Woman's Football: Coultard plays girls' guide

Andrew Baker fears the women of England will need to raise their standard

There were plenty of fireworks around Upton Park last Wednesday night, as London's East Enders warmed up for bonfire night. But the pyrotechnics were in short supply on the pitch for the women's World Cup qualifying tie between England and Holland. No explosive tempers, which was a good thing, but little to spark the imagination, no burning desire.

England won 1-0, to keep alive the women's hopes of emulating their male counterparts and qualifying for the World Cup finals, to be held in the United States in 1999. But their coach, Ted Copeland, acknowledged afterwards that he had been forced to issue a wake-up call at half-time. "There were too many smiling faces," he said. "Too many mediocre performances, and we couldn't afford that."

It is a shame that smiling faces are not encouraged, but also a measure of how far the women's game has come, within the lifetime of most of England's players last week. Until 1971, the Football Association forbade women from playing on the grounds of affiliated clubs. Now the FA organise a three- division national league, in which many of the teams are associated with bastions of the male game.

Yet other countries have advanced much more rapidly. The US will be worthy hosts for the World Cup, their national team, boosted by a long-buoyant college football scene, having recently inflicted 5-0 and 6-0 friendly defeats on England.

The other members of England's qualifying group are also strong. Germany, the European champions, won the opening game between the countries 3-0 in September. And two matches lie ahead against Norway, the reigning world champions. With only one team certain to qualify, England's task is awesomely difficult, which makes Thursday night's result all the more important.

"We've got the toughest of the qualifying groups," England's captain, Gillian Coultard, said. "But we can't dwell on that now. We're not far off the top nations, and if you want to be the best you've got to play against the best at some point."

Coultard has already played against the best - and the rest - in an amazing career. The Holland game was the Doncaster Belles defender's 102nd for her country, an achievement marked before the kick-off by the presentation of a special award. Doing the honours was another celebrated England international, Geoff Hurst, who towered over Coultard's stocky 5ft frame.

But once the silverware had been stowed in the dressing-room, 34-year- old Coultard made an impression on the pitch which belied both her stature and the advancing years. Playing at the heart of England's defence, she frequently made vital interceptions before spreading the ball upfield. And all the while she was semaphoring instructions, to her fellow defenders to push up together, to the midfielders to spread the ball, to the forwards to run into the channels: a genuinely inspirational character. "Gillian gives the other players confidence," Copeland said. "She is always 110 per cent committed."

So were the fans. Precisely 2,002 souls had braved the chill to watch the game, and the younger half of the crowd were in good voice. Susan Smith's decisive goal, in the 62nd minute, provoked high-pitched choruses of "We love you England, we do", and at the final whistle the schoolgirls did their best to lift the roof of Upton Park's main stand. The England players hugged each other in the centre circle, then broke away to wave to friends in the crowd. But they will need to raise their game if they are not to wave goodbye to their World Cup ambitions.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor