Woman's Football: Coultard plays girls' guide
Andrew Baker fears the women of England will need to raise their standard
Sunday 02 November 1997
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.
Latest in Sport
Frank Lampard was RIGHT not to celebrate Manchester City's equaliser against Chelsea
All Blacks Aaron Cruden misses New Zealand flight after drinking session, has brilliant excuse
Colombian women's cycling team kit that makes wearer appear naked is branded 'unacceptable' by UCI president
Five reasons why Louis van Gaal is a worse Manchester United manager than David Moyes
Sam Wallace: Louis Van Gaal struggled at start of Bayern’s Double-winning season, but United’s problems run deeper and this league is less forgiving
- 1 Rihanna 'nude pictures' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 iOS 8 apps and features: eight iPhone settings you need to look at after you install the update
- 3 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 4 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 5 Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scotland could still declare independence – even without referendum, says Alex Salmond
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client in the Financial...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Year 3 Teachers needed in Winsford We ...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Behavioural support worker Pupil r...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Year 5/6 Teachers needed in WinsfordWe...