Mark Sampson’s appointment raises questions of women’s role in football

The Team GB women's footballers line up at last summer's Olympics

The Team GB women’s footballers line up at last summer’s Olympics

LAST WEEK the English FA unveiled the new manager of the England national football team. No, Roy Hodgson hasn’t run for the hills in fear after seeing England’s dreadfully difficult draw for next summer’s World Cup! I am, of course, talking about the appointment of Mark Sampson as manager of the England Women’s national football team.

Former coach Hope Powell was sacked by the FA in August of this year after a less than impressive European Championship campaign. Powell had become somewhat of a known quantity to the British public after taking charge of the Team GB women’s team for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She had also managed the England national team for an incredible 15 years, first taking the job in 1998. However, time had run out on her England career and now it is the turn of 31 year old Welshman Mark Sampson to try and revitalise the England Women.

Sampson seems like a credible candidate. After learning the trade as manager of the Swansea City centre for excellence under Roberto Martinez he moved to Women’s Super League side Bristol Academy and has enjoyed considerable success there. Women’s football is starting to receive some funding but the purse strings have remained tight at Bristol. Therefore, his achievement of leading Bristol to two FA Cup finals and the acquisition of Champions League status can be seen as even greater.

Despite these credentials the appointment is likely to be criticised on the terms that Sampson is not a women. It was a great source of pride to me, and countless other football fans, that the England national team coach was a woman. Women still have a hard time breaking into management and most women’s national teams are managed by men. This does little to dispel the idea that football is somewhat of a ‘boys club’ in which female assistant referees are told to ‘go back to the kitchen’ by fans who assume that a woman could never understand the offside rule. Or you can look at the case of Chelsea’s female physiotherapist prompting many fans to joke about the fact that Chelsea’s players are so often injured.

Years ago I may have added my voice to criticism on these terms, however, a view that women should coach women could lead to even greater segregation. Surely the best manager for the job is the one with the greatest credentials. This makes Sampson the clear choice to manage the women’s team. If you limit the pool of potential managers for women’s teams solely to women then you accept that men’s teams will do the same. This plays into the view of many average fans that women have their own football, therefore there is no need for women to become involved in the, more mainstream, men’s game.

As a fan of a lower league football team, I would be more than happy for Hope Powell to take charge of our team should our current manager leave. She is more than qualified having worked wonders with the England women’s team at a time when the sport gained little recognition from the wider sporting world. It would be a wholly positive thing if women coached men’s teams and men coached women’s teams. After all, surely the only criteria that should be considered is the talent of the applicant and not their gender?

Should a men’s team employ a female manager it would be an interesting experiment as far as the fans and players reactions would go. It is one that should be encouraged, however, if the barrier that football holds up to women is ever to be smashed.