Are women in football management rewarded?

Gilly Flaherty – Are women being prized out of football management? – Getty Images/Robbie Jay Barratt

Gilly Flaherty has seen it all in football, from making her debut for Arsenal aged 15 to an all-time record in the Women’s Super League. she is one of the most successful and respected players in the English gametherefore it should alarm those who lead the sport that Flaherty has concerns about the cost of paying for a coaching course to help her fulfill her ambition to one day lead in the WSL.

Studying for the Uefa A license costs £3,645 with the Football Association. The Football Association of Wales charges £6,500 or £4,000 for anyone who has represented the country or meets other set criteria. The cost of the Pro license increases to a five-digit amount. Each course is in high demand and availability is limited. It is understood, for example, that there are only 30 places in the FAW A license course each year.

The number of qualified women coaches is increasing, but as recently as 2017 data showed that just 40 women held an A license in England, compared to 1,653 men.

“I know a lot of people talk about the fact that there aren’t enough female coaches in football, but it’s very costly,” says Flaherty, who fears the cost is making management more discouraged. “There are some grants for a select few but if you don’t have access to them it’s very expensive – £6,500 is a lot of money.

“All coaching badges are expensive but I think that award could recognize people who don’t have the backing of a club or the financial backing themselves to put that money into it. And after qualifying it’s going to be a while before you get that £6,500 back unless you get a top job with it.”

Gilly Flaherty - Nick Taylor/Liverpool

Gilly Flaherty – Nick Taylor/Liverpool

Flaherty herself is undeterred and – having already completed her B license – has set herself the goal of applying for the A license in the coming years and hopes to eventually end up in the top league. The 31-year-old retired in January after a playing career that included eight league titles, including four in the WSL era – two with Arsenal and two with Chelsea, seven FA Cups and a European Cup with Arsenal as a teenager in 2007.

“I risk my body for every club I’ve played for”

“I would like to think that fans, managers and players knew what they would get with me, that I left everything on the pitch, wore my heart on my sleeve and put my body into every club I’ve played for ‘ says the former England centre-back. “That’s what I used to be proud of: setting standards.

“I would like to be a manager because I feel like I’m a really good manager. What players really want is honesty and consistency. There are only 11 spots on the team, but sometimes managers found it difficult to have these difficult conversations. Sometimes I watch and I think, ‘I could take care of this player and make a difference.’ I think it will be something I will do at some point, I want to be a WSL manager.

Leadership in the WSL would seem like a natural step for someone who has been synonymous with the division since its inception in 2011. Indeed, it was Flaherty who scored the first goal of the competition, in Arsenal’s 1-0 win over their future club Chelsea in April 2011 at Imperial Fields, home of non-League side Tooting and Mitcham.

“That’s probably a great question for a pub quiz. I’m now waiting for the day when I’m in the pub and I’m asked that question so I know I can answer it,” she says with a chuckle.

“No one really thought a centre-back would score that goal and I definitely didn’t. I think a lot of strikers were a bit disappointed. Over the years it became more and more evident how outrageous that was and how special it was.”

“Kate is hot on my heels”

It’s not the only WSL record for Flaherty’s name, although the other is increasingly under threat. Flaherty has the most appearances in WSL history (177) but Kate Longhurst, her former West Ham team-mate, is just one behind her.

“Kate is hot on my heels, and if anyone made the performance record, I’d want Kate to make it,” she says.

Flaherty now has a new goal – expert knowledge. The former lioness stood behind the microphone at Ashton Gate to comment on England’s 6-1 win over Belgium for BBC Radio in February and said: “I feel like I’ve gone back to school, I feel like I would be a sponge again. I’m back as this 15-year-old making her Arsenal debut. I have training sessions, and I’ve studied and listened to other commentators, and [my agents] give me feedback so I can continue.

“I’ve always been very self-critical when playing football and now I’m the same way. I don’t want to do it just on a whim, I want to be the best I can be in this area and be the best expert and co-commentator.”

Maybe she also wants to be the best manager in the future.

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