This month is a very special one in the history of women’s football in Manchester, as it marks the 30th anniversary of the formation of Manchester City Ladies; the team that preceded and became Man City Women.
Manchester City Ladies were set up and first managed by Neil Mather, a City In The Community or CITC coach, who wanted to offer women the chance to play for City.
Speaking on the mcwfancast podcast to mark the anniversary, Neil talked to host Emma and MCWFC OSC members Jayne Comer and Dave Sheel, about how the formation of Manchester City Ladies came about through company five-a-side matches: “One of the main reasons for that was obviously at the time City weren’t exactly flush with money, and it was a good way of getting local companies involved with the club”.
“We did a number of those for men and after about two or three, I kinda said well why don’t we do something different for a change; why don’t we do a women’s one”.
Mather was originally heckled for this idea but he got in touch with the companies they used for the mens tournament, as well as plenty more and approached them on the idea of a women’s competition. An old travel agents sponsored the tournament and around sixteen teams turned up, including players that played for teams such as Oldham Athletic and Ashton, something unbeknown to Neil and the other coaches at the time.
“The two teams that got to the final were both companies but were both filled with players that played properly” Neil says, “I was kind of like these girls can play actually, like they’re actually really good. It was a really great, great final and like on a different level to the rest of the games throughout the tournament”.
Speaking to women that played for other teams after the games, Mather was amazed and got the idea growing that perhaps City should field a women’s team.
Neil pitched the idea to the first manager of CITC, Kevin Glendon, who encouraged the coach to take on the setting up of the team but with the support of City. Trials were booked to take place at the Platt Lane training ground and adverts written by Mather for CITC in the City mens match day programme as well as being placed in the Manchester Evening News.
Expecting only a handful of girls to turn up, Neil had a very different situation on his hands: “64 girls rocked up to Platt Lane, which was a nightmare, I was like what was I gonna do. I cajoled a couple of coaches from City In The Community to come in, thinking I’d just need one or two and I was like ‘you take thirty over there, you take thirty over there’”.
Being Man City, plenty of girls turned up just looking for the chance to play for City, whether Neil says “they could kick a ball or not”.
Mather and his team of coaches selected a handful of girls that stuck out as players they could work with and after a few training sessions, Neil approached club secretary Bernard Halford, to approve the set up; Halford was all for it saying it would be good publicity for the club.
“Bernard deserves a great deal of credit because he was forward thinking enough to sort of not just go ‘oh no it’s a waste of time this’. Money was hugely tight so he could of easily just gone ‘that is something that we don’t need’ but I think he was clever enough to realise we could get some good publicity out of it”.
Neil approached Glyn Pardoe and Tony Book, who were in charge of the youth team and asked for some kit the girls could use, clothes that swamped his new team thanks to an unflattering fit.
“So they got me a kit, which buried the girls cause obviously it was a youth team kit and still huge. Again, we couldn’t have got going without it because kits are not cheap even now and it was hard work buying a kit back then”.
Mather and the team were given all the necessary equipment they needed to train, provided by City and were even given a club mini bus to travel to matches, “It might seem a but trivial now but that amount of support, you know a kit, a mini bus. I just couldn’t have done it without the club”.
In 1988 the FA still had nothing to do with women’s football, so Neil had to visit the WFA, the Women’s FA, to finalise the team and get themselves playing in the league.
“The WFA was an office the size of a broom cupboard” Mather says, “it was one woman, a remarkable women called Linda Whitehead, who ran the whole of women’s football in the country, on her own” he recalls.
Neil praises Whitehead for being a massive part of Man City Women’s, or Ladies, history “because she was bright enough and intelligent enough to realise that Man City having a women’s team was huge for the women’s game. There wasn’t any major club that had a women’s team because all the other teams were smaller clubs, so Man City were the first big, big club to have one”.
With the league having already started, the team, who knew they had a space in the competition for the upcoming season, set about finding teams to play in friendlies.
Manchester City Ladies first proper run out together was at Boundary Park against Oldham Athletic and Mather remembers the ball being whipped away by the wind swirling around the stadium; combined with the old ‘AstroTurf’.
“It was just a piece of concrete with carpet on top to be fair, so if the ball hit the turf it pinged in the air and bounce about fifteen feet into the air, the ball would just sail over your head; it was impossible. And Boundary Park being Boundary Park, its always windy and freezing cold, so lets pick probably the coldest place on earth for that first game”.
City beat Oldham 4-1 thanks to two goals from Donna Haynes and Heidi James (née Ward) and so following that historic win, the team played Oldham again, Burnley and any other team they could play; getting friendlies in to prepare themselves for the season.
Answering a question from a listener of mcwfancast, Neil gave an insight into the teams training habits: “I made sure they trained two nights a week and they trained properly. I insisted they came to training and did it properly, almost like a semi pro team at the time. Training was really important and we trained really seriously to be fair”.
“We got all the girls a City tracksuit that they would travel to the games in and I was always big on, ‘if you look the part, you feel the part, you’ll play the part’”.
Highlighting the first derby between Manchester City Ladies and Manchester United Ladies, who had no affiliation with the club, Mather said “it was a big deal for us, for Man City. For me to actually lead a Manchester City team against Man United, it was a big deal for me”.
Looking back on the thirty years and how Man City Women have established themselves in the world, Neil held his hands and said he didn’t think they would have become professional due to the lack of support in women’s football.
“When that happened in 2014, (the clubs relaunch as City Women and the jump to professionalism), I thought oh my” the former coach says, “it was something that I dreamed of and something that I always thought was probably impossible. To think that I had something to do with that; its just immense”.
Mather said of his pride at seeing the women training in the same set up at the men, using the same facilities and being treated the same as the men was “absolutely immense”. Also stating that he thinks the club, since 2014, have set new standards for club to follow in Man City’s footsteps in improving their facilities, way they treat their players so they don’t get left behind.
Neil will be attending the MCWFC OSC meeting, taking place on November 22nd at Mary D’s bar in Manchester, alongside some of his former players to talk more about Manchester City Ladies. The event will start at 7pm and is open to committee members from any Man City supporters group.