Guest blog: Scottish football held back by “man’s game” delusion

…Or, A man’s a man for a’ that



A recent Edinburgh derby match gave ample insight into why Scottish football remains in the grubber.

In the second half Hibs and Hearts players started kicking each other instead of the ball as the game descended into farce, with two red cards.

Incredibly, BBC radio pundit Michael Stewart endorsed the nonsense on the pitch. “It’s a man’s game,” he barked, to coos of approval from the studio.

It’s nearly 20 years ago since another media rent-a-gob, Craig Burley, was ordered off for a wild lunge in Scotland’s 3–0 defeat by Morocco at France ’98.

Unless Scots soccer chiefs get real and open their eyes, the male national team’s tournament history will end FOREVER on that pathetic note.

The game has changed radically since the early 90s tipping point when Dutch superstar Marco van Basten was literally booted out of football.

At Italia ’90 Ireland would lull rivals to sleep with goalkeeper Bonner’s time-wasting antics – then bludgeon them with a sudden long ball.

While Cameroon dispensed with the lulling and reached straight for the bludgeon, threshing their way to the quarter-finals.

As TV money flooded in the elites running the game thought: “we’re not having that” and rewrote the rule book in their own favour. But it seems Scotland never got the memo.

The idea of Scottish football as a game for rough, tough manly men is very old.

Irish-born Jimmy Quinn, Celtic star of the 1900s, famously played with his blood trickling down into his boots.

Dubbed The Mighty Quinn, he shrugged off spittle in his hair and sectarian epithets ringing in his ears to rattle in goal after glorious goal. He rammed it down the thugs’ throats.

Then and for many decades afterwards, Scottish sectarianism – hatred of Irish Catholics – was the dynamo powering football north of the border.

But it’s petering out. Until their demise under the Liquidation Act in 2012, Glasgow Rangers had been the poster boys of this ugly tradition.

Even today, only in Scotland could a midfielder like Celtic’s Scott Brown, a blow-hard and a card-magnet, be venerated.

He’s a necessary evil against the gurning cloggers and hammer throwers in Scotland’s one-horse league. But he’s readily found out in The Hoops’ brief Euro forays.

A sea change is called for. Whatever they’re doing now isn’t working. Scotland’s “man’s game” is a laughable relic from a bygone era.

Until Scotland finds a way to churn out some male Kim Littles and Jennifer Beatties, and fewer Scott Browns, there will be no progress and no ascent.

A man’s game indeed! Michael Stewart you utter wally.

Calling all Stattos

Football history buffs of the world, unite!

Maggie Pearce keeps an eye on Pia Sundhage in the Euro 1984 final

Maggie Pearce keeps an eye on Pia Sundhage in the Euro 1984 final

AUTHORITATIVE football stats site has published a list of the oldest and youngest players to play and score for their countries.

Now the number crunchers behind the prestigious list, stattos of international repute, need your help to properly credit the women who should be on there.

It is thought that Maggie Kirkland (Pearce) and Linda Curl may have debuted for England before their 16th birthdays, and that Jeannie Allot hit the Scotland net at 16.

Frankly, if detail about such all-time greats is difficult to come by, how many other candidates are ‘hiding’ in plain sight?

Neil Morrison and his gimlet-eyed cohorts deserve unfettered praise for their efforts. For very few football history experts of this calibre give women’s stuff the time of day: never mind equal billing.

It has always been the case. As Pete Davies put it in I Lost My Heart To The Belles (1996): “the women didn’t keep track of their stats with the stamp-collector’s precision of the men”.

That MUST change for women’s football to put down roots, without which there can be no progress and no ascent. We all have our part to play.

Those in charge of promoting women’s football have long peddled tiresome baloney about explosions in participation numbers. Time and time again we hear that the game is on the cusp of its breakthrough.

The problem with this dubious narrative is that everything pre-breakthrough (ie. before now) is accorded lesser status.

The reset button is hit every two minutes. A long and proud heritage is ignored or, worse, denigrated when it ought to be the major selling point.

If any of you among this site’s small but discerning readership can aid RSSSF in their quest, then please… PLEASE chip in with any info – no matter how small.

