Football: Outclassed women need lessons in game's beauty

Pete Davies calls for remedies to a footballing malaise

Asked why he played a forward at left-back, the England manager, Ted Copeland, said, "We haven't got a left-back. We have lost three of them." Since he could name only two of the players he lost, and with difficulty, perhaps it is not surprising h e mislaid them.

To be fair, when England played Germany in Watford on Sunday in the semi-final of the sixth Women's European Championship, Copeland put out as good an 11 as he had available - and, as he said, "If you had told me a year ago that we would make the last four, I would have been happy with that."

But it is not quibbles over selection that has raised questions about the FA's management of women's football to date. For much as the comprehensive nature of the 4-1 drubbing dished out by the Germans is so often the case with English teams, we saw one

side playing football, the other tethered to the FA coaching manual. No amount of admitting that "we defended too deep" can disguise the superiority in technique, movement, flexibility, vision and athleticism that the visitors displayed so impressively.

On the credit side, England's women will be in the World Cup next June, along with the champions, the USA, the hosts, Sweden, plus Norway, Denmark, Germany, Japan, China, Canada, Australia and one finalist each from Africa and South America. Nor should defeat obscure the fact that England have some fine players. The captain, Gillian Coultard, is an inspirational 5ft nothing of ball-winning, midfield grit. Lesley Higgs, in goal, worked bravely to keep the German tally down, and, given a sniff at the ball , Karen Walker, Karen Farley, and Marieanne Spacey can give any defence a headache.

But overall, England were still baffled at the back, overrun in the middle, and picked off at the front. If Copeland says we have a lot to learn, there are many in the women's game wondering when we are going to start learning it. Vic Akers, the manager

of the National Division leaders, Arsenal, said: "They [the FA] have been in charge 18 months now and they talk about a development plan. But I haven't heard a single word yet about what they actually intend to do."

So the sport continues undernourished, desperate for resources, sponsorship, organisation and publicity. Belatedly, perhaps, with the FA's director of public affairs, David Davies, taking over responsibility next month for the promotion of the game, we may now see a greater effort. After Sunday's match Davies said he saw "enormous potential".

But if better PR can improve on Sunday's pitiful crowd of 937 it can hardly remedy deficiencies on the field, and the sooner the dead hand of Charles Hughes's FA coaching department is lifted from the women the better. English `direct play' has faired poorly internationally for the men. For the women, whose game is slower and less physical, more fluent and considered, it is doubly inappropriate. As Akers says of Hughes and his team, "I wonder how conversant they really are with women's football. Becauseit isn't about smashing the ball all round the park."

It is, instead, about technique and coherence, about passing and control, and on Sunday England ran out of the lot. With six months to go to the World Cup, the FA must therefore think long and hard about its approach to the women's game, and it must consult a good deal more with those people who know and understand the women's game. Otherwise, on Sunday's evidence, England's participation does not appear likely to be either happy or prolonged.

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