How Hope Powell became a football legend: ‘I’m not afraid of anybody’

8 months ago 137

When Hope Powell reminisces astir the puerility that she spent scurrying crossed the streets of southbound London, she thinks of football. Perhaps that is nary surprise: implicit the past 40 years, it has fixed her a vocation of firsts – aft a trophy-laden playing career, she became England’s archetypal pistillate coach, archetypal Black manager and youngest coach. Today, the 54-year-old is the manager of Brighton successful the rapidly increasing Women’s Super League (WSL).

Over the people of Powell’s career, the women’s crippled has evolved beyond recognition. Her shot acquisition began successful the precocious 70s, conscionable a fewer years aft the Football Association lifted its ban connected women’s football, successful 1971. She idolised Kevin Keegan and Ray Wilkins, but had nary pistillate players to look up to. She and her brothers would sound connected the doors of their friends’ houses, past instrumentality to the shot cages connected her assembly property for games of unreserved goalie to 3-a-side.

“I astir apt did it a small spot excessively much,” she says, smiling connected a video telephone from her bureau successful Brighton. “Stayed retired aboriginal than I should person – and rather often got successful occupation for that. Didn’t travel location aft schoolhouse due to the fact that I was playing shot – got successful occupation for that. And I think, being from a West Indian culture, it wasn’t the norm, a miss playing football. It wasn’t thing that was seen arsenic what young, Black girls do.”

Hope Powell and Jane Bartley with Millwall Lionesses successful  1984. A fewer  years earlier they had been kicked retired  their schoolhouse  team.
Banned but not bowed ... Hope Powell and Jane Bartley with Millwall Lionesses successful 1984. A fewer years earlier they had been kicked retired of their schoolhouse team. Photograph: Colin Davey/Getty Images

Powell soon understood conscionable however girls playing shot were seen. In her aboriginal days connected the factual pitches adjacent her home, she was ne'er picked for a team. Later, she competed alongside boys for Abbey Wood school, but, aft 1 win, the opposing schoolhouse complained to the FA. Mixed-gender teams were not allowed, truthful Powell and Jane Bartley, a aboriginal Millwall teammate and Wales international, were banned from the team.

Then determination were the endless comments. “When you’re looked astatine arsenic if girls can’t play – not that they needfully shouldn’t play, but they can’t play. When I really got into a team, radical were like: ‘What, you play shot for a team?’”

Powell was calved successful Lewisham and grew up successful Peckham with her mother, stepfather, older member and 3 stepbrothers. Her commencement parents were from Jamaica. When she visited for the archetypal time, astatine 10, she met up with cousins, aunts and uncles she had heard of her full life. Now, she returns whenever she can.

Other areas of her household life, however, were much fraught. In her autobiography, Hope: My Life successful Football, Powell says she would witnesser her stepfather being abusive to her mother; determination were times erstwhile she would basal successful beforehand of her parent erstwhile helium was angry, successful anticipation of further violence. “Some of the experiences I had arsenic a kid weren’t great,” she says. “It’s made maine basal up. You know, I’m not acrophobic of anybody. I’m not saying that that’s a bully thing. I deliberation that acquisition has hardened me. It allowed maine to combat my corner, accidental my piece, and that’s what I proceed to do.”

In hindsight, Powell’s way to a nine situation seems inevitable, but it was fortunate. One time aft school, she followed a friend, the lone different pistillate footballer she knew, to a grooming league with Millwall Lionesses. When they arrived, she was stunned. Having grown up surrounded by boys playing football, she had ne'er considered that galore different girls besides played the sport. She didn’t instrumentality location that nighttime until 10.30pm.

“You tin lone ideate what I went done – I got successful rather superior trouble!” she says, laughing. “But I benignant of sneaked retired and went again. I was picked for the pursuing Sunday based connected 1 grooming session. And past I ne'er looked back.”

Although her parent was resistant astatine first, Powell’s improvement continued seamlessly. In 1983, astatine conscionable 16, she was called up to the England squad and swiftly made her debut. Even astatine specified a young age, she was unfazed: “I deliberation I was rather arrogantly assured astatine the property of 11,” she says. “I thought I was good. When I recovered retired determination was an England team, I retrieve saying: ‘Well, I’m going to play for that team.’”

Hope Powell stretches aft  playing against Germany for England successful  March 1998
Goal-getter ... stretching aft playing against Germany for England successful March 1998. Powell scored 35 goals successful 66 games for her country. Photograph: Mark Leech/Getty Images

Within a year, Powell was portion of the nationalist setup. She was a subordinate of the England squad that reached the last of the inaugural European Competition for Women’s Football (now the European Women’s Championship) successful 1984, losing connected penalties implicit 2 legs to a acold much established Sweden team. So underdeveloped was the England women’s programme successful those days that the squad would conscionable up connected Friday, play connected Sunday and past disband.

Back then, of course, everything astir women’s shot was different: “It is nighttime and day,” she says. “Now, you dainty it arsenic a job, whereas earlier you had to bid connected your own, you had to enactment oregon spell to schoolhouse and past acceptable the grooming in. We utilized to bid connected factual surfaces successful schools … We paid subs backmost past to play. We had to bargain our ain boots, lavation our ain kit … It’s a antithetic world.”

Her planetary and home careers flourished. She competed for Millwall, Friends of Fulham (later Fulham), Bromley Borough and Croydon (later Charlton Athletic). After winning her archetypal FA Cup rubric with Millwall successful 1991, she was made vice-captain of England and played astatine the 1995 World Cup. The pursuing season, she was a cardinal subordinate of the Croydon squad that won the league and FA Cup double.


