It’s Only A Matter Of Time.

RENFREW FC – Match Programme

League –October 13th 2018 – Clydebank


A few weeks ago, I took in my first ladies match. I know I’m a bit late to the party, but after watching the Juniors on a Saturday I’d have to apply to the International Brownie Points Fund for an emergency bailout loan to cover the cost of another afternoon watching football. Rather conveniently though, the Ladies That Do Lunch had arranged a bit of a session at the Tennis Club leaving me at an obvious loose end.

By good fortune, the Renfrew Ladies had landed a home draw against Glasgow City FC in the Scottish Cup Quarter Final. I don’t suppose even the most optimistic of Renfrew supporters genuinely believed in the chance of an upset, but I’d have been eternally kicking myself had it happened and not been there.

So, when the cat’s away, this mouse has his day.  There were plenty other possible distractions that afternoon, but having had the initial notion I wasn’t going to let anything divert me … and I headed for New Western Park.

Back in the day, I made a ‘note to self’: always act on first impulse, when it comes to football.

In 1984 while living in Stirling, my local team had won only one of their sixteen league matches. I was a frequent visitor to Annfield at that time and while I really did want them to win I recognised they were potential victims of a Scottish Cup shock. Consolation from watching them suffer the indignity of a first round exit to an amateur team would be offset by being able say ‘I was there.’

Waking on the morning of 8th December and having seen the miserable grey, dreich weather, I convinced myself, however, that realistically there would be no cup shock and The Binos would likely scrape a crappy 1 – 0 win. I opted instead for a visit to the local record store, where I’d regularly spend hours browsing through the racks of vinyl and listening to various weird sounding bands in the sound booth.

But there was a Cup shock that day – and only five hundred and fifteen hardy souls are able to say ‘I was there’ and witnessed The Albion beat Selkirk 20 –0!

There was no shock unfortunately at the Renfrew Ladies –v- Glasgow City match, although for the first twenty-five minutes you wouldn’t have bet against it. There were plenty goals, though unfortunately, none for us. But although we eventually took a bit of a pasting, I really enjoyed the match and was glad not to have been presented with the possible attraction of a record store listening booth.

The Ladies game has blossomed across the UK in recent years. But what surprises me is why it’s taken so long to gain acceptance.

Girls have been playing football as long as I can remember. And I mean that quite literally. I recall as a kid, kicking a ball around our street and on spare ground ‘at the pylon’ and ‘the dump’ with several girls of our age joining in. I’m going back fifty-plus years here.

And many readers will be aware of the English FA ban in 1921, on member clubs hosting any further Ladies matches. This was despite Dick Kerr’s Ladies taking on St Helens Ladies at Goodison Park in front of 53,000 spectators on Boxing Day of the previous year. Or maybe it was because …?

The Scottish FA followed suit and although the ladies game was still played on an unofficial basis the ban remained in place until 1971, when UEFA instructed its member countries to take control over the game in their respective countries. Scotland, incidentally, was the only country of thirty-two to vote against the proposed change.

That’s all well in the past now, and many clubs throughout the UK are, like us here at Renfrew FC, adopting Ladies and Girls sections. But it’s not only on the playing side that the Ladies game is going from strength to strength.

Women have been taking to the role of professional referees / assistants for the men’s game these past ten years or so; more and more teams boast female physios and since the turn of the century, the majority of clubs in England have women appointed to key roles on the club’s board. And in Scotland, we need look no further than our own club for illustration of the point.

And this season, we have seen Alex Scott and Eni Aluko dissecting games, as TV pundits, with less clichéd chat than we’re normally subjected to.

This leaves the one obvious question: how long before a woman is appointed Team Manager / Head Coach of an established senior club? In theory, this should probably have happened by now, given that males and females sitting their coaching badges are taught identical courses and receive the same award. It’s no different to students from both sexes studying accountancy, law, medicine etc at university.

Granted, it will take a brave and determined woman to put herself in the position of being the first high-profile team manager in UK. The media scrum will be unbelievable, and the pressure to succeed will be magnified, if only for the sake of encouraging others to follow. And on the flip side, the appointing Club Chairman will be fearful of poor results and the manager’s subsequent sacking being portrayed by the media hacks as somehow sexist.

But that’s all by-the-by. In England at the time of writing, 91% of women’s football teams are managed by males. This obviously includes the national team, which is now managed by Phil Neville who took over from Hope Powell. And in Scotland we have Scott Booth as the national coach. So what’s the chances of women making it the men’s game if they can’t get the opportunity in their ‘own game?’

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, when considering the disproportionate number of BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) managers relative to players in the professional game. International players, even.  Don’t start me!

I for one would love to see a woman be given the chance to manage at National League (North or South) Step 2 level. Or higher. Hope Powell, currently in charge of Brighton & Hove Albion Ladies, would be my top candidate. She’s a proven success in the woman’s game and is ‘high profile’ enough to counter doubters’ initial concerns. She also knows her way around a media pack.

It does seem a great shame that while so much work and money has been invested in recent years to encourage girls into the sport, the opportunities at a coaching level seem not only just limited, but severely restricted.

Someday soon though, one from the growing number of female Chief Executives at professional clubs will take the initiative. They will look at the perpetual recycling of highly paid failed male managers, and consider, enough is enough.

It’s only a matter of time. Surely.