This Sunday was to be the penultimate match of the season for Brighton & Hove Albion Women’s Team. Postponed due to current events, it seemed like a good opportunity to celebrate the current manager of the team, Hope Powell, as part of our 100 Pioneering Women of Sussex blog series.
On a scorching July evening the atmosphere was palpable inside Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. Inside the 25,000 crowd started proceedings singing the National Anthem with Great Britain Women’s Olympic Football Team. The first event of the 2012 London Olympics resulted in a 1–0 GB victory over New Zealand. The team went on to win their group without conceding a goal. At Wembley 70,584 spectators witnessed a memorable 1–0 win over Brazil. The team were knocked out in the quarterfinals by 2–0 by Canada but they had furthered the ascendency of women’s football in this country.
The team was led by coach Hope Powell, who is recognised for her achievements in Anita Corbin’s 100 First Women Portraits exhibition.
Born in 1966 in Lewisham, London, Hope was brought up on a council estate with her mother, brother, stepfather, two stepbrothers and a stepsister. She started playing football at age six and by seven was the only girl hanging around a bunch of football-mad boys. At school Hope and another girl were the only females playing football with a team of boys.
Speaking recently to Sussex Life about school, football and home life, Hope said; “The West Indian Culture didn’t consider football a female sport …when I had a match or training, I had to sneak out of the house, I was like the Bend it Like Beckham girl.”
At this time, the FA banned girls over 11 from playing in mixed teams. Ever resilient, Hope discovered women’s club Millwall Lionesses under coach Alan May. Aged 16 she was discovered by scouts, resulting in her first cap for England in 1983. As an attacking midfielder, Hope received 66 international caps and played in the 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Despite the appalling lack of funding for women’s football in the 1980s and 1990s, undeterred like many of her peers, Hope had part-time jobs and held fundraisers for fees and equipment. By 31, Hope was the youngest-ever coach of a national first team, but also the first women and first non-white manager. During her record 15 years tenure as England Lionesses’ coach, many consider her greatest achievement with the team as reaching the final of the Euros 2009 (losing to Germany).
By 2013, such glory led to reproach when Hope was sacked as England’s coach after a disappointing Euro 2013 where the team ended bottom of their group.
The Guardian did praise Hope for modernising women’s football in this country, as heroic, awe-inspiring and revolutionary. She raised the bar, inspired the FA to demand better standards, but pointed out ‘in a cruel twist of fate that is exactly what the FA has done in sacking her.’
In 100 First Women Portraits, Hope is celebrated for being the first woman to achieve the UEFA Pro License in 2003. This is the highest coaching certificate required to permanently manage a football club in a European nation’s top-tier league system. After her dismissal from the national team, Hope traveled around the world working for UEFA and FIFA but missed working with a team.
In an interview in 2019, Hope discussed how she wasn’t sure if she could face management again, but the opportunity with Brighton & Hove Albion Women felt right. She said; “I knew Brighton was a progressive, ambitious club. They understand where they are and where they want to be but within reason. That really appealed to me.” Brighton are making steady progress in the FA’s newly revamped Women’s Super League playing against such illustrious teams such as Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal.
Speaking to The Telegraph on 30 March 2020 during the lockdown, Hope said;”It’s about people first and football second.” She conducts daily staff meetings and team video calls online from her kitchen. It evokes a softer image of the coach rarely revealed in the past. Anita Corbin’s photograph captures a relaxed Hope, her glasses slightly lowered from her face, head tilted, bearing an open mouth smile. Hope herself has said that she has learnt to be more patient with players at club level. With a hint at self-deprecation, she likened herself to a Sergeant Major, but said; “I don’t mind having a good time but remember; this is your job. There are rules. Stick to them. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
Written by Lisa Hinkins, MA Student, Museum Gallery Explainer. Lifelong Brighton & Hove Albion supporter and of the Women’s game.