Autobiography

Book Review – Hope: My Life in Football

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This week we turn the spotlight on women’s football and review the recently released autobiography of Hope Powell, who managed England from 1998 to 2013 after previously enjoying a lengthy international playing career. The book provides an interesting insight into someone who came to symbolise progression for the women’s national team but also for the stature of the female game in England… 

Hope Powell last month celebrated her 50th birthday and it has been a life in which she has often found herself fighting the odds. Her childhood was not always easy, growing up in a household where her mother was the victim of domestic violence. As a girl growing up playing football Powell was very much in the minority, her younger days falling into an era when females playing the sport would attract derision and be viewed with perplexity.

Even when she made it to becoming an England international it was a world away from the professional women’s game that has now developed, having to pay to play at club level. Powell would be a role model for any black girls looking to make it in the sport, having to deal with an instance of racism in her playing days. And she is also one of the most high-profile openly gay figures in English football, snubbing an approach in recent years to manage Nigeria’s women for reasons including the nation’s policies towards same-sex relationships.

And even as a female manager within the women’s game she found herself in the minority, Powell blazing a trail by being the first – and so far only – woman to manage the England side. A constant theme of Hope: My Life in Football is how she has had to fight for equality, resenting the way men are given managerial jobs in the women’s game but not the other way round.

“We need more women in the top jobs,” she insists, while also reminding readers that her successor Mark Sampson is “less experienced and less qualified than me”. She was once linked with the manager’s job at Grimsby Town, but maintains she neither applied for the post nor received any contact from the Mariners about it. There was an approach from non-league Windsor which she considered taking, but the timing was not right for her. Powell would become the first woman to gain her UEFA pro-licence qualification, working closely with such established football names as Stuart Pearce to achieve it. Kevin Keegan emerges in the book as a supportive figure of England’s women, while a converted Howard Wilkinson would also prove a particular ally of Powell’s.

Standing up for herself

Powell certainly gives the impression she is not a woman to be messed with. During the book she recalls clipping an un-named member of Team GB’s men’s football team around the back of the head for ogling her players; of putting Derek Fazackerley straight when he thinks she is the new office girl at the FA, rather than the women’s team manager; and of standing up to a misogynistic man in Jordan who pushed in front of her, leaving him mumbling apologies. Most significantly she managed to help free her mum from a life of domestic violence, putting her own personal safety at risk to confront her mother’s partner and involve the police to ensure her mum could move on to enjoy a happier life. Any football challenge has been minor by comparison, although it has been far from straightforward.

Powell found herself banned from playing football with boys as a child, so she ended up defying her mum’s orders and joining Millwall Lionesses. By the age of 14 she was playing first-team football and she would quickly break into the England squad. In 1984 she helped England reach the European Competition for Women’s Football against Sweden, Powell getting an unwelcome insight into how conservative England remained about women’s football compared to elsewhere. The first-leg in Scandinavia was a big deal to the locals, the return game so insignificant to most of English football that no ground in London was made available by the clubs to stage the match (it was eventually played at Luton). Powell writes: “Swedish football was so far in advance of our own in terms of its development, it was almost embarrassing.”

Changing times

For an English women’s footballer in the 1980s there was little glamour, even if playing for leading clubs such as Millwall Lionesses and Friends of Fulham as Powell did. She writes: “A lot of the games were watched by two men and a dog – sometimes it was just the dog. When I look back at the conditions we used to put up with, we really had a lot of dedication and determination. Many of the pitches we played on were disgusting mud-heaps, on which the ball just about rolled.” An appearance at Old Trafford in the Women’s Cup Final saw less than 1,000 spectators dotted around the ground for the showpiece of the domestic game. When she played for England at the 1995 World Cup in Sweden, the team endured sleepless nights travelling on trains between venues and Powell says she was left out of pocket by the trip – a tournament that attracted little interest in the English press.


Fast forward 18 years and things had well and truly changed, as Powell began to feel the amount of media intrusion towards her players at Euro 2013 was an unwelcome distraction. As she herself admitted it was a case of being careful what you wish for, having sought for so long for an increased profile for the women’s game and then discovered the negative elements of it.

