Sue Law: Gutsy England defender who carried the fight off the pitch
Born: 25 April 1966, Rochford
Debut: Wales (N) 17 August 1985
Occupation: Sport Development Officer (1989), FA Head of Equality (2015)
Defender Sue Law played around 40 times for England and represented Pelynt, Brighton, Millwall Lionesses and Bromley Borough with calm assurance. But she is perhaps best known as that rare thing: a brainy footballer! The old stereotype says any player with two ‘O’ Levels must be nicknamed “the professor”. But Law is in a different league altogether. After injuries took their toll she hung up her boots but vowed to move women’s football forward from the inside.
Essex-born Suzanne Law knew she wanted to play football for England when she was seven years old. As a pupil at Plymouth High School she sought out 5-a-side footie with Prince Rock LFC and soon graduated to the 11-a-side ranks with Pelynt LFC.
While taking a degree in Sports Science from Brighton Polytechnic, bright spark Law played for Brighton (then known as C&C Sports due to a sponsorship deal).
In 1987 she joined Millwall Lionesses. The London outfit were fiercely ambitious after losing two consecutive WFA Cup semi-finals to Doncaster Belles.
Millwall were in the market for decent players, after half a dozen regulars quit for the Italian Serie A over the preceding year or so.
It cost Law £20 a week to go back and forth from her Peacehaven base to train and play with the Lionesses. But she loved the set-up in South London, declaring:
“I needed the best possible training and play to secure my England place. No one else in women’s football had developed a whole structure of coaches, and youth and reserve sides, let alone things like the physiotherapy we get from Millwall’s physio. Millwall have done the work for women’s football that the FA should have done in this country.”
That season Law proudly served as team skipper, since club captain Raeltine Shrieves could not always crack an increasingly competitive first XI.
In the aftermath of that success the team broke up. Along with Hope Powell and coach Alan May, Law was part of the faction which set up Bromley Borough, the team which later became Croydon, then Charlton Athletic.
As a new club Bromley Borough started out at the very bottom: in the muck and nettles of the South East Counties League.
This meant lopsided scorelines, which became even more pronounced when silky England midfielder Brenda Sempare joined Bromley for their second season.
Law hung up her boots after a 1992–93 WFA Cup semi-final defeat by treble-winning Arsenal at Cambridge. Bromley gave a good account of themselves but succumbed to second-half goals from Arsenal’s Debbie Bampton and Naz Ball.
Martin Reagan handed 19-year-old Law her England debut in August 1985, in a 6–0 win over Wales staged on the Isle of Man.
As a promising right-back she had big boots to fill: ultra-consistent Hullensian Carol Thomas had performed the role with distinction for over a decade.
In the Euro 1987 semi against Sweden, Law’s quick free-kick set up Kerry Davis to put England 2–1 up, but the Swedes hit back to win 3–2 in extra time.
Law’s finest hour as an England player came in the 1988 Mundialito (little World Cup) win. The “Lioness of Arco” Linda Curl bagged both England’s goals in a brave final win over hosts Italy.
Law shrugged off an injured ankle to repeatedly shut the door in the Italians’ faces.
Sue Mott of The Times quoted Law after the match: “We all had cramp, our muscles were knotting and still the referee played on and on in the hope that Italy would equalise. It was incredible.”
“We’re treated wonderfully abroad,” said Law. “Funnily enough, it’s just at home we’re snarled at and laughed at.”
Law sat out England’s historic 2–0 defeat by Sweden at Wembley in May 1989, still recovering from a shoulder operation. She graced the hallowed turf a year later, as England stuffed Scotland 4–0 in a short “demonstration” before the Man United v Crystal Palace FA Cup final.
In November 1990, Law was absent from the squad who lost heavily to ruthless Germany and missed out on a place in the inaugural 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
After that disappointment Martin Reagan was sacked and replaced with eccentric former schoolmaster Barrie Williams. The new boss reckoned his charges were incapable of playing a flat back four so switched to five at the back.
That suited Law who had played as a centre-half for Millwall. Although she was now plying her trade in the basement divisions with Bromley Borough, she retained her England place for the Euro 93 campaign.
Barrie Williams quit after six months as the WFA went into meltdown. He was replaced by his goalkeeper coach John Bilton.
Sue Lopez’s Women on the Ball (1997) detailed the “ignominious end” to Law’s international career, which came in the second leg of the Euro 93 quarter-final with Italy at Rotherham United’s old Millmoor ground:
“Law played bravely, despite agonising back pain, probably not helped by a vigorous pre-match fitness test with shoulder charges from the solid six-footer John Bilton.”
It was the last ever England game under the WFA. Law scored at least one own goal and Lou Waller was red carded for deliberate handball in a 3–0 defeat. Italian star Carolina Morace picked off England who were forced to chase a 3–2 deficit from the first leg.
Despite her battles with injury, loyal servant Law made around 35 to 40 appearances for England, depending on whether matches like the shortened curtain-raisers are included.
Post playing career
Persistent injuries forced Law’s premature retirement from playing before she was 30. But she had already made her mark off the field as a proselytiser.
In the November 1986 edition of the WFA News, Law was already seeking out alliances and asking questions years – if not decades – ahead of their time:
“We would like to know why women’s football is not taken seriously? Why we don’t receive media coverage we feel we deserve?”
In April 1987 Law and England team mates Terry Wiseman and Marieanne Spacey were among candidates for the FA’s Preliminary Coaching Badge. The intensive residential course at Lilleshall was not for the faint-hearted but Law passed with flying colours.
When Channel 4 started showing women’s football in 1988–89, producers Trans World International picked cerebral and well-spoken Law as their expert summariser.
Before long Law’s work in her day job with the National Coaching Federation (latterly Sports Coach UK) was subject to admiring glances.
In 2000 she was headhunted by the FA as its child protection tsar. During the 90s the FA had been in an embarrassing fankle after its clumsy attempts at child protection excluded legions of young players.
Pettifogging FA rules blocked kids from adult football. But because there were precious few girls’ teams and girls remained banned from school football, there was nowhere for them to go. It led to a massive talent drain.
After sorting out that mess, high flyer Law was then promoted to overall “head of equality” in 2006.