Sammy BrittonA Key Member of the First England Team To Play at a Women’s World Cup
Born in 1973 in Huddersfield, Sammy grew up with her Mum and sister, also having eight half brothers and sisters. Her father was Jamaican, one of the Windrush generation, who came to Britain, leaving family and friends behind. Sammy’s mum is white British. Sammy is very proud of her dual Jamaican and British heritage. She told me, ‘I don't know where sports came from as none of my family played, or were much interested in football. We were not a sporty family or a football family. I just knew I was an outdoorsy person, and I wanted to be good at everything, I played many sports, not only football.’ Refusing to wear a skirt from about the age of eight, Sammy’s Mum encouraged her football and to watch her play, without necessarily following football as a sport generally.
Sammy remembered playing football at about eight to ten years of age, on the school team, up to Year Seven. But when she went to senior school, there was no organized football available. So she had to be content with joining in boys PE, and this consisted of rugby, football and 4 mile long distance runs. However, Sammy found that the girls were only expected to do 2 miles, and didn't fancy the longer distance set for boys so began to do PE with the girls to save her legs. Aged about fourteen, she went, as the only girl, to a schools football tournament in Malta. This was important as she missed organized football. Sammy remains unsure today if the school ever told the organizers they had a girl player or if they just brought her along without commenting, hoping she looked enough like a boy. One of the opposition players, pointing at her chest, said, ‘that’s a girl.’ But Sammy played anyway. In terms of organized football, aged 15 Sammy was reluctant to join a girls’ team outside school, and was repeatedly asked to join by Barry Daly, a local coach. Having been brought up until the age of fourteen playing what she calls ‘Docker Soccer’ with boys, Sammy was used to a hard physical game, of tackles, shouldering off the ball, and not necessarily playing the ball, rather than the opposition player. Eventually, hounded in a friendly fashion to join Barry’s team she relented on the view that ‘girls can’t play football’ and then enjoyed her time at Huddersfield Town. Soon after, Barry told her ‘You will play for England.’ Sammy replied she did not know this was possible, she hadn’t heard of the England women’s national team.
Football suited Sammy’s competitive nature, and, she was soon called up to the England under 21 squad for a tournament in Bulgaria. At training Liz Deighan advised Sammy to calm down on her usual physical approach saying, ‘You don't need to break Gill Coultard’s leg, it’s only training, We have a game in two days we need to have a squad left. You may enjoy slide tackling but use it wisely, not all the time, and win the ball.’ On the trip to Fano, Denmark in June 1991 some of the fringe players were debuted for England, managed by Barrie Williams, these included Samantha Britton, Samantha Hayward, Julie Tomlinson, Michelle Curley and Sarah Begg who was also to score her first goal for the national team in a 3-3 draw, along with Marieanne Spacey and Kaz Walker. Later Sammy played an integral and versatile role for the national side at Women’s World Cup in Sweden in 1995, a first for an England women’s team. Sammy does not describe herself as a fan of football, to watch, when not playing. It was fairly low key, in terms of her list of priorities, and, when working at a school with pupils with behavioural, educational and social needs, the pupils would not know why Sammy went off once a month to train and prepare with the England squad. While the staff were obviously aware of why she was off site, this was not a daily topic of conversation. Sammy worked at the school for ten years. Obviously in today’s social media age this would not be possible now.
Club football was pretty much a means of keeping fit. Sammy played for Huddersfield Town, Bronte, Arsenal Ladies, Cove Rangers in Scotland, Croydon, Doncaster, Everton Ladies, IBV in Iceland (finishing as top scorer with 12 goals), Leeds United and Everton. Versatile, she could play in defence, attack or midfield. We discussed how it felt to be so young when joining the England set up in the early 1990s into a squad which already had the likes of Kerry Davis, Hope Powell, and Brenda Sempare as senior players. Not least joining them as England representatives at the first Women’s World Cup that the national team had qualified for? Sammy tells me, ‘I’ve always been comfortable in my own skin, having said that it was a great to get the squad training and see Kerry, Hope, and Brenda.’ Sammy described wearing Dreadlocks, as a way of identifying pride in her dual heritage, and also as a practical way of managing her somewhat unruly hair.
Sammy carried on, ‘I am very proud of my dual heritage and my Jamaican links although I didn't visit Jamaica until 2014, I went to look for my oldest brother, my only sibling there, and I found him, an aunt, uncle and an extended large family, I have returned twice since 2014 staying for almost a year on my last trip. I adore the place and the people! It is a place I will always visit. And maybe one day live.’ After what we think is 67 caps for her country, Sammy decided that she would like to move on and pursue other interests, retiring from international football. However, we both wondered why more of this generation of players, were not given more opportunities to take coaching badges, retrain and remain within the England set up. Sammy tells me ‘I am pleased to see how the game has developed, especially to think that no little girl will be stopped playing the game aged 11. And also dream of being a professional, maybe even a famous player, in the world cup in front of huge crowds, having female idols to look up to and aspire to play like. It’s certainly going in the right direction.’
