’s first hat-trick scorer, took the Yorkshire and Humberside gig in January 1987. In doing so Firth became the first female regional coach.

Deighan had the trust of Martin Reagan and when an England under-21 team was mooted she got the nod as coach. She promptly arranged trials at Lilleshall, 3–5 July 1987: “expenses to be met by the individuals themselves, £36,” the WFA News reported.

Eight of the squad at the 1995 World Cup were products of Deighan’s successful under-21 setup. But the rudderless WFA was fast running out of time – Reagan was sacked and his replacement Barrie Williams was soon following him out the door. Deighan also lost her post to Williams’ stopgap replacement John Bilton, before the under-21 team was scrapped altogether.

Deighan was particularly miffed at this turn of events, having given up the regional job for the under-21s. Predictably, the folly had a deleterious effect on the senior national team. Under the FA things continued to drift aimlessly until 2004 (2004!) when an under-21 side was finally reinstated under Hope Powell.

In 1989 Deighan founded Newton Ladies, the team who would eventually become Liverpool Ladies. Thumbing her contact book she cobbled together some old St Helens mates and drafted in players from reigning WFA Cup-winners Leasowe Pacific. The team debuted at the pre-season Lancashire Cup and served notice of their intentions by carrying off the trophy.

Newton finished 5th and then third in two seasons in the regional NWWRL, then teamed up with Knowsley United – a now-defunct men’s non-League team – to join the inaugural national league in 1991–92. At this point 38-year-old Deighan brought the curtain down on her glittering playing career to focus on management.

Under Deighan Knowsley had a great DIY ethic: left-back Jill “Thommo” Thomas was the club secretary and forwards Viv Cutbill and Diane Woollam the press and PR officers, respectively. National treasure Sylvia Gore was club development officer.

An ambitious transfer spree in the summer of 1992 landed England stalwarts Clare Taylor and Kerry Davis. The team reached the Premier League Cup final at Wembley, played as a low-key curtain-raiser to one of the interminably dull Sheffield Wednesday versus Arsenal men’s Cup finals taking place that season.

Arsenal won and their manager Vic Akers opined that the match might have gone over better with a sceptical public if it was billed as Arsenal v Liverpool. Whether they took Vic at his word or the wheels were already in motion, Knowsley duly came under the wing of England’s most successful male club Liverpool in time for the 1994–95 season.

But by then Deighan had already had enough and quit in 1993. She brought in ex-England pal Angie Gallimore from Wigan as player-manager and moved upstairs to take a symbolic role as honorary chairperson. She told Sue Lopez in Women on the Ball (1997):

“I retired completely from the game in 1993. Managing my club was taking over my life, and was starting to jeopardise my full-time job as I was getting so many phone calls at work. I recently asked how I could become involved at a higher level again and was told to get involved locally. I’ve started helping out a bit at Preston Rangers.”

The original tie-up saw newly-minted Liverpool Ladies playing a couple of matches per season at Anfield, which helped to land a sponsorship with DHL. Since then the relationship with the male club has waxed and (usually) waned. A shake up in 2013 saw the introduction of an alleged “one club mentality” and investment in top notch players who captured back-to-back WSL titles.

At this stage a penny for founding mother Deighan’s thoughts would surely have given food for thought!

In 2015 Gill Coultard commended Deighan as the best female player currently outside the English Football Hall of Fame.


1. In a March 2017 interview with Sportsister, Deighan clarified that she did move purely for football reasons, leaving behind a job at the DSS. She had been playing for Wallsend but needed better competition after getting on the national team’s radar. Sylvia Gore helped fix her up with a job on Merseyside.

2. Women’s Football Archive hasn’t yet got the line-ups and scorers for this final, so it remains ‘a book with seven seals’. It’s of particular interest in case suspected all-time Cup final record goalscorer Pat Chapman got on the score sheet. Please get in touch if you can help!

Match: Arsenal 2–1 Doncaster Belles, 28 March 1993, Highbury Stadium

Belles beaten as Arsenal move to brink of first title

Embed from Getty Images

Wheelchair-bound boxer Michael Watson on the Highbury turf, surrounded by chart-toppers Aswad

Classic match report: nouveau riche Gunners edge out Belles before record Highbury crowd

December’s bumper 3,256 crowd at Brighton’s AMEX Stadium left women’s soccer stattos scratching their noggins. Was it a record? Well yes… and no. It was a record for the newly-reconstituted WPL, but definitely not an English women’s league record. That particular honour went to this epochal Arsenal–Belles clash at Highbury, which topped 18,000 way back in 1993. Arsenal’s Wylie and Ball scored either side of Coultard’s equaliser. Although beaten Donny roared back with a league and cup double the following season, this match arguably cast the die for Arsenal’s unhealthy long-term suffocation of domestic competition…

Background


The match was staged as part of a benefit day for stricken boxer Michael Watson. Islington pugilist Watson had graced a golden era of British middleweights alongside sworn rivals Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank.