Together we can put the women’s game on the record and end many years of shameful neglect. Thank you!

Official: Rangers better than Celtic

Fact stranger than fiction in the topsy-turvy world of women’s football

When Celtic face Rangers in the new year, the only thing in question will be the margin of The Hoops’ victory. Right? Well, yes. But also no. Over in the women’s game Celtic are starting from scratch after an exodus of top players, while ever-improving Rangers look to build from a position of strength.

Rangers Ladies of Glasgow are that rare beast in the women’s game: a club three times older than their ‘parent’!

That’s because Rangers men entered liquidation in 2012 then started a brand new Rangers club, at the bottom of the pile.

Many of the characters involved in Rangers, old and new, have a whiff—no, a stink—of criminality about them. Think “antagonist in TV’s Taggart“.

The male club died a grubby, cheat’s death. But Rangers’ vibrant women’s section proudly lives on, with much about them to admire.

Since their 2008 formation, it’s always been about the football for them. A club where all are welcome. No perma-raging riotous fans, no dodgy far-right politics, no hating Catholics. Universally respected as friends and rivals.

In other words, nothing like their deceased parent!

In this day and age, the quaint nomenclature ‘Ladies Football Club’ doesn’t always sit right. It’s just a bit twee. Celtic don’t use it anymore. In fact Celtic’s female section are so right on they won’t even use ‘Women’ to separate themselves from the male club. Which is fine … except no–one knows what to call them.

But ‘Ladies’ is a good fit for Rangers, harking back to the brown-brogued rectitude which was the old club’s self image.

This season past the Ladies were inundated with messages praising the work of young manager Kev Murphy and all at the club. The team’s star player is even named Erin – the Irish word for Ireland!

In the upcoming men’s game Celtic’s second-raters will wipe the floor with the third-and-fourth-raters playing for Rangers. That’s a given – if this version of Rangers even last that long.

But far away from the noisy crowds, the cruel hilarity on one side and impotent, delusional bigot-rage on the other, the real contest is just warming up.

Next season’s Scottish Women’s Premier League will see an altogether more authentic meeting of genuine ‘Old Firm’ rivals, where good football is sure to win the day.

Rangers and Glasgow City

One of the old Rangers’ many unsavoury stunts was their orange away kit in the early 2000s.

Redolent of the Catholic-hating Orange Order (a sort of 17th Century version of the British National Party) the offending items clumsily pandered to the worst elements of the support. It was a huge seller!

Glasgow City LFC had the same kit, and just like old Rangers they knowingly smirked it was ‘tangerine’.

There is no evidence of any Scottish sectarianism at Glasgow City – ever. But questions remain over their grotesque orange kit choice. In the west of Scotland it represented a dog whistle, if not a clarion call, to knuckle-draggers.

The successful women’s club quietly dropped their ‘royal blue’ trim a few years later and replaced it with black. But the orange, now acknowledged as such, remains to this day.

Player: Linda Coffin

Linda Coffin

Linda Coffin at the Dell, 1978

Linda Coffin at the Dell, 1978

Born: c.1955, Portsmouth

Position: Centre-back

Debut: Wales (H) 22 May 1976

Occupation: Section manager (1976), Chargehand (1982)

One of England’s finest defenders who backstopped the great Southampton WFC team of her era to four WFA Cup wins.

Keen hockey player Coffin joined Southampton WFC in 1974, as an 18-year-old employed at the Plessey factory in Fareham. Her dad Noel also took over as Saints gaffer.

Southampton, winners of the first three WFA Cups, were rebuilding having been deposed by Fodens in the 1974 final.

Coffin proved a tall and elegant centre-half with good timing in the tackle and capable of playing out from the back. Her aerial ability was never in doubt.

With Coffin at the heart of their defence rejuvenated Saints recaptured the WFA Cup in 1974–75, thumping first-time finalists Warminster 4–2 at Dunstable Town.

She picked up a second winner’s medal the following year, in a 2–1 extra-time win over QPR in front of BBC cameras. Highlights were shown before the men’s final – won by Southampton FC.

Coffin’s performances had not gone unnoticed and England boss Tommy Tranter called her up to the Pony Home Championship squad in May 1976.

