Game can’t af­ford to let tal­ent drain away

The Football League Paper - - WOMEN'S FOOTBALL WEEKLY - Jac­qui Oat­ley

ON MON­DAY evening in a pub in King’s Cross, two Eng­land le­gends, Kelly Smith and Pauline Cope-Boanas, told many an en­ter­tain­ing tale from their il­lus­tri­ous, if very dif­fer­ent, ca­reers. The Q&A ses­sion mod­er­ated by She Kicks editor, Jen O’Neill, was the brain­child of Kieran Thievam, a women’s football jour­nal­ist who con­trib­utes to this news­pa­per.

Kelly and Pauline sat in leather arm­chairs on the stage, talk­ing openly and hon­estly about their ex­pe­ri­ences.

Young sup­port­ers of the women’s game know all about the

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nom­e­nal tal­ent of Kelly, who has forged a fine ca­reer as a pro­fes­sional foot­baller, de­spite grow­ing up with no ob­vi­ous path­way. She’s writ­ten in her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy about the per­sonal chal­lenges she’s had to over­come.

For­mer Eng­land goal­keeper Pauline (mar­ried to her old boss at Charl­ton, now Es­to­nia coach, Keith Boanas) had the au­di­ence in stitches with her sto­ries from the dress­ing room, long be­fore the days of cen­tral con­tracts, sports sci­en­tists and St Ge­orge’s Park.

While Kelly has been tak­ing her coach­ing badges and pass­ing on her skills as Ar­se­nal as­sis­tant-man­ager, Pauline has been out of the game for nine years un­til her ap­point­ment last week at Gilling­ham Ladies. Nine years! What a waste. She won 60 caps for her coun­try and used to train regularly with Premier League goal­keeper Dean Kiely at Charl­ton Ath­letic.

Pauline fell out of love with the game when she re­tired,

has only re­cently re­dis­cov­ered her de­sire to be back on the train­ing ground and is re-tak­ing her coach­ing badges.

But where are her old team­mates? When Pauline looked around the dress­ing room at the re­cent Eng­land le­gends char­ity match against Sheffield FC, only one of the play­ers was still in­volved in the game: Marieanne Spacey – as­sis­tant to Eng­land boss Mark Samp­son.

For­mer team-mate Mo Mar­ley is Eng­land Un­der-19s coach, but those two are in the mi­nor­ity. What of the great Karen Walker? How many young girls are be­ing taught how to head the ball by one of the finest ex­po­nents of the skill? None. She’s a po­lice of­fi­cer in Hum­ber­side. Deb­bie Bamp­ton? Top player with the likes of Ar­se­nal and Croy­don, who she coached to the league and cup dou­ble. No longer in­volved.

Gill Coul­tard? Over 100 caps for Eng­land. No longer in­volved. There was no money in the women’s game dur­ing the 1980s and 90s so these play­ers con­tin­ued with their day jobs af­ter re­tire­ment in or­der to pay their mort­gages.

Un­wanted

Yes, it’s up to play­ers them­selves to get their coach­ing badges, net­work and put them­selves for­ward for paid coach­ing jobs. Ex-play­ers I’ve spo­ken to say they’ve felt un­wanted and un­wel­come by the mod­ern game, yet would rel­ish an op­por­tu­nity to get back in, up­date their coach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions and give some­thing back.

I spoke to an FAWSL club chair­man a cou­ple of years ago who wanted to em­ploy a fe­male English man­ager but couldn’t get any rec­om­men­da­tions so they ap­pointed a man in­stead.

Hope­fully, there will be a greater tal­ent pool to choose from in the com­ing years, with the likes of Eng­land’s Fara Wil­liams, Casey Stoney and Laura Bas­sett al­ready equip­ping them­selves with their coach­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

How­ever, coach­ing is not the only way for play­ers to stay in the game. Men­tor­ing is a hugely im­por­tant as­pect of player de­vel­op­ment, yet seems to be very much over­looked. In this new era of pro­fes­sion­al­ism, young girls need their role mod­els to of­fer prac­ti­cal and emo­tional sup­port.

What sort of snacks should they eat (and not eat)? How can they com­bine a so­cial life or re­la­tion­ship with a top club and in­ter­na­tional play­ing ca­reer? Is it nor­mal to some­times doubt their de­sire to make it in the game? Girls have spe­cific per­sonal chal­lenges: the way their bod­ies change as they de­velop, the ef­fect of hor­mones on body and mind, ques­tions about their sex­u­al­ity which can af­fect the dress­ing room dy­namic.

These are se­ri­ous is­sues that can re­sult in tal­ent be­ing lost to the game if not dealt with. The girls are un­likely to talk to their man­ager about such per­sonal prob­lems. In­stead, a for­mer player who has been there and over­come sim­i­lar hur­dles would be in­valu­able to ad­vise them.

It’s not enough to ask an ex-player to pop in and chat to young play­ers as a favour. There should be a bud­get in place within clubs, Cen­tres of Ex­cel­lence and County FAs to pay the likes of Rachel Brown-Fin­nis, Faye White, Sue Smith – play­ers who know what it takes to make it to the top, spend weeks away at camps.

In­valu­able

Sue is the most pro­fes­sional player I’ve ever worked with, male or fe­male, and is also an ex­cel­lent com­mu­ni­ca­tor. She’d make a fine men­tor as she has em­pa­thy with peo­ple and gen­uinely cares.

Once Rachel has had time to set­tle into moth­er­hood, she could go into clubs and Eng­land youth camps to ex­plain how she lived her life while re­main­ing Eng­land num­ber one for so many years. I know she’d also love to tal­ent-spot po­ten­tial young goal­keep­ers who may not have even tried the sport or po­si­tion yet.

We’ve al­ready lost years of foot­balling ex­per­tise to of­fices and fac­to­ries around Eng­land. Let’s not al­low any more tal­ent to drain away and in­stead re­cy­cle it for the ben­e­fit of the next gen­er­a­tion.

PIC­TURE: The FA

The Don’t miss Women’s Football live on Sun­day, Show, 11.20pm Septem­ber 27, the fi­nal BBC One and day of the FAWSL1 sea­son, Sun­day, Oc­to­ber 4, 11.30pm BBC One WIS­DOM: Ar­se­nal’s Kelly Smith could pass on ad­vice and tips to young play­ers in the fu­ture as a men­tor

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