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Will Forest Green go ‘Another Way’ and pick a female manager?

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With Forest Green Rovers still to announce a new head coach, Simon Hacker explores who’s ‘man’ enough for the job.

They said his success came down to being a caring brother, not a classic angry dad. But with a scab now tentatively forming over the Rob Edwards-shaped hole in the heart of Britain’s greenest football team, is it time for Forest Green Rovers to achieve yet another trailblazing first in the bloke-soaked culture of football and reach out for sisterly help?

A woman manager!? Are you mad, my football expert friend explodes. How’s a woman going to let rip in the changing rooms, he asks, when there’s twenty-two bare buttocks cavorting about? 

Ironically, the pragmatic answer to this question is all part of a bigger issue: just as a fig leaf might be used to cover lazy sexism, any medium-size towel is also sufficient to ensure a member of the opposite sex can strut into a half-time heads-up and maintain consistent eye contact free from any risk of forgetting the principles of rhetoric and team motivation.

So what other arguments do you have, beyond stilettos compromising the pitch? One concern that does, in truth, resonate for me comes via my son, who is far more of a football expert than I ever will be. We are at a crucial crossroads, he reasons. We need to play safe. As one FGR forum member so beautifully put it last week, losing our manager and changing players is like swapping all four tyres on a car simultaneously. Without a jack. 

FGR is, right now, delicate as a snake stretching in its new League One skin. We need to get thick-skinned because make no mistake, League One will be a frying pan. A gender-stereotyped appointment, perhaps, feels like a safe move.

But isn’t that just the point? Wouldn’t a radical, English footballing first of appointing a female manager be just wonderfully typical of the FGR philosophy, an approach that always dictates we never do football the easy way? Isn’t finding another way what makes our successes all the sweeter?

I don’t, you might have guessed, have the answer for the best he or she in the HR pile, but maybe some French fans of le foot could help. 

After all, they’ve been there. Up in the rarified atmosphere of the Auvergne, Ligue 2 team Clermont Foot 63 became the nation’s first to be managed by a woman, back in 2014. Diacre breezed up through the glass ceiling when Clermont were mid-table and took them, during her three-year tenure, to seventh position – with goals aplenty. Results aside though, it doesn’t look like certain management niceties were observed (though it may not be a coincidence, in any appraisal of her tenure, that chauvinism was named after a Frenchman). 

During Mme Diacre’s spell, some players have subsequently claimed, she was nicknamed Atilla. She baulked at players who failed to wear matching socks during practice, banned ice cubes from drinks (which could be an eco plus, come to think?) and was allegedly erratic in her decisions over who to bench. Given her fondness for threatening redundancy, it was almost as if she was, perish the thought, a man. To cap it all, she departed Clermont like a true gent – slipping out the back door with no soft, lingering goodbyes.

Panning out from any immediate questions about FGR’s vacancy, pundits believe that a woman’s appointment to lead a professional club is now purely a question of when. Emma Hayes, currently managing FA Women’s Super League side Chelsea, was a hot tip for the job at AFC Wimbledon early last year; if FGR doesn’t shake hands with a woman at this moment, we may well see a side visit The New Lawn this coming season under female guidance.

And if you want to join any dots between those who resist checking out the talent on both sides of the gender pool and the moral state of our sport, this question comes against the backdrop of a not entirely disconnected football story. Early this week, Blackpool forward Jake Daniels came out as the UK’s first active male footballer. 

Perhaps any question as to whether it is time for an EFL side to be managed by a woman can best be answered by this question: what sort of football culture do we live in, in flipping 2022, that Jake Daniels’ sexuality exists as a story? 

As the sports blog Footbalists recently stated, there is “no hiding that English football has been plagued with racism and homophobia, and a country’s football fan-base unwilling to accept openly gay men and still mistreating black footballers, even in 2020, goes to show how far off the country actually is from seeing a women enter the ‘masculine’ fray.”

So if any shock statements emerge from FGR, they won’t be coming too soon.

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