Manor Park 23 June 1973 – England 8–0 Scotland
England thrash Scotland in first ever home match
Classic match report: Lionesses rattle in EIGHT as roof falls in on sweltered Scots
For this first ‘official’ international on English soil, the Women’s Football Association booked Manor Park in Nuneaton, near Coventry, close to the geographical centre of England.
The failure to secure a Football League ground – even in the off-season – is probably a measure of the lasting sabotage wrought on women’s football by the 1921 ban.
At least it was a football ground, though. The first match in November 1972 had been held at the Ravenscraig athletics facility in Greenock.
In contrast to that historic meeting, which took place in a blizzard by the banks of the Clyde, Nuneaton was in the midst of a heatwave.
Ground owners Nuneaton Borough had just finished ninth in the Southern League. Their cheeky bid for election to the 1973–74 Football League had received short shrift, garnering a measly one vote.
The town also boasted two women’s teams: Nuneaton Rangers, and Wanderers LFC, who in 1971 had been knocked out of the first ever WFA Cup 9–2 by Scots Stewarton Thistle.
Nuneaton later came to prominence as the birthplace of English 2015 World Cup hero Laura Bassett.
On 20 May 1973, 95,950 packed out Wembley for Scotland’s visit in the old Home Internationals. Martin Peters nodded in Alan Ball’s cross to snatch England a 1–0 win.
The following day, a world away from the bedlam at Wembley, Eastwood Town FC in Nottingham quietly hosted an England women’s team trials match.
Fourteen hopefuls who had caught the eye in the Inter-League tournament faced off against the existing national team.
A 16-year-old schoolgirl named Pat Firth lined out for the Possibles – booking her place to spectacularly burst on the international scene in Nuneaton.
Firth was from Swillington in Leeds and played for Fleece Fillies, a pub team from Ossett, near Wakefield.
The Fillies had got progressively more serious about their football and had shown up well in the Butlins tournaments sponsored by the Daily Mirror.
Future England and Donny Belles goalkeeper Jan Milner was a fellow Fleece Fillies product. Yorkshire lass Firth moved on to Fodens, Donny Belles, Rowntrees of York then Bronte.
Despite their name being evocative of Keighley, Bronte in fact played out of Saltaire. They sported snazzy Genoa-style red and blue halfed shirts.
Firth extended her career by retraining as a goalkeeper following a serious knee injury. She also moved into coaching.
Sue Lopez played alongside Firth for the Possibles. She’d missed out on selection for the first Scotland match after being injured by a male opponent in a bounce game, much to her chagrin.
1977 WFA Cup final match-winner, QPR’s Carrie Staley, patrolled the Possibles’ left wing. Her opposite number was Jeannie Allott, one of England’s best players.
Staley’s understudy on the Possibles’ bench was a wet-behind-the-ears Pat Chapman, who would have to bide her time for three more years before getting an England cap.
Following the trials match, a final squad of 17 was picked to take on the Scots at Nuneaton.
In an attempt to keep it simple, Eric Worthington had lined up his first England team in a prehistoric 2-3-5 formation, aping the toffs who had played the first men’s match a hundred years earlier.
Although Worthington was from Sheffield, he was no gruff-voiced Sean Bean sound-alike. Rather he spoke in the clipped tones of received pronunciation.
As one had to, in those days, if one wanted to ‘get on’. It certainly helped Eric get on… get on a plane to Australia, where he scooped their director of coaching gig.
The WFA claimed to enjoy the “recognition and support” of the FA, who haughtily characterised the relationship as one of “supervision and control”.
In any case, part of the deal seemed to be that the FA would pick the national team manager. So when Worthington left another FA staff coach, John Adams, was temporarily ushered in.
Adams immediately demonstrated trust in his players by plumping for a more contemporary 4-3-3 formation.
A PE teacher by trade, Adams snaffled a post as northern region coach when the FA beefed up its operations in the aftermath of England’s controversial 1966 World Cup win.
It was not clear whether Adams was ever in full charge of team selection. A shadowy selection committee, akin to that which picked the men’s team pre-Alf Ramsey, was obliquely referred to in some later newspaper reports.
Nevertheless, smiling Yorkshireman Adams had a Scarborough warning for his charges: turn up fit enough to do the requisite number of shuttle-runs, or kiss your England hopes goodbye.