Hope Powell CBE
Playing career In her autobiography, Hope, Powell describes herself as a ‘Londoner through and through.’ She also describes a visit to her extended family in Bull Savannah, a copper mining region of Jamaica in 1976, which gave her a fierce loyalty to family and friends, communal values and sharing. This experience also instilled self-reliance, which would be important as Hope Powell wanted to be a professional footballer, and, in 1966 when she was born, England both won the men’s World Cup and still didn't recognized women’s football, following a ban on playing on Football Association-affiliated grounds, in place since 1921. So she knew, even as a ten year old that she would need to be resilient. Powell has written about her strict West Indian upbringing, and how her heritage helped with the focus and determination to succeed. Indeed, she would go on to transform English football as a player, coach, and coach educator.
Having initially played for the Abbey Wood school team in 1977, until she was banned by the FA for playing mixed football, along with future Welsh international, Jane Bartley. Millwall was an important local club, after the family had moved out of Peckham to Greenwich, and particularly coach Alan May. Initially as a junior in 1978, and then making her senior debut in 1980-1 season, Powell concentrated on her increasing her fitness, and continued her forensic reading of the game. To her amazement, she was called up to her senior debut aged sixteen. As we saw in a previous post, Kerry Davis had already made her debut for England in 1982. With Hope making her debut in September 1983, was Brenda Sempare who Powell called ‘an outrageously skilled player, even at 20. For me she was one of the best players ever to pull on an England shirt.’
Although there were disappointments, such as narrowly losing the inaugural Women’s European Championships to Sweden on penalties in 1984, there were also exciting opportunities, such as playing at Wembley later in 1984, in a six a side curtain raiser ahead of the men’s Charity Shield played by Liverpool and Everton. By 1987, seeking to improve her club football Hope moved to Friends of Fulham, for two years, before returning to Millwall until 1991, before a fall out led to several players moving to Arsenal, and a new club Bromley Borough being established. This eventually led to a merger with Croydon FC, with England international Debbie Bampton as manager, and this was so successful that six Croydon players represented England at the women’s World Cup in Sweden in 1995. Between 1994 and 1998, Powell played for Croydon which did very well in domestic club football.
Coaching career Having worked with Alan May, the part time England manager Ted Copeland, and others like Deb Bampton, Hope Powell initially took her coaching badges to subsidise her playing career and to further her interest in football. Having worked her way up to B License, and doing coaching in the community, along with stints in the US, Powell received an invitation from Robin Russell and Kelly Simmons of the FA to offer her the England Women’s National team role, full time, a first on several levels. As Hope wrote in her autobiography, she was just 31 years of age when asked to become manager, so her age was one factor, and in addition ‘In one fell swoop England got its first black manager, its forst woman manager, and its first gay manager.’ Bearing in mind that the FA had been formed in 1863, and Hope Powell was appointed in 1998, it is possible to see what a change in the approach of the organization this was. And no wonder, given the way that the FA had behaved until 1998 that she took her time in accepting such a large change. As the autobiography summarises Hope’s feelings ‘I was that little West Indian kid from Juniper Hill Flats council Estate in Peckham…England manager, working for the oldest FA in the world. Then it dawned on me. This, I realized is what you call progress…it was a statement-to all people who came from backgrounds like me. That’s why there was such an added reason for me to succeed in that job.’ In 2003 Powell became the first woman to be awarded the UEFA Pro Licence, by then she had been awarded her OBE and would receive the CBE in 2010
Leading England to subsequent World Cups, and managing Team GB at the 2012 London Olympic Games, Powell also oversaw the huge domestic changes that led to the establishment of the Women’s Super League, and its subsequent expansion. This included central contracts for England women players, and more professional opportunities for more women, as well as being part of FIFA technical teams. So her influence has been considerable in both domestic and international football. Powell left the England job in 2013. Currently manager of Brighton and Hove Albion, Hope Powell has had a global impact on women’s football, and her legacy as a leader and pioneer will be considerable.