Even successful her aboriginal days, Powell had 1 oculus connected the future. She earned her archetypal coaching badge astatine 17 and, successful 2003, was the archetypal pistillate to beryllium awarded the Uefa Pro Licence – the game’s highest coaching qualification. “People rather often said to me: ‘Oh, Hope is coaching to springiness thing back.’” she says. “It was thing to bash with that. I wanted to get paid successful the game, I wanted to enactment successful the crippled and I thought coaching was a mode to bash it.”

Yet she ne'er anticipated being catapulted into the astir salient women’s coaching occupation successful the country. Powell was 31 and the vice-captain of England when, successful 1998, she was called into the FA’s offices and offered the relation of England manager. At first, she felt confused and doubted herself, but aft overmuch deliberation and immoderate pugnacious emotion from her closest friends, she agreed. Immediately, her mindset transformed.

“When I took the job, the archetypal happening I thought was: I cannot foul this. I cannot. No. I person to bash this well. For myself. For women. For Black people. I person to beryllium the champion I tin beryllium – and I worked really, truly hard.” Over the adjacent 15 years, arsenic she took power of truthful overmuch that happened successful the England team, Powell was relentless successful her determination to alteration it into a nonrecreational enterprise.

At times, her fights were arsenic basal arsenic convincing her superiors to supply much footballs. Other challenges included persuading them to commencement nationalist younker teams, turn her backroom unit and docket much planetary matches, successful enactment with the apical women’s nationalist teams.

Hope Powell managing England astatine  the 2007 World Cup successful  China
Trailblazer ... managing England astatine the 2007 World Cup successful China. Photograph: Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Despite galore astatine the FA being apathetic – astatine champion – towards women’s football, Powell built up a sturdy radical of allies, from Paul Barber, present the main enforcement of Brighton, to the erstwhile England men’s caretaker manager Howard Wilkinson. Her persistence was key. “I was prepared to inquire questions and rather often judge the information that immoderate things would beryllium a ‘no’ and conscionable take my moments to inquire again,” she says. “It was each astir trying to marque everything amended for players, the staff, truthful that we could determination the crippled forward, because, aft all, I was managing a squad and we wanted to win.”

Powell says her determination has resulted successful her being described arsenic “difficult”, which she has ne'er understood; she says she was simply asking a batch of questions. “Culturally, I was precise different, and possibly for immoderate radical that was a spot challenging, but that was ne'er gonna deter maine from trying to get the champion for everybody and get the champion for myself. So, yes, I’m definite determination were times wherever radical judged maine possibly not connected what I was doing, but for different reasons, possibly the colour of my skin, the information that I was female.”

During her tenure, determination were highs connected the pitch, including finishing runner-up astatine Euro 2009 and getting to the World Cup quarter-finals successful 2007 and 2011. But determination were besides disappointments. In Euro 2013, Powell’s last large tournament, England mislaid successful the radical stages.

Despite spending 15 years transforming the England setup, Powell was overlooked for different roles wrong the FA. Today, she is happily successful her 5th twelvemonth of managing Brighton. She remains the lone Black manager successful the WSL oregon the Women’s Championship. When her clip connected the writer is over, she tin spot herself arsenic a method manager astatine a nine oregon organisation. “Other than that, it’ll beryllium a bully formation successful Jamaica drinking a pina colada,” she says.

Hope Powell starring  a Brighton warmup successful  May 2021
Going beardown ... starring a Brighton warmup successful May. Photograph: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Having helped to professionalise her athletics astatine a nationalist level, Powell is moving successful the home crippled conscionable arsenic it is making immense bounds. This is the archetypal play of the WSL’s record-breaking TV deal with Sky Sports and the BBC – worthy astir £8m a play and thought to beryllium the biggest broadcasting bundle successful women’s shot – and concern successful women’s shot is lone growing. “Over the past 10 years, monolithic strides person been made successful the women’s game,” says Powell. “I deliberation we request to proceed to professionalise and marque definite determination is parity crossed the board.”

So far, women’s shot has avoided the worst of the racism that plagues the men’s game. “There person been immoderate incidents of racism, but obscurity adjacent the standard of what is successful the men’s game, not adjacent close. Hopefully, we support it out.” Does she deliberation things are improving? “In the men’s crippled – listen, maine and my spouse were astatine the Euros final. We knew that was what the adjacent time was going to bring based connected the punishment shootout. So that successful itself tells you: no, we haven’t moved on. We haven’t moved forward.”

Taking the knee remains an important awesome to her, but she thinks determination indispensable besides beryllium wide enactment alongside it. “I instrumentality the genu due to the fact that I privation it to beryllium connected the radar. I deliberation radical should support talking astir it until it’s eradicated. And however would you bash that? Zero tolerance. What does that mean? Don’t fto fans successful the stadium. That’s it. The wealth that’s generated from radical supporting the crippled is huge, isn’t it? If associations can’t [control them], conscionable don’t fto them in.”

As the interrogation winds down and Powell prepares to reckon with her 2nd of 3 games successful six days, I ask: what has been the astir satisfying infinitesimal of her career? She pauses, yet settling connected the acquisition of managing the Great Britain squad astatine the Olympics successful 2012. Initially, she had not wanted the occupation – her peers could not recognize her hesitation – but she loved each moment. And past determination was the saccharine restitution of returning England to the World Cup successful 2007.

“I deliberation I’ve worked hard, marque nary mistake, but I’ve been precise blessed to enactment with immoderate fantastic people. I’ve had a batch of pleasance points that I’ll instrumentality with maine for ever.”