A Man’s Game?

Donna Powell - will she lead women into management in the men's game?

Donna Powell - will she lead women into management in the men's game?

Sat absent mindedly at my computer yesterday I was vaguely scanning the stories scrolling past on my RSS Feed reader on my desktop. One went past declaring the appointment of a female manager on a temporary basis at non-league Fisher Athletic, and for some reason, I struggled to react with the kind of shock that the exclamation marks seem to imply was necessary.

Of course, upon further thought, this is quite big news, and certainly headline worthy, but I still don’t feel that it should come as a shock. After all, why on earth shouldn’t clubs appoint female managers? Yes, football has long been seen as a man’s game, and traditionally it was, but these days traditions are fading fast, and at any ground in the country you will see plenty of female fans supporting their team with just as much vigour, passion and (most importantly) knowledge, as the men.

Yes, there are woman’s football teams and the quality of play in those leagues are improving, as I witnessed when I saw England’s U17 girls play in the World Cup here in New Zealand last year. We would never expect though, for any women players to be seen in the men’s league, even at non-league level, where Fisher Athletic ply their trade. And I do not say this to be sexist at all, it is simply that, skilled as women can be, they will be very hard put to contend with the physicality of the men’s game. We are built differently, it’s a physiological fact and so mixed gender teams will, for the foreseeable future at least, remain a grade for social competitions only.

But why should female managers not be able to manage in the men’s league? There is no physiological aspect inherent to management that would cause a problem. All that is necessary for management is great commitment, knowledge of the game in a tactical sense, an ability to motivate and organise players and good coaching skills. Those are the basics of the business, and all of those qualities are present in many, many women around the world.

So I was shocked, upon seeing this story, only in the sense that the story was received with shock from other quarters. It was news that I did not find surprising at all, because after all, why shouldn’t there be female managers? In my brain, there was nothing going on that shouldn’t be, and so I almost disregarded the story. But there is an issue here I think. Why should it be such a big deal that a woman took charge of a team for a match.

Yes, Donna Powell is the first woman to take charge of a team, but really, the only surprise that that should hold is that it hasn’t happened before. Women have been heavily involved in the game for a while now and I am surprised that we haven’t seen the emergence of female coaches etc. before now. But then, football is a stubborn old game, and we are quite set in our ways, so perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising.

After all, how many black managers have there been? Very few is the answer as far as I’m aware, and indeed, it was not until this season when Paul Ince took charge of Blackburn, that a black manager finally graced England’s top division. It seems that in terms of social change, football can rather drag its feet at times. While in most (if not, regrettably, all) quarters of society, black people are treated with dignity, respect and equality, there still lingers a slight racist problem in football. However much we tell ourselves that the problem has gone away, there are still campaigns against racism in football for a reason.

So maybe it isn’t too surprising that women don’t really get a fair bite of the cherry either. Women are treated equally in most parts of society too, and yet no woman has yet made any real impact on the beautiful game at all (anyone who mentions the acronym ‘WAG’ here will be hung, drawn and quartered). Perhaps then, the emergence of Donna Powell as a contender for the managerial job at Fisher Athletic will kick start a movement to give women more of a place in football – I certainly hope so.

Donna herself seems keen to lead the way. Despite defeat in her match in charge, the team’s second half performance was commended by the club chairmen after Powell had changed the way the team was usually set up at half time. Indeed, Powell already has some experience of football management, as she apparently runs a boys’ football team in her area, and this is not an uncommon phenomenon, making it all the more surprising that no women have yet been given the chance to step up.

It seems to me then, that Donna has what it takes to make a go of the managers job at Fisher Athletic, as she has a bit of experience and certainly a lot of enthusiasm for the task. At the end of the day too, if I know anything about the English media, this is a story that isn’t going to get old, and so if Powell should be appointed as the permanent woman in charge of Fisher Athletic, she will have plenty of attention paid to her career. And as they say, there’s no publicity like bad publicity.

The club will always benefit from publicity, but also, if Donna does get the chance to become a manageress permanently, there will be a lot of attention paid to how successful she is. If she succeeds, then it will surely pave the way for more women to be given a shot provided they meet the criteria that clubs are looking for, which can only be a good thing. And even if she fails, I think that it would still be good for women with managerial ambition in the long run. Fisher Athletic are already in a fairly precarious position and so she may well see the club relegated, but if she can make any progress at all, football fans will see that it is not just a man’s game.

So I wish Donna Powell the best of luck. I really hope she gets the job at Fisher and I really hope she can succeed in it if she is appointed. Either way, it is certainly about time that women were given a chance in football management, because after all, there is genuinely no reason why they are unsuitable for the job. Now we have a pioneer to lead the way, and hopefully, in its typical slow and stumbling way, football can once again set out on the path of change, towards a brighter future.

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