The fearless trio wrote their names in boxing lore by going at it hammer and tongs in their frequent TV bouts with each other. At White Hart Lane in September 1991 Watson was ahead of Eubank on the judges’ scorecards before being decked by a fateful uppercut at the end of the 11th round.

Incredibly the lone ringside doc was unequipped and the ambulance which trundled through the dispersing crowd initially took Watson to the wrong hospital. It was well beyond the ‘golden hour’ for treating head injuries when Watson finally arrived at St Bart’s.

Top surgeon Peter Hamlyn battled all night to save Watson’s life but he remained in a coma and brain damaged. A slow and gutsy partial recovery took place over the following years at the family home in Chingford, under the watchful eye of mum Joan.

The fund raiser scooped around £86,000 towards Watson’s rehabilitation and he later clobbered the boxing authorities with a £1million lawsuit for their breathtaking negligence.

Schedule


Admission to the “extravaganza” was a fiver, and it was pay on the gate. The day began at 12:30 with an 11-a-side celebrity match between Arsenal fans and a team of sportsmen put together by Daley Thompson.

The Arsenal supporters’ team played semi-regularly for charity and featured the likes of ‘Lofty’, from TV’s Eastenders. Prior to his injury Watson had turned out for the side.

The women took to the field at 13:30, followed by a musical interlude at 15:00 courtesy of reggae legends Aswad. Once the widespread bogle dancing had subsided, it was time for the main event: Ex-Arsenal XI v Ex-Tottenham XI at 15:30.

The veterans’ match appeared imbalanced with Spurs fielding a string of soccer wrinklies including 1961 double hero Cliff Jones. On the other hand Arsenal had some younger legs in alongside their own golden oldies like squeaky-voiced World Cup winner Alan Ball.

John Lukic, Chris Whyte and David Rocastle were all coming off a terrible season with Leeds United, while “Champagne” Charlie Nicholas was still playing for Celtic. He was 31 but inhabiting the body of a much older man.

The finale at 17:30 saw spirited Watson wheeled onto the pitch to meet his public. At 19:00 there was an invitation-only gala dinner in Highbury’s glitzy Mezzanine Suite.

Arsenal


For the previous decade, the best players in the south of England had been hopping around together from team to team – desperately trying to knock Doncaster Belles off their perch.

Usually constellated around Debbie Bampton, these teams would battle the Belles in the WFA Cup before the formation of the inaugural National League in 1991.

On the cusp of the FA takeover of women’s football in 1993, Bampton’s Arsenal were the latest pretenders to Donny’s crown and perhaps the most dangerous, given their comparatively vast resources.

ARSENAL
1. Lesley Shipp
2. Kirsty Pealling
3. Michelle Curley
4. Vicki Slee
5. Gill Wylie
6. Sharon Barber
7. Sian Williams
8. Debbie Bampton
9. Jo Churchman (out 80)
10.Chris Couling
11.Naz Ball

Substitutes:
12.Sarah Mulligan
14.Michelle Sneddon
15.Kelley Few
??.Debbie Smith (in 80)

Coach:
Vic Akers

After casting envious glances at Millwall’s groundbreaking girls’ youth academy, Arsenal had built one of their own, which soon hoovered up all the best kids. Some came from as far afield as Scotland – in the case of Michelle Sneddon.

This had already started to bear fruit for the first-team in the shape of cultured full-backs Curley and Pealling. An infusion of talent from local rivals supplemented the youngsters. North London foes Tottenham were ruthlessly denuded of star players Gill Wylie and Sharon Barber.

England keeper Shipp (later Higgs), midfield duo Bampton and Williams, sweeper Slee and frontrunner Churchman were all ex-Millwall Lionesses. As was full-back Maria Luckhurst, who began the season with Arsenal but was not getting much of a look in.

In the week leading up to the match Arsenal had nicked yet another Millwall player – Keeley Salvage – who was a no nonsense centre-half bearing the sobriquet “Well Hard”.

Arsenal had won the previous season’s League Cup, beating Millwall Lionesses in the final at Alt Park, Knowsley. But Doncaster Belles were not one of the 18 entrants when it was hastily convened in January 1992 – apparently as an afterthought.

Since being promoted from the 1991–92 National League Division One South, Arsenal had made a mockery of their 12–1 ante-post odds for the top title. In fairness, manager Vic Akers had built a truly formidable outfit.

Prolific strikers Naldra “Naz” Ball and Jo Churchman cut a swathe through the opposition, while a miserly defence shipped only 10 goals in 22 league and cup outings going into this game.

