Are women being priced out of football management?
Gilly Flaherty has seen it all in football, from making her debut for Arsenal aged 15, to breaking the Women’s Super League all-time appearance record. She is one of the English game’s most decorated and respected players, so it should alarm those running the sport that Flaherty has concerns about the cost of paying for a coaching course to help her fulfil her ambition of one day managing in the WSL.
Studying for the Uefa A Licence costs £3,645 with the Football Association. The Football Association of Wales charges £6,500, or £4,000 for anyone having represented the country or fulfilling other specified criteria. Costs rise to five figures for the Pro Licence. Each course is in high demand and availability is limited. It is understood, for example, that there are only 30 spaces on the FAW’s A Licence course each year.
The number of qualified female coaches is rising, but as recently as 2017, data showed that just 40 women in England held the A Licence, compared to 1,653 men.
“I know a lot of people talk about there not being enough female coaches in the game, but it is very costly,” says Flaherty, who fears the expense is putting off more from giving management a go. “There are some bursaries out there for a select few, but if you can’t access those, it is very costly – £6,500 is a lot of money.
“All coaching badges are expensive but I think that price tag could price out people who don’t have the support of a club, or the financial support themselves to put that money into it. And after qualifying, unless you get a top job with it, it’ll take a while to earn that £6,500 back.”
Flaherty, herself, is undeterred and – having already completed her B Licence – has set her sights on applying for the A Licence in the coming years and hopes to eventually manage in the top tier. The 31-year-old hung up her boots in January after a playing career that included eight league titles, including four in the WSL era – two with Arsenal and two with Chelsea, seven FA Cups and a European Cup with Arsenal as a teenager in 2007.
'I put my body on the line for any club I played for'
“I’d like to think fans, managers and players knew what they were going to get with me, that I left everything on the pitch, I wore my heart on my sleeve and I put my body on the line for any club I played for,” the former England centre-half says. “That’s what I used to pride myself on: setting the standards.
“I’d like to be a manager because I feel I would be a really good man-manager. What players really want is honesty, and consistency. There are only 11 spaces on the team, but sometimes managers have found it hard to have those difficult conversations. There are times when I watch and think: ‘I could look after that player and have an impact.’ I do think it’ll be something that I do eventually, I’d like to be a WSL manager.”
Managing in the WSL would feel like a natural step for someone who has been synonymous with the division since its inception in 2011. In fact, it was Flaherty who scored the competition’s first goal, in a 1-0 win for Arsenal against her future club Chelsea in April 2011 at Imperial Fields, the home of men’s non-League side Tooting and Mitcham.
“It’s probably a great pub quiz question. I’m waiting for the day now that I’m in the pub and I get asked that question so I know I can answer it,” she says with a chuckle.
“Nobody really would have thought a centre-back would have got that goal, and definitely not me. I think a lot of strikers were a bit gutted. As the years have gone on, it’s hit home more, the enormity of that and how special it was.”
'Kate is hot on my heels'
It is not the only WSL record to Flaherty’s name, although the other is under ever-increasing threat. Flaherty has made the most appearances in WSL history (177) but Kate Longhurst, her former West Ham team-mate, is just one behind her.
“Kate is hot on my heels, and if the appearance record was going to be taken by anyone, I’d want it to be taken by Kate,” she says.
Flaherty has a new target now – punditry. The former Lioness was behind the microphone at Ashton Gate to co-commentate for BBC radio on England’s 6-1 victory over Belgium in February, and says: “I feel like I’ve gone back to school, I feel like I’m a sponge again. I’m back as that 15-year-old making her Arsenal debut. I’m having training sessions, and I’ve been studying and listening to other commentators, and [my agents] give me feedback to take forward.
“I was always very critical of myself playing football and now I’m the same. I don’t just want to do it on a whim, I want to be the best I can possibly be in this area, and be the best pundit and co-commentator.”
Perhaps in the future she will be aiming to be the best manager, too.