That level of increased interest was at least partly down to Powell, who since 1998 had been in a job where success was judged on more than just results. She also looked to increase interest in the women’s game and see youngsters develop. Given the end results she can be seen as having succeeded in all fields, England qualifying for several major tournaments (and reaching the Euro 2009 final) as they began to find themselves in the top bracket of women’s sides. Young talent would emerge and perhaps most significantly, the English female game became almost unrecognisable from years before in terms of interest and status including the creation of professional leagues. The presence of a Team GB women’s team at London 2012 – led by Powell, who as with when she was unexpectedly offered the England job in 1998 initially considered turning it down – would also help increase the profile.


Yet for all her achievements, it was reported when Powell was sacked in 2013 after a poor European Championship that many players were not sorry to see her leave and saw her management as a “dictatorship”. Powell’s claim that there was “cowardice” from her players who backed away from taking penalties in the shoot-out against France at the 2011 World Cup – comments she says in the book were said in the heat of the moment and not meant for publication – could not have helped the situation. Critics may happily point out that Sampson took England further in 2015 than Powell ever did at a World Cup (Powell refuses to take any credit in the book for that third-place finish). Powell also believes certain people at the FA resented the level of control she had been allowed to gain over its female international football structure, something she puts down to the organisation getting her “on the cheap” and expecting her to be responsible for all levels.

But even those who fell out with Powell would surely concede that she helped the women’s game progress in England, being ready to take on the conservative elements of the FA and fight for improvements to the sport. She writes: “When you’re working class and black, never mind having a same-sex partner, you learn early on in life that you’re going to have to fight for everything you achieve… you will come up against people who have a total sense of entitlement and privilege. They pretty much run everything, from the government to companies and organisations, including the FA, who are threatened by people like me. We don’t fit their mould and, when we get into positions of authority, they’re not really quite sure how to deal with us. Throughout the time I worked at the FA, they were legion.”

Powell did not in any way fit the stereotype of an FA employee and she was anything but a yes-woman, continually fighting the establishment and seeking to strengthen the women’s game. She was not without her critics as England boss but Hope did indeed help give hope to many girls and women that they could make it in football – and enjoy a much more attractive career than the one she had on deserted mud-heaps in the 1980s. Her story is one that has been worth telling.

  • Hope: My Life in Football by Hope Powell with Marvin Close, is published by Bloomsbury.

Book Review – Lawrie McMenemy: A Lifetime’s Obsession

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Lawrie McMenemy has recently turned 80 and penned his autobiography. While the book may primarily appeal to fans of Southampton, where he enjoyed great success as manager, one chapter will be of particular interest to followers of England. From 1990 to 1993 McMenemy assisted Graham Taylor during his turbulent reign in charge of England. He has his say in the book about the regime…

When Lawrie McMenemy was asked by Graham Taylor in 1990 to assist him with England, it came as a surprise. McMenemy had been out of football management for three years since an unhappy spell at Sunderland ended. He and Taylor were not old mates or colleagues, although they had been opposing managers during a few encounters between Southampton and Wafford in the first half of the 1980s. But Taylor was happy to hand McMenemy his route back into the game. However, McMenemy was to soon get his first hints of the slightly bemusing regime that lay ahead when he discovered he would be ‘assistant to the manager’ rather than ‘assistant manager’. It all seemed rather like David Brent and Gareth Keenan in The Office and unfortunately the next three years would be remembered as farcically by some. McMenemy was responsible for the B and under-21 teams, but unfortunately for him he would mostly be associated with the failings of the seniors.

The Taylor years sit awkwardly between the highs of semi-final places at Italia ’90 under Bobby Robson and Euro ’96 under Terry Venables. The regime is remembered as a low point despite being unbeaten in its first year at the helm. As McMenemy would write about Taylor: “Out of 38 matches he only lost seven but three of those really mattered.” And perhaps that really sums up how most people remember the Taylor years – the crucial defeats by Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands.

