Kelly Smith: Female Premier League manager ‘not in my lifetime’

English Premier League, FIFA Women's World Cup, Leagues, Story
Kelly Smith speaks to ESPN about the the possibility of female coaches taking charge in the Premier League.

England legend Kelly Smith fears she will not see a female coach in charge of one of the country’s top division men’s teams in her lifetime, unless attitudes within boardrooms significantly change.

Smith enjoyed a 19-year international career with England and is the country’s record female goal scorer. She is delighted at how some aspects of the game are evolving — she recounts how she used to wear oversized men’s football kit when she started her England career — and is encouraged by the growing attendances for the women’s game, but fears the game is still playing catch-up when it comes to attitudes around females coaching in the men’s side of the game.

There are trailblazers like Imke Wubbenhorst at fifth-tier German side BV Cloppenburg but attitudes in the U.K. are taking longer to shift, with Natasha Orchard-Smith at ninth-tier English side Arlesey Town the only female to hold a coaching position in semi-professional men’s football, according to the FA.

When asked whether we will see females coaching in the male professional English leagues, Smith told ESPN FC: “Personally, I don’t see that in my lifetime. I think there’s still a long way to go in terms of earning that respect and women being allowed to coach in the men’s game at the Premier League level.

“It’s also being given a platform and a door open. There are so many doors closed right now to female coaches. Some female coaches have the elite, the professional license that the men have but I just don’t think chairmen and board members are willing to give women that opportunity and open the door and be the first.

“That’s my personal opinion… I’m not saying lower down the ladder — non-league football, maybe — but I can’t see it happening in the Championship and up to the Premier League. It’s just how I view it. I hope I’m proved wrong but I don’t think any chairmen will entertain it.”

Smith, who played in three European Championships and two World Cups for England, feels old-fashioned stereotypes are changing in the sport but there is still work to be done.

“There are still some out there that will take a while or may never happen, but in terms of the progress that’s been made and games now are being shown regularly on TV — the women’s games,” Smith said.

Kelly Smith scored 46 goals in 117 appearances during her 19-year international career.

“All the England games are shown on the BBC or streamed which never happened before.

“The accessibility is there and there’s also a platform for female pundits to give an opinion on the men’s game and there’s a platform now for a number of us, including myself, to commentate and give opinions on the men’s game and got really good, valid feedback.

“Slowly stereotypes have changed and it’s now more accepting for females to be given an opinion and judgement on the men’s games.”

And when looking at the state of the women’s game compared to the men’s, Smith has fallen out of love with the men’s game due to the vast salaries being offered and the players becoming “removed from everyday society”.

“I think the women’s game is purer, there’s less diving and you can tell the girls have a passion for the game and want to develop and help the game grow,” Smith said.

“They sacrifice so much still in order to try and help raise the profile of the game and the game’s in a healthy state in terms of the product that’s on the pitch. I think it’s an entertaining game to watch — the skill level, the fitness levels and strength and power, for me, are at the best that’s ever been.”

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