In the opening game against Wales at The Eyrie, Bedford, Coffin won her first cap at the age of 20. She was drafted in alongside Wendy Owen, as England’s original captain Sheila Parker dropped out.

Carol McCune (Thomas) inherited the armband. But legend Parker was far from finished and later returned to partner Coffin after Owen’s injury-induced retirement from international football.

Coffin instantly impressed, her refined style complementing the more agricultural Owen. She soon had the respect of her team-mates as England carried off the trophy.

She went on England’s tour of Italy the following month, which resulted in two bruising defeats (2–0 and 2–1) on bone hard pitches in Rome and Cesena.

Italian FA records attribute England’s goal to Coffin, but Wendy Owen’s (2005) recollection was that Elaine “Baddy” Badrock scored.

Another excellent performance in England’s 2–1 win over Wales in October 1976, saw Coffin nicknamed “The Rock” by Lionesses team-mates.

In 1977 Southampton lost the Cup final 1–0 to sworn rivals QPR. Coffin then sent shockwaves through women’s football when she sensationally quit Saints for their Cup final conquerors.

She played for The Hoops AGAINST Southampton in the 1978 WFA Cup final, but finished on the wrong end of an 8–2 worrying.

Pat Davies, the smallest player on the pitch, headed in Southampton’s opening goal from a corner. Sue Lopez drilled in a second, before Pat Chapman famously ran amok – netting a record six goals.

To make matters worse, 1978 saw Southampton finally scoop the Treble of WFA Cup, Home Counties League and Home Counties League Cup after years of trying. And they beat out Coffin’s QPR in all three!

By the time of England’s 3–0 win over Belgium at the Dell on 31 October 1978, Coffin was a Southampton player again.

She got her mitts back on the WFA Cup that season when Southampton edged out Lowestoft 1–0 at Waterlooville.

1980 was the first time that the WFA Cup final didn’t feature Southampton — the tenth year of the competition.

Coffin made amends the following season as Southampton won back their crown in style, beating 1980 winners St Helens 4–2 at a hostile Knowsley Road.

She was selected by Martin Reagan for England’s historic 1981 tour of Japan, starting both of England’s games in the Far East.

When England began their first UEFA campaign, against Northern Ireland at Crewe on 19 September 1982, Coffin had 28 caps.1

Coffin and striker Tracy Doe were dropped for the game in Belfast on 13 May 1983, for what Reagan dubbed “experimental reasons”.

This meant she did not feature in either of England’s semi-finals versus Denmark or the final defeat by Sweden.

When Southampton WFC folded in 1986, Coffin was among an exodus of players to Red Star Southampton.

She was not listed as part of the 1991–92 Red Star team who finished runners-up to Donny Belles in that season’s WFA Cup and inaugural National League.

Sue Lopez’s women’s football bible Women on the Ball (1997) reported that Coffin was still with Red Star (by then rebranded as Southampton Saints) as late as 1996.


Coffin executes a blockbuster challenge against France in Longjumeau, February 1977. Note the French player resplendent in official Adidas kit, as worn by Platini and pals at the following year’s World Cup in Argentina.

England’s kit was donated to the Women’s Football Association by Banbury Sportswear — it bore no relation to the natty Admiral kit worn by the FA’s underachieving men.

1. According to the match programme. A Millwall Lionesses match programme versus Red Star Southampton on 25 September 1994 listed “Lynne Coffin” with 19 England caps and six FA Cup winner’s medals.

Administrator: Linda Whitehead

Linda Whitehead

Linda Whitehead ensconced at WFA HQ

Linda Whitehead ensconced at WFA HQ, 1980

Linda Whitehead: A lifetime’s dedication to women’s football in England

The smiling public face of the Women’s Football Association from 1980 to 1993, who later served Millwall Lionesses and Arsenal Ladies with distinction. Whitehead is a diligent and well-regarded sports administrator. With her contribution stretching across four decades, icon Whitehead is often hailed the greatest living authority on English women’s football.

In late 1980 a Sports Council handout let the Women’s Football Association hire its first paid employee: an ‘Administrative Assistant’. Blackburn’s bright and ambitious Linda Whitehead swept into the WFA’s swanky Westminster offices, wowed the interview panel and got the job.