That was enough to send young centre-half Wendy Owen outside several weeks beforehand, fervently pounding the streets like a woman possessed.
Owen recalled Adams plying the squad with new-fangled energy drinks, convincing them that the syrupy brew was the key to unlocking the Scots’ resistance.
Huddersfield-born Adams must have noted that the sun was “cracking the flags” in Nuneaton and that hydration would be a crucial factor.
Despite two superb results (France were beaten 3–0 at Easter ’73) and his great popularity with the players, Adams’ England tenure ended after this match.
He went to have a stint as Rotherham United’s commercial manager, then joined the board at Southend United, where he formed a longstanding double act with larger-than-life chairman Vic Jobson.
His son Chris later played cricket for England and granddaughter Georgia is hotly-tipped to do likewise very shortly.
If England’s set-up was decidedly modest, at least they had the patronage of the FA’s Loughborough-based coaching clique and a paltry grant from the Sports Council.
The Scots had hee-haw (translation: nothing) but shambolic preparations and a tiny player pool. Some players nearly missed the first game when their van failed to pick them up.
After digesting that famous 3–2 win over the Auld Enemy, England’s original coach Eric Worthington mused in the FA News:
“The cloth cap domination still exists up there, and in Scotland the game has never looked like being sanctioned. They play; but promoting the game is difficult with so much prejudice about. The Presbyterian attitude still prevails.”
Eric was right. The Scots had even encountered real problems getting a qualified referee for the game, as invariably the men in black were staunch Masons.
These sinister, whisky-soaked wretches were hardly enlightened examples of sensitive New Men – although they did like wearing aprons.
Anyway, the malaise went much deeper than the lumpen whistlers. Infamous SFA boss Willie Allan was best known for trying to ban CELTIC laps of honour… because sectarian RANGERS louts kept rioting.
Scottish hopes in Nuneaton rested on the talented trio of Elsie Cook, Rose Reilly and Edna Neillis. All three later copped sine die bans, acquiring them – perhaps unfairly – something of a reputation as stormy petrels.
When Cook went along to meet Willie Allan on behalf of the women’s game in Scotland she couldn’t get through to him at all. She came away genuinely pitying him and those like him.
Allan was used to decisions happening behind closed doors down at the Lodge, amidst funny handshakes and rolled up trouser legs. He certainly wasn’t going to be dictated to by “a wummin”.
Cook sat out the Greenock match while recovering from childbirth and was named on the sub’s bench in Nuneaton.
A big Kilmarnock supporter, she was a centre-half despite being what might be described as relatively “wee”. Well, it never did Passarella or Cannavaro any harm….
Rose Reilly broke into Cook’s Stewarton Thistle team as a precocious nine-year-old, and ended up in Scotland’s sporting Hall of Fame after a magnificent career in Italy.
Flame-haired Edna Neillis was said to resemble a female Jinky Johnstone. But as a self-confessed Rangers fan she flatly rejected any comparison to the Celtic wing wizard.
Susan Ferries, meanwhile, was advertised as the female Bobby Lennox. She must have shared the searing pace which saw Celtic forward Lennox dubbed “Buzz Bomb”.
Ferries (later Newlands) was typically a striker with Stewarton Thistle, but donned the number 3 jersey in Nuneaton – apparently filling in at left-back.
The left winger was Mary Carr of Motherwell AEI, who had made history by notching the first goal in Greenock.
At centre-half the Scots gave 16-year-old debutante, Sheila Begbie of Edinburgh Dynamo, a baptism of fire. She later told Sue Lopez (1997) that the match constituted: “my biggest playing nightmare”.
In 2014 stalwart Begbie gave up her role running Scottish women’s football to take up a similar position with Scottish rugby.
The Scots’ sub goalie, Liz Creamer of Dundee Strikers, went on to win many more caps as an outfielder. A motor-mouthed cabbie, she was still playing 20 years later.
In April 1976 she got a red card for a legendary punch-up in a 3–3 draw with Ireland before 10,000 hostile fans at Dalymount Park on FAI Cup final day.
These are prime examples of the stories and characters that Scots soccer fans should be celebrating, not losing to the mists of time!
The match programme didn’t list a coach for the Scots, who had seemingly dispensed with the services of Rab Stewart after their second-half implosion in Greenock.
Elsie Cook is reported to have taken the coaching reins herself at some stage, although it’s not clear if that was the case in Nuneaton.