Mary Phillip of Peckham, Playing for Your Passion
Mary Phillip is a pioneer on many levels in football. Born into a tight-knit family of two older brothers, a sister and one younger sister, Mary would play out on the Willowbrook Estate or at Burgess Park in Peckham. She played football, cricket or whatever other game was going on with friends and family. Mary’s Dad is part of the Windrush generation who came to England from St Lucia in 1962, and her mother hailed from Kerry in Southern Ireland. Always athletic, Mary remembered an occasion in primary school where the girls were being prevented from playing football in the playground and a lunchtime supervisor came over and took the ball from the boys, giving it to the girls so they could play. The boys never again excluded the girls from that day forward. Mary also recalled being asked by a teacher in an English lesson in secondary school if she was black or white. She did not dignify that with an answer, her complexion speaking for itself. Mary told me, ‘I grew up in a family were we accepted each other and our difference, not to judge by color, creed or gender.’
In terms of organized sport, it was a choice between following her love of football or to pursue karate seriously at Wandsworth Youth Club. Both competitions for football and karate took place on a Sunday, so she couldn't do both. At Patmore Youth Club, a youth worker, named Audrey, had formed a women’s football team, with a local, Ozzie, as manager. Little did they know they had sparked the interest of a future England captain sufficiently that Mary gave up karate.
Wanting to improve her game, Mary moved to Millwall Lionesses, after winning the Anniversary cup with Lambeth women’s FC (based at Patmore Youth club) v Arsenal women’s third team. At Millwall, Mary learned an awful lot about top flight football. This included how to be a gracious winner and more so the importance being able to lose. Other lessons included, how to bounce back, build team cohesion, build a desire to learn and grow. Having joined Millwall in the beginning as a centre forward, or midfielder, it wasn't until Mary was somewhat randomly played as centre back that she found her position. Unusually for women’s football at the time, she had the combination of pace, vision and understanding of the game to read opponents, and to marshal the defence. Her first England call up came at the same time as Millwall team-mate, Tina Lindsey, and her next call up was into the 1995 world cup squad in Sweden. This could not have been more exciting, as England had qualified for the Women’s World Cup for the first time in 1995. As part of the squad, led by Ted Copeland, Mary learned a lot from the experienced England players around her. After the birth of her first child in 1995, Mary was dedicated about regaining her fitness, and was rewarded with her England debut in 1996.
Several more internationals followed before a group of players at Millwall seemed to fall out of favour in the England set up. Along with Pru Buckley, Louise Waller, and Julie Fletcher, Mary was dropped, although on good form for her club. In 2000 Mary joined Fulham (on a professional contract), and this soon revived her England career. When Hope Powell took over as England coach in 1998, Mary was recalled on 24 February 2002 in a game against Portugal, after her two sons were born, and she also played in the Algarve Cup for England that year. Her caps increased quickly reaching over 50 appearances. In 2003 she was also asked to captain her country, on 13 November, against Scotland at Deepdale. After this first captaincy, there are regular occasions when Mary would take the armband, including on her 50th cap against France, where England secured passage to the 2007 Women’s World cup in China, making Mary the first England women’s player to reach two World Cups, a very special occasion. Mary decided to retire from football internationally in the 2007/8 season. I am still researching exactly how many times Mary captained England between 2003 and 2007, but we think it is into double figures. If you have any memories or memorabilia to help with this research please do get in touch!
However, having been the first woman onto the YTS programme at Millwall in 1993, Mary had obtained her B License coaching badges. She then decided to dedicate more of her time to coaching, initially in a voluntary capacity. Having worked her way through her badges. On retiring from playing in 2008 Mary looked into doing her A Licence but the financial cost was too high. Mary was coaching voluntarily at Peckham Town FC, at step seven grass roots level, so this was suitable for A licence work, this obviously did not provide the financial support to take her A license forward.
In 2016, the PFA held a women only course for international players, led by Jim Hicks. With the likes of Lou Newsted, and Casey Stoney, Mary took this opportunity because the A license is so expensive. Having coached at Peckham Town FC for several years, and helping grow its youth segment, Mary started to help coach the senior players in 2014, and took over the senior team in 2015. In 2016 when she started her A Licence she began to help coach the First team becoming the manager in 2019/2020. They went on to win the senior London Cup for the first time in the club’s history in her first season in charge. She and I wondered in our interview if this was a first? Perhaps readers could let us know? As we have seen with Mary’s career she continues to be inspirational, and this would not be the first pioneering action of her career in football. In February 2017 Mary feel ill, a week after being hospitalized. Shortly after her 40th birthday she was diagnosed with MS. She told me, ‘That blew me for six! It took me a couple of months to recover from my relapse. I started to refocus and evaluate life, and, although this slowed me down slightly in completing the A Licence, I now have the qualification.’ Mary is proud of her London cup victory with Peckham, giving back to the local community that she values so much. Her players have said what an honour it is to be coached by an England captain with over 50 caps to her name. An inspirational leader, Mary!