In her 2013 interview with the estimable Girlstalkfooty website — delivered in flat vowels betraying her North West roots — Whitehead admitted her surprise at getting the gig.

Whitehead’s CV boasted a football background through short spells as PA to the commercial manager at Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers. After quitting teacher training college, she also spent a year on Mothercare’s management development programme and worked as a secretary for an engineering firm in Blackburn.

A football fan (Blackburn Rovers, with a soft spot for Birmingham City), Whitehead never played the game herself – her genius is for sports administration. On occasions when a ball came near her, she would even pick it up and chuck it back instead of kicking it.

Up against it from the start, Whitehead and the WFA operated in an extremely hostile environment for women’s football. Loons would send in rambling letters about Deuteronomy 22:5. Others found outlets for their antipathy which, while not as overtly deranged, were no less dangerous. Whitehead also copped some internal flak as the only salaried employee in what was always a completely voluntary organisation.

She must have needed thick skin and – at times – sharp elbows. But Whitehead quickly shored up her power base and by 1982 was the WFA’s secretary as well as administrator.

Life at the WFA was never dull. In April 1988 the Football League held a ‘Mercantile Credit Football Festival’ at Wembley and told the WFA to get a friendly organised. Holland had already been pencilled in when the organisers announced that the slot was only 15 minutes each-way.

The fiasco drew a stinging response from the Dutch FA: “women’s football is not a circus”. Whitehead took a more considered line, telling the Football League that the cancellation knocked a potential 5,000 fans off the event’s puny attendance. The 15 minutes each-way match went ahead though, with plucky Ireland standing in at late notice.

Barnsley-supporting women’s football historian Donna Woodhouse (2003) reported that Whitehead controversially moved the WFA’s offices from London to Manchester’s Corn Exchange in 1988.

To Whitehead it was a no-brainer to leave behind the Big Smoke’s exorbitant rents and life as a small fish in a big pond. But it put her at loggerheads with the other WFA officers, who were said to be hopping mad.

The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year Awards, the brainchild of pioneering sportswriter Sue Mott, made Whitehead their 1989 Administrator of the Year.

In 1986 Whitehead had invited the Football Trust’s Richard Faulkner (later Baron Faulkner of Worcester) into the WFA. A Labour Party grandee and quango regular, it was a major feather in the WFA’s cap to have someone of that calibre in the ranks.

Little did Whitehead know then that she had signed the WFA’s death warrant. Faulkner promptly set about rerouting Sports Council and Football Trust funding through the FA. In 1991 he deliberately nobbled the WFA by quitting as chairman, leaving them high and dry and making his goal of an FA takeover inevitable.

Many men view attempts by women to take up playing the game as tantamount to an invasion of privacy — Linda Whitehead, 1988

The potless WFA then spent a year or two drifting, rudderless. In an unguarded moment Whitehead’s frustrations boiled over: “it’s always the men who cause the problems,” she snapped. Woodhouse (2003) reported that the FA already had sneaky tentacles in women’s football since at least 1990, through their competitions department.

When the FA finally stepped in and wound up the WFA in 1993, Whitehead was made redundant. A folly which enraged the managers of the leading clubs, set things back many years and made the FA look profoundly clueless. Sadly, the pattern was set.

It speaks to Whitehead’s dignity and character that she stayed on as unpaid secretary of the National League in 1993–94.

When the FA took over direct running of the Women’s National League in 1994–95, an influx of County FA blazers dominated the new management committee. Much impetus was lost and progress stifled.

Although Whitehead and one or two other stalwarts remained, they were marginalised and not allowed to rock what became quite a cushy boat. Chairman and vice Chairman Peter Hough (Dorset) and Ray Kiddell (Norfolk) are still snoozing through meetings and munching complementary sandwiches 20 years later!

Football’s loss was athletics’ gain as Whitehead was soon snapped up by the South of England Athletic Association (SEAA), which remains her day job. A confirmed workaholic, she considers it a perk that the SEAA later let her carry on her football commitments in her own time.

Football was in her blood and in 1998 Whitehead was installed as Millwall Lionesess secretary. She had a tough act to follow: replacing Sue Prior who had been ousted in the most shameful episode in the great club’s long history.

