`My players all wanted posh totty at dinner'

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The Independent Online
"MY PLAYERS said they didn't understand why the PFA didn't want me at the dinner, because it would be nice to have some posh totty there," Rachel Anderson explained, laughing at the turn of phrase.

Yesterday Mrs Anderson, 41, smashed one of the last flagrantly sexist barriers in football when a court ruled she had been subject to sex discrimination after being thrown out of the Professional Footballers' Association annual dinner.

Yet Mrs Anderson, Fifa's only licensed female agent, is no rabid feminist. She enjoys blue comedians, utters four- letter words and can even be a bit sexist herself. "I am surrounded by fit young men, fit older managers and even sometimes fit older chairman," she jokes, when asked whether she misses her husband of 23 years' standing during her endless business trips.

In a world where some club chairmen will not allow women into the boardroom on match day, deflecting sexism with humour has become a habit. A former vice-chairman once told her that women did not belong in the game: they should be "barefoot and pregnant".

"I told him I would take off my shoes but that was as far as I was willing to go with him," she explained.

Yet she remains softly spoken and stylish - happy to cook for homesick footballers, to give credit to her husband, John, for providing the foundation upon which her success relies, and candid about the distinctly "girly" origins of her attraction to football.

At the age of 11, she began to follow her local team, Southend United, and later West Ham, to chase boys. Her passion for that aspect waned when she met her husband, John, but her love of the sport endured.

Twenty years later, having spent 18 months fighting back to health after a car crash, Mrs Anderson enlisted in an aerobics course. During a break in classes she was reading the sporting news. "I was complaining about this West Ham player, Julian Dicks, being sent off again and saying how stupid he was. I said he was the best player we ever had but he was allowing people to manipulate him," she recalled.

She was mortified to discover the woman listening to her tirade was Dicks's wife, Kay. Mrs Dicks, however, agreed with her and convinced her husband to listen. Having devoured every book on football rules and legislation, Mrs Anderson applied to be the first - and to date only - female agent licensed by Fifa.

"I was told they would not give a woman a licence. I didn't see a problem," she said. True to her word, she gained her licence and proved a startling influence on Dicks. Within months, the reformed player landed a sought- after transfer to Liverpool and his agent had gained a reputation. Today she represents 35 footballers .

Her sex has made her an unlikely combination of formidable negotiator and big sister. "Managers have 30, 40 people in a squad. They don't have time to worry whether their player's dog has died. It is a fiercely macho environment. They don't want to look soft in front of another man. That is where I have the advantage," she said.

She recalled that after she was barred by the PFA: "Jimmy Hill [the veteran pundit] said to me `You've got the wrong end of the stick; they are trying to protect you from the boisterousness'. It was really wrong. I don't want to be disadvantaged by not going to a function all my male colleagues can go to.

"I couldn't let them get away with it in this day and age."