It was a beautiful, crisp sunny day when the Women’s Super League held its pre-season launch at the Football Association’s St George’s Park HQ this week, but however glorious the Staffordshire parkland looked, Katie Rowson was clearly joking when she said she had come back to England “for the weather”.
Since 2013 Rowson has been working in the Caribbean, following former Chelsea and Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas in honing her skills in the British Virgin Islands, but, idyllic though it sounds, she could not resist the siren call of Watford Ladies.
Rowson has taken over as head coach of the WSL 2 club, who begin their season, along with most teams in the two-division league, on Wednesday, in their case at neighbours Barnet. She is one of four female managers in the sport, twice the tally of last season but still a meagre share of a 19-club competition.
Last season both divisions were won by female coaches, Chelsea’s Emma Hayes and Reading’s Kelly Chambers, as was the women’s World Cup, by English-born US coach Jill Ellis. Yet, those making appointments must still need convincing.
Leading lights - female managers
Emma Hayes (Chelsea)
The only female boss in WSL1 last season – and she won the League and FA Cup double.
Kelly Chambers (Reading)
Overcame loss of England striker Fran Kirby to lead Reading to WSL2 title.
Rebecca Sawiuk (Millwall Lionesses)
Newly appointed this season. Sports lecturer at University of Hertfordshire.
“There are not many of us,” said Rowson, adding: “I think we all – players, physios, managers – have a responsibility to be role models to all females, whether they want to be involved as a player, on the administration side or on the medical side.”
Rowson, who coached the English and British university teams before heading to the Caribbean, said of her return: “I desired a club environment. The British Virgin Islands was a fantastic experience, but it was developing the game at a national level, boys and girls. The potential at Watford is fantastic and being able to coach day-in, day-out was a huge plus.”
Watford, who play at Spartan South Midlands League Berkhamsted, are part-time, which puts them at a disadvantage against clubs such as relegated Bristol. But Sunderland, who won promotion in 2014 as part-timers, prospered in WSL1. They are also managed by a rarity. Carlton Fairweather is the only WSL manager with a significant professional career in the men’s game, having spent a decade playing in the top flight with Wimbledon. At the Women’s World Cup France, Mexico and South Korea were managed by men who had been to World Cups as players, but here there seems a stigma.
“I’m very surprised more male ex-pros are not managing in the women’s game,” said Fairweather. Not least, he said, because “ players are very receptive. In [male] academies a lot of players think they know everything before they have started – that’s from under-eights. The girls want to work hard and improve. Technically they are good, tactically they are astute, there’s not much difference except for the physical side. They are not burning each other’s clothes [in the dressing room, like Wimbledon’s the Crazy Gang], but there are good characters.”
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