In 2001 Arsenal Ladies boss Vic Akers headhunted Whitehead for a match day administrator and UEFA co-ordinator role. She became a valued part of the club’s expensive off-field operation and scooped an FA Special Achievement Award in 2007. In recent seasons Arsenal hit a slump and failed to qualify for Europe, scaling back Whitehead’s involvement somewhat.

She proudly attended Buckingham Palace in 2013 as one of 150 volunteers to be honoured as part of the FA’s 150th anniversary. Also that year Whitehead and Pat Gregory were presented with a commemorative stone at the FA Women’s Awards, belated and inadequate recognition of the WFA’s achievements against all the odds.

When England debuted at the new Wembley in November 2014, being horsed 3–0 by Germany, Anna Kessel’s pre-match article in The Guardian said of Whitehead:

The answer to almost every question regarding the history of women’s football since 1980 is “You’ll have to ask Linda Whitehead for that”.

Player: Miss C.V. Richards

The death of Miss C.V. Richards: A tragedy felt right round the world

England booked their place at the 2015 Women’s World Cup this week, with a 4–0 win in Cardiff. Wales’s mad five minutes just before half–time saw them ship three ridiculous goals and turned the match into a tedious cakewalk. But events at another match in South Wales some 90 years ago had far greater import for the history of women’s football…

In late 1926 Miss C.V. Richards died from injuries sustained in a football match in Glamorganshire. The outcry went round the world as far as the New York Times. In January 1927 a follow–up Associated Press (AP) release titled “ABANDON WOMEN’S FOOTBALL” went viral, 1920s style. It was regurgitated in the Straits Times, the Baltimore Sun and everywhere in between.

Many of the facts are lost in the mists of time. Records show the death of a Catherine Richards, 27, registered in English–Welsh border town Oswestry during the last quarter of 1926.

And there was a Caroline Richards registered dead at 19 in Oswestry during the first quarter of 1927 (perhaps after an inquest?).

But Oswestry is three hours away on modern roads. The real C.V. Richards might have been playing under her maiden name, or a pseudonym.

Amidst dark mutterings of “trouble”, Dick, Kerr’s Ladies infamously lost the support of their factory in 1926.

Most of the recent Dick Kerr’s literature assumes this to be tied in with that year’s general strike.

But public outcry at Richards’s death has been widely overlooked as another possible motive.

The short AP release which went round the world on Richards’s death bragged: “One of the best known women’s football clubs, called “Dick Kerrs” has already been disbanded.”

It was manna from heaven for those who wanted to stamp out women’s football altogether. There had been no shortage of experts reeled out to block it on medical grounds.

1908 Olympian and writer Eustace Miles, something of a Hooray Henry, reckoned that soccer’s “jerky movements” wrought havoc on female bodies.

Even Major W.B. Marchant, big–hearted boss of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association (WAAA), had an opportunist swipe:

[…] the day is not far distant when women’s football will be unknown in this country. Our association confines its attention to track and field events.

So was there any truth in this stuff? Well, frankly … yes.

1920s Dick, Kerr’s stalwart Alice Woods loved to rough–up opposition forwards. On the 1922 tour of the USA she decked Paterson FC’s Dunblane–born US Hall of Famer John McGuire.

Woods was laughing on the other side of her face when she got home in agony, sporting peritonitis and a strangulated hernia.

Barbara Jacobs related all this in The Dick Kerr’s Ladies (2004) but did not connect it with Woods’s buffetings given and received on the pitch.

Woods’s modern day equivalent, goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis, displayed the same Lancastrian heft in her own career.

She’s shredded both knees, broken bones, had her teeth kicked out and crocked her shoulder, her ankle, her fingers.

She once had her face literally smashed in – then took to the pitch wearing a Zorro–style protective face mask.

The past is a different country. Where today’s society tolerates, even admires, Brown-Finnis’s exploits, it was very different for Woods and Richards in the 1920s.


The death of a footballer in her prime is thankfully rare.

Another sad case was Camilla Larsson, a 19–year–old Sweden player who died in 1990. The Öxabäcks IF starlet bumped her head on a bench while training with her champion club.

