Author Topic: Hope of parity for England women's football  (Read 926 times)

Offline David

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Hope of parity for England women's football
« on: October 27, 2007, 10:22:41 AM »
When Hope Powell finally gets "to retire, sit on a beach and drink Pina Coladas", she will have plenty to reflect on. She inspires England teams, formerly as a player and now as a manager. She campaigns against racism, coaches orphans in Africa, and as a Pro-Licence holder, is better qualified to manage Chelsea than Avram Grant. No wonder Powell has an OBE and a place in English football's Hall of Fame.

Only 40, Powell is one of football's leading success stories, the free-scoring midfielder capped 66 times who became the dugout catalyst behind England women's against-all-odds journey to the quarter-finals of the 2007 World Cup. The euphoria sparked by their feats in China will be heard this afternoon when Powell and her players are greeted rapturously by a sell-out crowd at Walsall for the European Championship qualifier against Belarus.
There's hope: England women's manager Hope Powell

Kelly Smith, Faye White and the others whose World Cup exploits drew impressive television ratings will all be feted, but much of the credit for the heightened interest in women's football should go to Powell. Possessed of a quiet authority, a sense of perspective and a deep passion for the game, Powell sips a coffee before training yesterday and talks eloquently about Steve McClaren, Mike Newell, the Premier League, the Olympics, and, to start with, the "huge sacrifices" her team made in China.

"Germany were together for four months before the World Cup," Powell begins. "The United States have their families travel with them at the expense of the American FA. Our players have to worry about getting their family to China and if the money is coming in back home.

"They come back having had five weeks' unpaid leave. We give them a certain amount of money – expenses and a fee – but it doesn't equate to what they have lost. We had a meeting today and part of it was a discussion around finances. They want more, and rightly so. Everyone has said how well they played at the World Cup. A lot of them have lost money, lost time with their family."

Some even struggle to pay for childcare.

"Unfortunately, there is a huge disparity between the men's game and women's. Yet sometimes I look at men's football and can't believe what they get paid." What? A poor first touch? A stray pass? Powell nods. "I go, Oh my God!

"But we appreciate the men's game brings in a lot of finance that helps the women's game. Our players have friendships with some male players who have been supportive. David James has seen us train and sent a lovely message while we were in the World Cup.

"Stevie Gerrard sent a text message to Kelly Smith. That's really nice. It's not the guys' fault they earn so much. Hopefully more assistance will be given to us. The FA have been supportive financially. Do we need more? Yes, of course we do."

If women's football is to maintain the momentum, and raise standards, it really needs Richard Scudamore's Premier League to underwrite a proper domestic competition. "It would be easy for the Premier League to run a women's league. It's not even £1 million to run a team. In terms of their men's revenue and income, it is a very small percentage. The benefits to the women's game would be huge. A lot of clubs struggle with training facilities, kit, and employing quality coaches.

"Arsenal do a good job, employ a lot of the girls, and give them kit. They are close-knit between men and women at Arsenal. But it's unique. Charlton went down that route. Then the men got relegated and the women's side got axed.

"We are also having discussions about summer football. When I was a player I always wanted summer football because the winters were awful! More importantly, we are competing for air time and paper time with the men. Everyone loves to read about the men's game, so that means the publicity we get is limited. It would be different in the summer.

"We have a facilities department at the FA that will take care of pitches. There are third-generation, Uefa-approved pitches, although you would not discount grass pitches. I know tournaments are in the summer, but we can work the domestic programme around it. Other major countries do."

Talking of summer joys, Powell adds: "I am absolutely distraught we are not going to the Olympics next year. We qualified, but to represent Great Britain, the other [three] associations had to agree and they wouldn't. It's very unfair. I can't comprehend how they could deny an athlete the right to play in a major tournament."

A conscientious streak defines Powell. An ambassador for the FA-backed charity, Coaching for Hope, she will join the DJ Fatboy Slim in working in South African townships in December. "Coaching disadvantaged kids is something I've always wanted to get involved in," Powell says. "I am really keen to develop the game, wherever I can all over the world."

The game is certainly developing fast in England. Figures are slightly disputed, but Sport England already believe 250,000 women and 1.1 million girls play football. The World Cup should provide another adrenaline shot. "People who ordinarily haven't seen women's football looked at it on the television and were pleasantly surprised. Women's football is technically good, obviously slower, less about physical prowess and more about ability.

"When we were in China, we were cocooned and didn't have that appreciation of how much people were talking about it. When we came back and found out what the reaction had been, it was: 'OK! Getting to the quarters was a massive achievement'."

The women's 2007 World Cup performance was as celebrated as the men's 2006 World Cup display was derided. "The fact that the men are in a bit of a difficult situation makes it easy to contrast. It is very easy to be negative towards the men. But it's not justified.

"Steve McClaren's a nice guy. When our paths cross, we say, 'how are you doing'. Having a consistent manager is important. Chopping and changing is detrimental to the squad. You lot in the press don't help. Sometimes you inflate the players to knock them down. You should get more behind them. Expectations are too high, and when it doesn't work, the players are 'the worst in the world'. It's unfair.

"In 2006, people were saying to me, 'The men are going to win it.' I'm going, 'Hang on a minute, why? There are some really good teams in the World Cup.' Sometimes we can be unrealistic. So what if we invented football? Who cares? Everyone else has moved on. That means nothing today. We are not No1 in the world. We haven't got the best players in the world. We have to appreciate what we have, and get behind them."

While on the unfairer sex, Powell believes that sexist outbursts like Newell's are increasingly rare. "He might have had a bad day. I guess it's ignorance. People do make comments they invariably regret. I just think, 'OK, whatever, move on'. There is less of it. Most people are very complimentary.

"I could be employed in the men's game because of the qualifications I have, but the likelihood of that happening is zero. Is there a glass ceiling there? Yes. Carolina Morace coached a men's side [Serie C1 Viterbese] in Italy, but she was the first one to do so. She was there six months.

"It depends on the person making the appointment. Would they look at the person, the qualifications, male or female, black or white? John Barnes says there is a glass ceiling [for black managers] and if I look at the men's game, there probably is. In terms of women making it, I don't know. I know I have a good CV." Powell certainly does.