Where are football's women? Why it really needs to be a game of two halves

By Roger Dobson
Monday 07 October 2013 05:59

Delia Smith has done it, as has Karren Brady. They are women who run their own football clubs. But when it comes to managing, only Cherie Lunghi has achieved the goal - and that was in a fictional television series.

A new academic study now says there is no reason why women should not be appointed football managers and head coaches. The report accuses clubs of gross sexism for failing even to consider appointing a female manager.

The study by Liverpool University says the age-old argument that women never experienced life as top-class footballers and therefore would not have the nous to be a head coach no longer holds.

It points to successful managers - such as Arsène Wenger at Arsenal and Gérard Houllier at Liverpool - who had unsuccessful, minor careers as players and questions why women shouldn't also be given the chance to coach. Houllier initially trained as a teacher. On the other hand, World Cup winners Bobby Charlton and Alan Ball failed in their managerial careers.

The report concludes being an old-pro can no longer be a genuine occupational qualification for the post, opening up clubs up to prosecution under the Sex Discrimination Act.

While women are increasingly being welcomed as paying supporters by football clubs, about the nearest they get to the hanging rooms is making tea for the players. There has, says the report, been an astonishing lack of progress by women.

"There is one area of the game that remains almost completely untouched by women in the men's game. In the role of head coach, the job traditionally known as the football manager, there is not one female,'' says the report's author, Dr Geoff Pearson, lecturer in football and law at the University of Liverpool.

"Women may now be welcome to consume the football product, both from the seats and the club shop, but in terms of employment in any post higher than receptionist or shop assistant, a female applicant can expect a serious struggle. The business of football is one where overt masculine attitudes are dominant from top down,'' says the report.

Although the idea of a female football manager of a professional men's team was the basis of a BBC series as far back as 1989 - when Cherie Lunghi (pictured left) played a second division female coach in The Manageress - real life has yet to catch up.

Only a handful of women have occupied top jobs, none as manager. Karren Brady was appointed Birmingham City's managing director in 1993 and Brenda Spencer has occupied a similar role at Wigan Athletic, while Lorraine Rogers has been chairman at Tranmere Rovers. There have also been women referees, such as Wendy Toms, and lineswomen.

Most famous of all is Delia Smith, the television cook who bought her favourite club Norwich City, rescued it from financial difficulties and then introduced the best meat pies in league football.

The national game has long been a bastion of male chauvinism and it requires a tough female personality to survive the taunts.

Just a few weeks into Brady's career at Birmingham, one player is reported to have said: "I can see your tits in that shirt," to which she replied: "Don't worry. When I sell you to Crewe you won't be able to see them from there, will you?"

Footballers' wives may also be a thorny issue for prospective female managers. Last week, Gillingham football club's female fitness instructor was sacked following a complaint by one player's wife after her husband was sent a text message at midnight declaring: "Brilliant game. Well done. You're a brilliant player." The furious wife rang the fitness instructor the next day demanding: "How dare you text my husband." After a complaint to the club's male chairman, the fitness instructor was sacked.

But Dr Pearson says that as a new style of football manager starts to infiltrate the game, the football industry will be forced to consider applications from women and tone down its sexism.

"One of the major reasons why there are no female football managers in professional football is that football clubs usually want ex-professional players to manage their team,'' says the report.

"The belief that playing professional football is necessary to be a successful football manager automatically bars women from football management, because by virtue of their sex they cannot be professional players.''

But, says the report, things are changing. Some of the best managers have been relative failures at the playing level. At the same time, successful players have been failures at the managerial level.

"There are no legal reasons why sex discrimination against women within football, even in appointments to the key post of football manager, can be tolerated," says the report.

"It will probably only be a matter of time before a woman with adequate coaching skills and qualifications applies for a vacant manager's post in a men's professional or semi-professional league.''

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