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City Women launched last week and I felt privileged to be there as the new-look team was unveiled. We’ve come a long way, believe me!
Back in the mid-1980s, the headquarters of ladies football in England was based in a tiny Manchester office in the Corn Exchange by Linda Whitehead who was the sole administrator for the whole country which is mind-boggling when you think about it.
Everything was regionalised and there was no national league at the point so everything was low profile and on a very small scale. I was one of the first members of the newly-formed City In the Community in late 1986 which was then run by Kevin Glendon.
Kevin used to empower the staff to come up with community projects and because we’d already done a men’s corporate 5-a-side tournament, he was looking to develop other ideas. I suggested we do another tournament, but this time for women and Kevin agreed, telling me, ‘Right, you sort it!’
...Neil Mather on the early days of City Ladies...
I was happy to organise the competition at Platt Lane and we had a really good turnout of ladies teams – most of whom were there to enjoy the day, but the two teams who made up the finalists were head and shoulders above the others and at the presentation at the City Social Club a few days later, I started chatting with girls from the two teams who all told me they with various teams around the Greater Manchester area.
I knew little about women’s football at the point so I began to do a little digging and found out that Crewe, Oldham and Preston all had teams. There was a Man United Ladies, but they weren’t associated with the club – it was just what they called themselves and they had no ties.
It planted a seed and I suggested City should form a ladies team and with the idea well received within the club, I went to see Bernard Halford to check it was OK to proceed which he said we were fine to do. I went to see our youth team coach Glyn Pardoe who sorted some kit out for us – albeit a little on the large side – and we advertised in the programme and Manchester Evening News inviting ladies to come down for open trials at Platt Lane.
I expected maybe 25 or so to come down, but more than 70 registered their interest which meant we had to split the trial days over two weeks while we whittled the numbers down to a manageable squad size that I began to coach and shape into a team.
It was by now November 1988 and the team was made up of varying abilities but we began by playing a number of friendlies, the first of which was away to Oldham on the plastic pitch at Boundary Park.
It was great to start on a proper league pitch and we won 4-2 with Donna Haynes getting two and Heidi Ward – who would later marry Gary James - scoring the other two. We were off and running and we continued to play friendlies for the remainder of the season as the girls began to find their feet.
We received a lot of positive publicity because we were the first big club to form a ladies team – Arsenal, Chelsea, United and Liverpool had no ladies team by that point – and we were on several TV programmes as the profile of ladies football grew and we played a couple of times before City matches at Brentford and Bradford before the senior team kicked off.
It was a great time and we were all enjoying the ride and we joined the North West Women’s League Division Two and by adding a few established players to our squad, we became a good team. We beat United 4-2 in our first Manchester derby and we won promotion at the end of our first campaign so we hit the ground running.
It was grassroots football back then, but having been to the official launch of City Women last month, I can’t believe how far we’ve come. The players were all slim and athletic looking and everything was so slick so I would never have envisaged things coming this far when we first began back in 1988.
It’s fantastic and the Club has done an amazing job with the re-launch and I’m proud to have played my part along the way.