London Evening Standard

England boss spells out role parents can play in growing the women’s game

England’s women footballers cannot rest on their laurels, warns manager Mark Sampson. “We’ve got a long way to go,” he tells me.

This seems remarkably pessimistic given that England wowed the nation at this summer’s World Cup in Canada with 2.4million staying up into the small hours to watch the agonising own goal defeat in the semi-finals by Japan. The women recovered to claim bronze — a remarkable turnaround from 18 months ago when Sampson took over. Back then, England finished bottom of their group at Euro 2013 and did not win a game.

However, the 32-year-old, who took books on psychology and management to read on his summer holiday in Cyprus, believes only hard-headed realism can help turn England into “one of the top nations in the world in women’s football”.

He says: “I wouldn’t describe us as a top-tier nation quite yet. USA, Japan, France, Sweden, Brazil are, probably, above us. They are nations who have been deeply entrenched in women’s football for many years and we’re playing catch up. We have a long way to go in every area, whether that be participation at grass-roots level or developing our youth teams if we want to get ourselves in their bracket, certainly closer to America [the world champions].”

For that to happen, he says, women’s football needs the help of the nation’s mums and dads. “In England, the culture is that a dad and his son go to the local football club and they go through the process together.

“They start off at under-eights, and go right the way through to under-18s. Then the son makes his own way. We would love to see that process for people with daughters, whether that be a mother or a father taking them to football. There are now more and more qualified female coaches. Now more mothers have the opportunity to take their daughters to football and take part as coaches.”

Naturally, more girls going to watch women’s games should lead to more of them playing and that can only help the national team. Sampson says: “On our day we can give the US a game but, in terms of the talent pool, there are so many more players in America to pick from than in England. We’ve got to grow the talent pool.”

England boss spells out role parents can play in growing the women’s game.  The differences here and on the other side of the Atlantic are clear. Alex Morgan, the USA striker who features on the American cover of FIFA 16 alongside Lionel Messi, earns around £1.3million a year and has sponsorship. In contrast, the most a woman footballer playing in the English Super League could receive is around £60,000.

“Their players can justify the rewards they get,” says Sampson. “They’ve won Olympic gold and World Cups. We are only at the start of that journey.”

Although that’s the case, Sampson recognises the great strides women’s football has made in this country.

“Even 10 years ago, if you were to walk down to any park, say Hackney Marshes, you probably wouldn’t see any girls’ games going on. Now, walk to any big park in England and you will certainly see one girls’ game on every five pitches. That is fantastic. It seems a long time ago now that women were not allowed to play and yet that happened in the lifetime of the players playing for me.”

Women’s football is also diverse with Muslim women allowed to play wearing a hijab. “That is so important,” says Sampson. “We would hate any girl or woman not to be given the opportunity to play. The work the girls have done over the summer has inspired a lot of young people to take up the game and, hopefully, fuel a bit of passion in the English football public.”

Some of that passion should be evident this Saturday when the Women’s FA Cup Final is held at Wembley for the first time. The previous two finals were at Doncaster and MK Dons.

“It would be great to fill the home of football,” says Sampson before the realist in him emerges. “If we can get a bigger crowd than we got for the last few years’ Cup finals, which was around 15,000, that would certainly be a step in the right direction.”

In fact, a crowd of around 30,000 is expected and Sampson hopes the match between Notts County and Chelsea will not only be “a very special day for both teams” but will showcase how attractive women’s football can be.

Sampson learned part of his management trade under someone renowned for attractive football. The Welshman was manager of Swansea’s Centre of Excellence during Roberto Martinez’s time at the club.

He said: “The big thing I took from Roberto was his positivity; to look beyond the result and at the performance. If you’ve lost 2-0 but performed well for 80 minutes you focus on the 80 minutes rather than the 10 that you were bad for.”


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