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How England football pioneer Hope Powell paved the way for the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 glory

While it was manager Sarina Wiegman who led England to lift the Euro 2022 trophy, it is the team’s former manager Hope Powell who set them on the path toward glory.

Born to Jamaican parents on a south London council estate in 1966 – the year of England’s last international football triumph – Powell grew up loving the sport despite being discouraged from playing at every step.

While women had been playing football since before the outbreak of World War One, she had few female role models to look up to: it was not until 1971, when she was five, that the FA lifted a ban on women’s football that had stifled the sports for decades.

Even then, the sport was without major funding, televised fixtures, or mainstream attention – even as the men’s game grew rapidly.

“The establishment officially viewed women as poor, weak little things who shouldn’t be let near a football,” she recalled in her memoir, Hope: My Life in Football. “It was against this background that I began to play football.”

Powell made headlines for the first time aged eleven while attending Abbey Wood school, when a nearby school objected to her inclusion on the team that had just trounced them.

Hope Powell and Jane Bartley of Millwall Lionesses LFC in 1974, after they both were banned from playing mixed team soccer while attending Abbey Wood School. (Photo: Colin Davey/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty)

“Some of their teachers and parents kicked up a fuss” about her playing, she recalled. “They were just fed up they’d got beat.”

Despite the setback at school, Powell shrugged it off as she grew up, and went on to play for the Millwall Lionesses.

She would go on to represent several local clubs, most of which were operating with no to little funding, before joining an England Women squad in its infancy in 1983, aged 16.

Powell would represent England internationally 66 times, until she was hired as the squad’s first full-time manager, aged 31, in 1998 – making history as England’s first non-white manager, first openly gay manager, and the youngest ever coach of any English national football team.

Hope Powell (top, third from right) with the England 1997 squad (Photo: Clive Brunskill/Allsport/Getty)

But she inherited a club neglected by the FA, given a fraction of the attention paid to the men’s game, with few support staff, and players forced to juggle matches with full-time jobs.

Kelly Smith, who played for England from 1995 to 2014, told The Athletic: “Hope put the foundations in for what it is now. She had to fight for everything — fight to have an office at Wembley, they did not want to give her one of her. It is things like that people don’t realize.”

Powell set about working to scale up the team, organizing talent camps to recruit young and upcoming players and fighting at every step for more investment in the sport. Under her leadership of Ella, England would go on to hire support staff, while players were handed contracts with salaries of £16,000 each to enable them to scale down their day-job commitments.

“There was no template to follow,” she recalled in her memoir. “I was the first full-time professional England manager and much of what went before had been achieved on a piecemeal basis by part-timers and volunteers.”

Under Powell’s leadership, England would go on to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2007 and 2011, and achieved the club’s best result until this week – the final of the Women’s Euros – in 2009. In 2012, she coached the Team GB team at the Olympics, making it again to the quarter-finals.

Powell was received an OBE in 2002 for services to women’s football, followed up with a CBE in 2010.

England manager Hope Powell looks on during a World Cup qualifier in 2010 (Photo: Ian Walton/Getty)

She was sacked from her role at England after 15 years in 2013, when Gary Neville took charge – overseeing the club’s growth until Wiegman was hired in 2021.

An inductee of the Football Hall of Fame, Powell – who now manages Brighton & Hove Albion’s women’s team – received a timely honorary doctorate from the University of Brighton last week.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s final, she told the audience: “20 years ago, this would only have been a pipe dream for me… women’s football has progressed from a sport not readily available to young girls, to the number one female participation sport in this country.

“From a game where I had to pay to play, to a game where players are now paid a good wage and have professional contracts.

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“A game that was never televised, to a game that has broken viewing figures. A game where few showed up to watch, to where attendances have equaled and rivaled the men’s game.

“I’ve also witnessed, on my personal journey, the importance of having the courage of your own convictions, and the convictions to follow them through.

“Any setback is merely a set-up for a comeback.”

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