History will show that Hope Powell changed the face of women’s football in the UK for good when she took over as England manager in 1998. The game is now at a higher level than ever, but that doesn’t mean her work is done. Powell met with us to discuss how to stay ahead in today’s game and advise students on being the best they can be…
There is no bigger champion and no bigger name in women’s football in England than Hope Powell.
As national manager for 15 years, Powell is credited with almost single-handedly transforming the game from small crowds and Sunday league facilities into the professional multi-million-pound industry it is today.
At a time when there was relatively little professional interest in women’s football within the UK, Powell demanded investment, opportunities and structures to allow the game to develop.
“It’s a tough industry no matter whether you’re male or female,” she says. “But it’s harder for women because the industry is clogged by the male game. The assumption is that men are more knowledgeable on the game than women, and the lead roles unfortunately fall to men.”
The 51-year-old added: “The decision makers are quite often male and therefore a lot of people generally employ people like themselves – it’s a fact.”
It’s comments like this which has seen Powell never rest on her laurels. In recent years participation in the women’s game has gone through the roof, as have the number of coaches, the amount of TV coverage, attendance at games, the wages on offer to players and the success of the national team. But still she carries on.
Stubborn or determined? Powell doesn’t mind what you think but she knows what it takes to succeed and what women need to do to make themselves impossible to ignore.
Advising female students, she said: “If you’re trying to break into this industry as I did, I think the important thing is to get qualified, get experience and don’t be deterred.”
She adds: “You’re competing all the time and you have to stay ahead of the game and be better than the person next to you – that means more experience, more qualifications, keep upskilling yourself, volunteer and get a mentor. It all puts you further forward than the person next to you.”
Powell’s record speaks for itself. A playing career spent largely with Millwall Lionesses and Croydon, she also represented her country 66 times, including playing in a European final as a 17-year-old.
It’s her time as England manager though where she made her name. Appointed as the first-ever full-time national team manager, Powell became the first woman to obtain her UEFA pro licence, and has since been awarded an OBE and CBE for the way she transformed the women’s game.
As manager, she led England to two World Cup quarter finals and a European final in 2009 – a record noticeably far superior to the men’s team during the same period. It’s obvious to most though that Powell wasn’t just the manager. Wearing the job as a badge of honour, she grabbed the women’s game by the scruff of the neck and dragged it into the professional era.
The FA couldn’t ignore her, but how did she convince them to believe in her vision? She doesn’t deny it was tough.
“Something I learnt was that a win for me is a win for them. It’s about how you sell it, how you negotiate and how you work with your senior management to get what you want, because first and foremost it’s a business and it’s got to be a win-win situation.”
She added: “Managing upwards is about convincing those people that if they agree to your idea then they’re going to benefit from it – that’s really important.”
Now a female coach educator at the Professional Footballers’ Association, Powell works with both male and female coaches to help, educate and inform them on how to better themselves and their coaching skill sets. It’s a different kind of coaching and a different kind of educating, not to mention a world away from leading out England at a World Cup, but it’s yet another area of the game Powell is hugely passionate about.
“Formal education in terms of coaching is really important,” she says with absolute conviction. “It upskills you in the knowledge of the game and allows you to disseminate all that information appropriately to the age group of players you’re working with.”
Powell goes on to say that education never stops, no matter what level of the sport you are at. “The game evolves so you need to evolve with it,” she adds.
“By continual learning you become better at your trade and you then become better at dealing with players. The idea of coaching is how you make players better, so it’s important to continue upskilling yourself in order to make you more proficient at your job and to help your players develop.”
The first tournament England played in the post-Powell era was the 2015 World Cup, where they caught the imagination of the nation by reaching the semi-finals and then beating the mighty Germany in the third-place play-off. Undoubtedly their greatest ever moment on the international stage.
She might not have been pitch side, but there can be no denying the influence Powell had on the team. If it wasn’t for her, the standards of the female game in England would be very, very different.
This article was originally published in UCFB’s Future Sport magazine. Click here to read the full publication.