By Derren Howard
The first day of a new job is often a daunting experience but not so for Hope Powell, the new manager of Women’s Super League 2 side Brighton & Hove Albion.
The former England head coach, who was sacked by the FA in 2013 to make way for Mark Sampson, was appointed by Brighton back in July. Thursday was her official start date and it arrived just a day after the FA announced an overhaul of women’s football.
Powell, 50, took in her new surroundings at Brighton’s Elite Football Performance Centre in Lancing and said, “Life is good here. It kind of feels just right. I know people here already and I’ve been doing quite a bit behind the scenes, so it doesn’t feel like my first day.”
From 2018, Women’s Super League 1 will only be for full-time clubs and teams will have to meet FA requirements and re-apply to secure their place in the top tier.
Ambitious Brighton are keen to be included and, along with others in the lower divisions, they plan to submit an application which will be reviewed by the FA women’s board in March next year.
“That’s the idea going forward, most certainly,” said Powell. “I’m hoping it will be a stronger league but we have to be careful with the number of teams so as not to dilute the talent. I think it’s a maximum of 14 teams.
“I was not surprised (by the announced changes) I knew it was coming. Many clubs in WSL2, if they had got promoted, they probably would not have been able to fulfill the criteria required for WSL1. The clubs really wanted the change. It makes sense to the clubs that can afford it and it makes sense to those who can’t.
“The FA want a competitive league to produce better players. The challenge is to ensure that the league has enough English players to come through and represent England.”
The English national side are currently without a manager as Powell’s successor, Sampson, was sacked earlier this month due to allegations of inappropriate conduct and racism. For those involved it’s an incredibly touchy subject and Powell refused to comment - indeed the interview was called to an abrupt end as soon as the issue was raised.
As a midfielder Powell won 66 caps for her country and was the manager between 1998 and 2013. She was dismissed after England’s group-stage elimination from Euro 2013.
Her 15 years at the helm was a period of tremendous change and Powell was the catalyst. She ruffled feathers within the FA and demanded investment, a youth system, central contracts and medical expertise. Ultimately, she shaped a new environment where female players could succeed. England had previously struggled to qualify for tournaments but Powell guided the Lionesses to the European Championship finals in 2009 and they reached the World Cup quarter-finals twice. As manager though, perhaps her greatest achievement was away from the touchline and came within the corridors of power at FA headquarters.
Following her dismissal, Sampson, using many players that progressed through Powell’s youth set-up, took England to the World Cup semi-finals in 2015 and the semi-finals of Euro 2017. It’s no exaggeration to state that Powell’s initiatives laid the foundations for that success.
Life after England saw Powell, who become the first woman to obtain the UEFA Pro Licence in 2003, join the PFA coaching department as its first female coach educator. “When I got the sack - it’s funny saying it but I like saying it - I traveled the world for two-and half years with UEFA and FIFA. I was very fortunate that within a couple of days of losing my job, I got calls and I was able to do coach education around the world. I have been working for the PFA for the last five months as a coach educator for the men’s game. Working from level two to the A Licence was a new challenge. I was the first female to do that. Having done that, I missed the grass a bit and I wanted to get back with the team and here I am.”
The lure of the dugout brought Powell to Brighton. The ambition and finances of chairman Tony Bloom has delivered Premier League football for Chris Hughton’s team. Powell, who goes “way back” with Hughton, will target a similar rise.
“Have I asked Chris for advice? No, but I’ll be giving him some,” Powell said laughing. “I know Chris, he’s a good guy. We will speak but it’s not about advice, it’s all about talking football.”
Powell also believes it’s important to have two black managers working within high-profile positions at the club. “It is a positive message to send,” she added. “If you are looking at role models and aspirations, then we tick those boxes. With the lack of black coaches in the game, in comparison to the number of players, then this is good. Hopefully going forward things will change. From my perspective and I’m sure from Chris, if it encourages more black female and male managers to be ambitious and try to achieve, then I’m all for that.”
With Powell watching on from the stands, Brighton enjoyed a winning start in WSL2 last Sunday thanks to a 1-0 victory against Aston Villa. But with the landscape shifting beneath their boots, results will not deliver promotion this season. The battle to compete in the top tier, within this new era, will be won by going up against the regulations of the FA - an opponent Powell, one of the most important figures in women’s football history, has faced before and she did rather well.