The loss of C.V. Richards remains one of English football’s great tragedies. A tragedy compounded by the way it was seized upon by those who would use it for their own ends.

Sometimes to know where you are going it can be useful to know the truth about where you have been.

The time is ripe for Richards to take her honoured place in the story of our national game.

Portopia ’81 – England women tour Japan

Caught in time: the England women’s football team jet off to Japan in September 1981


In autumn 1981 coach Martin Reagan‘s charges made history by becoming the first England national team ever to visit the Land of the Rising Sun.

According to the Japanese FA, the Portpier 81 International Ladies Football Festival tournament was tied in with Portopia ’81, a massive trade fair or “Expo” to mark the completion of Port Island. This was a man-made island built off the coast of Kobe between 1966 and 1981 at a cost of several billion yen. Another island was completed in 1992, only for Kobe to be rocked by a devastating earthquake in 1995.

Matches were played as double-headers, 40 minutes each way. The second round of fixtures was played 300 miles north east of Kobe, in Japan’s capital city Tokyo. The Danish FA (DBU) report attendances of 5,000 in Kobe and 3,000 in Tokyo. England v Italy and Denmark v Japan fixtures do not seem to have been played: perhaps a discreet veil was drawn over them after the hosts’ 9–0 hammering by Italy!

The Italians classed the tournament as an edition of their Mundialito series. And they had no compunction about declaring themselves the winners despite drawing with Denmark and not playing England.


Date Venue Team 1 Score Team 2 Scorers
6 September 15:30 Kobe Central Stadium, Kobe Denmark 1–1 Italy Inger Pedersen (32), Betty Vignotto (65)
6 September 17:30 Kobe Central Stadium, Kobe Japan 0–4 England Angie Gallimore (45, 48), Vicky Johnson (71), Debbie Bampton (75)
Date Venue Team 1 Score Team 2 Scorers
9 September 17:30 Tokio Nishigaoka Stadium, Tokyo Japan 0–9 Italy Carolina Morace, Sandra Pierazzuoli (2), Betty Saldi (2), Betty Secci, Betty Vignotto (2)
9 September 19:30 Tokio Nishigaoka Stadium, Tokyo England 0–1 Denmark Inger Pedersen (49)

Team notes:


Excitement and joy was etched on the players’ faces as they lined up for the photocall before setting off from Heathrow. It was to be the first time England had faced opposition from outside Europe.

Nottingham Forest’s Brian Clough had enraged the Japanese in February 1981 by contrasting their hi-tech “television wristwatches” with their failure to “grow some bloody grass”.

Forest lost the Intercontinental Cup 1–0 to Uruguayans Club Nacional on a bumpy, sandy mess at Tokyo’s national stadium.

Ever the diplomat, manager Martin Reagan was more measured: “Quite obviously, the lack of grass pitches will cause great problems in developing their game and will certainly influence their style and tactics.”

In England’s first match, hosts Japan bravely held out until half time only for Angie Gallimore to score twice in the opening 10 minutes of the second period. Johnson and Bampton added late goals as Japan eventually succumbed 4–0.

The players and staff reportedly bopped the night away until 1am in a local disco before jetting on to Tokyo.

The next matchday saw England edged out 1–0 by Denmark. Inger Pedersen, who also got the Danes’ goal in their opening 1–1 draw with Italy, scored a late goal off an assist from the excellent Lone Smidt Hansen (later Lone Smidt Nielsen).

After jetting back to England, WFA chairman David Hunt described the tour as “satisfactory” and expressed pride that in visiting such exotic climes the women had achieved something that England’s pampered male players had yet to do.