McMenemy does offer some sympathy for Taylor and defends him over the style of football used with England, as well as writing that “those of us who know him well tend to support him against all comers”. But the book suggests otherwise. There are several passages where he believes Taylor made mistakes he would not have committed, with McMenemy not afraid to criticise him for it. You won’t find much evidence of McMenemy blaming himself for what went wrong.

He believes there were warning signs from early on that problems lay ahead. Bryan Robson wrote in his autobiography that he felt cliques were appearing in the camp around this time. That view might have been dismissed as a player on his way out no longer feeling at home in the set-up, but McMenemy was concerned to see the same thing. He writes: “Cliques had emerged, with the same groups of players eating together and who stuck together without embracing the sprint of the camp. That is something that should have no place in any squad at any level.” There seems a lasting frustration for McMenemy that he could not tackle such problems head-on, instead simply raising concerns with Taylor – who he felt did not share or act upon his concern.

Relations between Lawrie McMenemy and Graham Taylor cooled during their time working together.

Big Mac would also be unimpressed by the attitude of certain players towards Taylor, a man established internationals did not seem to take to as much as Bobby Robson. Some sections of the media had been unimpressed with Taylor’s appointment and McMenemy felt this attitude was filtering down to the players. “There was an insolence among some that disturbed me,” he wrote. “They were part of the pack that didn’t see him as right for the job. It was not open war but there was a tension obvious to me from the likes of Gary Lineker that Graham could have done without.”

But McMenemy was left baffled as he saw Taylor substitute retirement-bound Lineker during the decisive Euro ’92 defeat by Sweden when England needed to score. “It was quite simply the wrong decision,” McMenemy writes. “I could not believe what Graham had done, how a manager of his experience would not see to the danger to himself, if nothing else, from the decision.” The moment served as the turning point in Taylor’s reign, heading into the ill-fated qualifying campaign for the 1994 World Cup with the press now increasingly against him.

During the campaign McMenemy felt his relationship with Taylor begin to decline. He was wary of the manager appointing a spin doctor in David Teasdale, but the real damage was done by the infamous fly-on-the-wall documentary being made about Taylor and England during the qualifying series. McMenemy claims he only became aware it was being made in June 1993 in Norway. He voiced his concerns to the manager, but again Taylor would not change his mind.

Things go wrong for Taylor and McMenemy in Rotterdam in 1993.

McMenemy felt particular sympathy for fellow coaching staff member Phil Neal over the way he was portrayed in the documentary and remains unhappy about Taylor pursuing the project behind their backs. “We should have been warned of Graham’s decision on the documentary,” he writes. “I will not go further than to say it was selfish of him to sanction a documentary that worked against a staff that wished no harm. The full impact of what he had done took some time to emerge.” By the time the documentary aired early in 1994 both Taylor and McMenemy had moved on. The latter would later read in Graham Kelly’s memoirs that Taylor said he would only step down if McMenemy didn’t take his job. It’s fairly clear things had gone sour between the pair. McMenemy has since served the FA again in an ambassadorial role, while also being an international manager for a short time with Northern Ireland.

For McMenemy, the England assistant years represent a mere fraction of his life in football. Despite never making a professional appearance as a player, he would go on to lead both Doncaster Rovers and Grimsby Town to the Fourth Division title. But it was in his long spell in charge of Southampton that he really made his name and led them to success including winning the FA Cup in 1976, recalling in his autobiography manging England stars at The Dell – most notably Kevin Keegan, who he signed in a transfer coup in 1980. 

Less happily, he looks back at the feud with fellow Saints legend Terry Paine – a member of England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad – and also reflects on his dressing room fracas with young defender Mark Wright early in the 1983-84 season. McMenemy offered to resign but he stayed at the helm, leading the side to a club best second place in the First Division with Wright soon to earn his first England cap. The pair would work together again when McMenemy joined the England set-up.

This book is not a thriller but McMenemy’s footballing life story is one that deserved telling, from turning down the chance to manage Manchester United to his friendship with Brian Clough and his years as a BBC pundit. But Taylor may once more be left uttering “do I not like that?” if he reads McMenemy’s memoirs of their time working together.

  • Lawrie McMenemy: A Lifetime’s Obsession is published by Trinity Mirror Sport Media, with a cover price of £18.99.