Akers’ team boasted a powerful spine in the shape of Gill Wylie the big Irish centre-half, Debbie Bampton and Welsh goal-machine Naz Ball. Each carried a potent aerial threat from set-pieces, at a time when heading was a sorely-underdeveloped skill in women’s soccer.

When Arsenal visited Doncaster’s Armthorpe Welfare FC Ground on 21 February 1993, a thumping 2–0 defeat brought an abrupt end to their season-long winning streak.

But just when it seemed that the Belles had slapped down the latest bunch of mouthy upstarts, as they had hundreds of times before, they came unstuck themselves in a shock 3–2 defeat at Wimbledon.

That meant Arsenal would require only a point from their last game at Red Star Southampton for the title: IF they could pull off their Belles revenge mission on this big day out at Highbury…

Doncaster Belles


Doncaster Belles were reigning double winners but entered the match beset by problems. Ex-Leicester City pro Paul Edmunds had returned to the managerial hot-seat, after Jo Broadhurst’s dad Brian (ex-Chesterfield) filled in the season before.

BELLES
1. Tracey Davidson
2. Julie Chipchase
3. Louise Ryde
4. Joy McQuiggan
5. Loraine Hunt (out 33)
6. Michelle Jackson
7. Mandy Lowe
8. Gillian Coultard
9. Karen Walker
10.Gail Borman
11.Jan Murray

Substitutes:
12.Lorraine Young
14.Sheila Edmunds
15.Ann Lisseman (in 33)

Coach:
Paul Edmunds

Edmunds was still without Karen “Skiller” Skillcorn as an ACL rupture sustained in Spring 1991 was misdiagnosed and then the repeatedly-delayed treatment botched. At the time, crocked players were at the mercy of the NHS waiting lists.

Similarly, key midfielder Jackie Sherrard had hurt her knee in England’s Euro defeat in Italy the previous November. She had tried to play through the pain but eventually got a diagnosis of cartilage trouble and had to go under the knife.

Matters reached a head on 14 March 1993 when the Belles sensationally crashed 3–2 at Wimbledon. Legend has it, their first league defeat in 15 years.

Playmaker Jo Broadhurst must have been feeling sheepish, having served the first of a three-match ban at Wimbledon. The team bounced back to thrash Stanton Rangers 8–0, but were staring down the barrel of two defeats in three games without their creative lynchpin.

Philosophically, the rivalry with Arsenal cast into relief a clash of cultures. Belles players and staff simply could not get their heads around Arsenal’s gamesmanship and the po-faced, win-at-all-costs mentality underpinning it.

In Pete Davies’s I Lost My Heart To The Belles (1996) Broadhurst recalled the aftermath of the match:

“Us Belles were all singing, messing around – we were disappointed obviously, but it’s a game, we’ll have another chance – and them, they were just stood there. If that had been us we’d have been out partying, we always stay together when we’ve won something – but them, they went home.”

Broadhurst may have revised her opinion, as by the time Davies’s book came out she had herself been tempted south by Arsenal – who dangled the carrot of a paid gig in the club shop. Reborn as a striker she promptly hit the goal trail and breathed new life into her England career.

Joy McQuiggan, who hit the WFA Cup final winner for Leasowe Pacific in 1989, was one of the players drafted in as cover. Aptly, she bore a boxing-related nickname: being dubbed “Barry” after near namesake Barry McGuigan.

Mandy “Flo” Lowe and Ann Lisseman – later a big cheese in the police – were also adjusting to the demands of Belle-hood, although both would prove their mettle in the following 1993–94 season.

Match


Disaster struck for Doncaster Belles when Gill Wylie gave Arsenal the lead after just five minutes, heading in Curley’s corner. Then the bad luck continued when elegant centre-half Loraine Hunt tore her hamstring and had to be substituted after half an hour.

Undeterred, the depleted Belles kept scrapping and skipper Gill Coultard tore up the script by nodding in an equaliser on the stroke of half-time.

Just before the hour mark Naz Ball delighted organisers and the 18,196 crowd by scoring what proved to be the winner. She connected with Jo Churchman’s cross for the third headed goal of the match.

Akers unleashed livewire youngster Debbie Smith (not among the substitutes listed in the programme) for the last 10 minutes.

When local ref Bill Saville blew his whistle for full-time it left the Belles needing snookers to retain their National League title.

Epistemology


David Mills’ interesting article in She Kicks recently highlighted the poor record keeping which continues to blight women’s football. Mills is RIGHT that older records are “sketchy”, but WRONG when he then suggests an arbitrary ‘year zero’ cut-off point. Sketchy records can – and must – be made unsketchy!

Having said that, this article only considers matches from the formation of the first National League in 1991. Barnstorming Dick, Kerr’s Ladies famously brought 53,000 to Goodison Park, with at least another 10,000 locked outside.