England line–ups:

Vs Japan (4–3–3): Wiseman (Irvine); Thomas (Johnson), Gallimore, Parker, Coffin (Reynolds); Curl (Coultard), Bampton, Deighan; Doe, Foreman (Hutchinson), Turner

Vs Denmark (4–3–3): Wiseman; Thomas, Gallimore, Parker, Coffin; Curl (Coultard), Bampton, Deighan; Foreman (Hutchinson), Doe, Turner

Number Name Position Age (approx.) Club
1 Terry Irvine Goalkeeper 29 Aylesbury
2 Angie Gallimore Defender 17 Broadoak
3 Gillian Coultard Midfielder 18 Doncaster Belles
4 Vicky Johnson Defender 21 Lowestoft
5 Janet Turner Forward 20 St Helens
6 Linda Curl Midfielder 20 Lowestoft
7 Eileen Foreman Forward 27 Warminster
8 Tracy Doe Forward 21 Maidstone
9 Liz Deighan Midfielder 26 St Helens
10 Carol Thomas (née McCune) Defender (captain) 26 C.P. Doncaster
11 Linda Coffin Defender 26 Southampton
12 Christine Hutchinson Midfielder 28 Percy Main
13 Sheila Parker (née Porter) Defender 34 Preston North End
14 Maureen Reynolds Defender 28 Biggleswade
15 Debbie Bampton Midfielder 20 Lowestoft
16 Terry Wiseman Goalkeeper 25 Maidstone


In 1981 Japanese women’s football was in its infancy. The first edition of the national club Championship, the Empress’s Cup, had been played over two days in March 1980 at Mitsubishi Yowa Soccer Club in Sugamo, Tokyo. Eight teams played 25 minutes each way, eight-a-side with a size four ball on a specially marked out 76m X 54m (i.e. 3:4 size) pitch.

The winning team, FC Jinnan, had previously represented Japan in the 1977 Asian Championships; Japan’s first tentative foray into the international arena. They finished bottom of their group after losing 1–0 to Indonesia then being demolished 7–0 by hosts Taiwan.

A proper Japan team was put together for the Asian Championships in June 1981, going out after three first round matches. It cost the players 30,000 yen each for the privilege of going to Hong Kong. Etsuko Handa, who had just turned 16, got the team’s first ever goal in a 1–0 win over Indonesia.

In only their fifth ever match here they found themselves confronted with Carolina Morace and Betty Vignotto—two of the world’s greatest ever strikers—and found themselves a bit out of their depth.

The team will not have enjoyed taking such a pasting in front of their own fans, as the concept of “honour” was still big in Japanese culture. Historically, women even had their own version of Hari-Kari: known as Jigaki, which was ritual disembowelment but with one’s knees primly tied together — thereby avoiding any undignified splayed legs.

Some players stuck at it though, the pioneering Handa played at the Atlanta Olympics 15 years later.

In 1981 the status of Asian women’s football was in a stand off, as detailed in an interesting chapter in Jean Williams’ A Beautiful Game (2007).

The independent Asian Ladies Football Confederation (ALFC) were trying to affiliate to FIFA in their own right, while FIFA were telling them to fall into line under the (male) Asian Football Confederation. The male confederation, guided by one or two influential Muslim bigots in places like Malaysia, wanted nothing to do with women’s football.

In the mid 1980s the AFC accepted women’s football and the Japanese FA appointed a properly qualified coach, Ryohei Suzuki, to run the team in 1986. The 1981 team had been coached by a well-meaning schoolteacher.

Eventually in the 1990s FIFA stopped trying to suppress women’s football and decided to run “official” national team competitions.

Disgustingly corrupt FIFA kingpin João Havelange used his shamed ISL marketing company to run the events and channel sizeable kickbacks into his own bank account.

Japan eventually rose to the top of the tree, winning the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup with a dainty brand of tiki-taka which did justice to their “Nadeshiko” nickname.


The info for this article came from Sue Lopez’s indispensible Women on the Ball (1997), Jean Williams’s A Beautiful Game (2007) and the WFA’s match programme for England v Norway 25 October 1981. Luckily the Japanese, Danish and Italian FAs all keep better records than their English counterparts.

On the second matchday Associated Press (AP) issued a three-line press release: “SOCCER TOKYO (AP) – Italy beat Japan 9-0 and Denmark edged England 1-0 in a women’s tournament. Elisabetta Saldi, Sandra Pierazzuoli and Elisabetta Vignotto scored two goals each for Italy. In the second game, Denmark’s Inger Pedersen shot in the winning goal at the 65th minute, assisted by Smidt Hansen.”

Update: Article amended with further info supplied by the estimable Soccer History Magazine (see comments).