England’s PR man Roger Ebben hoped for a bumper 2,000 crowd, but wasn’t too despondent with the 1,310 they got. “If we break even we are happy. If we make a profit we are delighted,” he said.
As Scotland made the early running, England’s Southampton goalkeeper Sue Buckett made a sprawling save to deny Rose Reilly and smartly blocked a Linda Kidd effort.
But in the 25th minute Pat Firth raced on to a Pat Davies pass and struck England ahead. Six minutes later, Davies cut in from the left and lashed in England’s second from 20 yards.
Things went awry for Scotland at the interval. Captain and centre-back Mary Anderson did not re-emerge for the second 40, replaced by substitute Ann Morrison of Aberdeen Prima Donnas.
Just two minutes into the second half, Firth notched her second goal. On 50 minutes the disorganised Scots rearguard conceded a penalty, gleefully buried by their compatriot McGroarty.
Within 60 seconds Firth had the ball in the net again to seal a debut hat-trick and win footballing immortality.
Pat Davies bagged her second and England’s sixth on 63 minutes, at which point Adams sent on substitute Sue Whyatt for Buckett; a debut cap for the young Macclesfield netminder.
With Scotland toiling in the unforgiving heat it was now one-way traffic. Tartan turncoat Paddy McGroarty rattled in a seventh goal on 70 minutes.
England boss Adams then made a double change, withdrawing Firth to a standing ovation and sending on the pacy Warminster striker Eileen Foreman for the last nine minutes.
Midfield powerhouse Janet Bagguley of Macclesfield made way for Julia Manning (later Brunton) of Lowestoft.
Four minutes from time, substitute Foreman bashed in England’s eighth unanswered goal to leave the beleaguered Scots reeling.
At least goalkeeper Gerry Chalmers avoided the sad fate of Frank Haffey, who shipped NINE to the English in 1961 and never lived it down.
Such was the mockery poor old Frank got that he reinvented himself as a cabaret act – in Australia.
The post-match trophy presentation saw skipper Sheila Parker collect the Eric Worthington Challenge Cup in brilliant sunshine.
John Adams’ boss Allen Wade, the FA’s overall director of coaching, was present and declared himself impressed: “They have come a long way in a short time and will get better”.
Wade offered a prediction that the women would play at Wembley “within 25 years”. They did it in just 15, meeting Ireland there in April 1988 for a 15-minute each-way knockabout.
Scotland took their frustrations out on “Eire” in their next outing the following March, back at Ravenscraig Stadium.
The Irish were pummelled 10–1 or 9–1 depending on the source – the last goal flew in as the final whistle blew.
Events unfolded in “dreich” conditions, much more congenial to the Scots than the soaring mercury levels in Nuneaton.
Ireland reportedly turned up without a proper goalie so luckless stand-in Freda Noonan of Limerick went between the sticks at late notice.
Star turn Anne O’Brien was absent, having signed for crack French outfit Reims. But there were some recognisable names including Galway Girl Nono McHugh and future national team boss Linda Gorman.
The green ranks were further depleted in the second half, when 4′ 8” Therese Doyle was carted off to hospital with a gashed leg. The plucky Dublin teen had soldiered on as long as she could.
While insisting his anonymity be respected, the ref restricted himself to some bland post-match remarks concerning: “a good, clean entertaining game”.
This one-sided matchup was technically a League XI fixture, so is non-Canonical (certainly from the Irish point of view).
Despite this it is wrongly listed by FIFA, among others, as having taken place in April 1973, and as being the Irish national team’s first ‘fishal outing.
Next up for Scotland was a trip to Italy for two friendlies in November 1974. There they were inundated with contract offers from Serie A clubs, which many players availed themselves of.
The trip was preceded by a half-hour ‘Scotland v Scotland’ demonstration match at Parkhead before Celtic’s 3–0 European Cup win over TPS on 3 October 1974.
Celtic’s propaganda organ The Celtic View reported “a general atmosphere of amused tolerance among the onlookers” for the women’s curtain-raiser.
That amused tolerance would serve the Celtic supporters well a generation later, when they signed Carlton Cole.
The Scots would have to wait until May 1977 for revenge over England, when goals from Liz Creamer and Maria Blagojevic confounded their Saxon foe at Downfield Park, Dundee.