‘Frankly, the FA owe Phil Neville an apology’

Vicky Huyton, founder of the Female Coaching Network, gives the Football Association a vote of no confidence over their handling of the Phil Neville Affair. In addition to his questionable tweets, what experience does he have, and particularly working with women? The whole thing is baffling, she says, and that’s purely down to the FA

It’s almost as though it’s April Fool’s Day and the FA are having a laugh. It’s not bloody difficult. They need a new manager for the England women’s football team. So find somebody qualified and hire them. Instead, they’ve hired Phil Neville, who is not qualified, and created yet another drama around a team who must be wondering what they’ve done to deserve all this.

Frankly, the FA owe Phil Neville an apology. They’ve put him in a situation that must be thoroughly uncomfortable. My objection to him as the England women’s coach is nothing personal against him. I’m a massive Everton fan. He was a hero of mine as a player. Who can blame him for wanting to coach a high-profile team? His sister’s coaching the England netball team. His brother coached Valencia and worked with the England men’s team. But Phil has no experience of substance and none working with women. The whole thing is baffling.

I’m sure he regrets the tweets for which he has had to apologise. They’re in terrible taste and might once have passed for locker-room banter. But if the FA knew they existed, why did they not think the tweets would be a problem? “Just battered the wife” would raise red flags in most organisations. And if the FA didn’t know they existed, why not? What kind of due diligence did they carry out, especially when the last manager of the England team was at the centre of a verbal abuse controversy.

It’s hard to understand why the FA would have appointed someone as incredibly experienced as Baroness Campbell as Head of Women’s Football and then either ignore her influence or bring about a strange alteration in her ambitions.

I don’t see this as a gender issue. I’d have been happy with a man or woman in the role as long as they were qualified and brilliant. It would send a great message to have hired a female coach, but not for the sake of it. But although the pool is smaller, there were women qualified to do that job.

I thought Mo Marley, the England U19’s coach and interim coach of the international side following Mark Sampson’s sacking, stood every chance. I knew her when she was at Everton Ladies and she was passionate, knowledgeable, with a phenomenal work ethic and had great relationships with players like Jill Scott and Toni Duggan, now central to the England team.

The FA have released information to suggest that several candidates on their short-list of six withdrew, including Mo who, they say, didn’t want to work full-time. You don’t know what compromises they offered. And if Phil Neville really wanted to be involved, perhaps they could have given him the assistant manager’s role.

If England go and win the World Cup in 2019 it will not be because the FA hired Phil Neville. It will be because of the England women. Women like Jill Scott who used to drive from Sunderland to Liverpool three evenings a week to train with the Everton Ladies. And that after a full day’s work and then having to wait until the under-8s had finished on the pitch. That was the pecking order then and it was less than 10 years ago.

There is a passion and commitment about this England team, partly because the players know how far they’ve come. And that’s despite, not because of, the FA.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vicky Huyton has worked, volunteered and coached in sport at all levels, from grassroots to elite, for more than 25 years. She volunteered with UK Athletics back in 2010 on their Women in Coaching Advisory group which aimed to increase the number of female coaches at the elite level. In 2014, she formed the Female Coaching Network with the aim of creating an independent organisation which would provide female coaches with support and a voice. Vicky’s latest articles

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