The rising status of women in British football has been exemplified by the attraction across these islands that the World Cup currently being staged in France is proving to be. Scotland manager Shelley Kerr has been at the heart of the growing respect that her gender is garnering in all footballing circles.
The 49-year-old is already a trailblazer. Five years ago she became the first female manager in the UK men’s senior game after taking charge of Stirling University. Meanwhile, her accomplishment in guiding Scotland’s women to a first World Cup finals, last month resulted in her becoming the first woman to be nominated in the manager of the year category of Scottish football writers’ association awards.
Kerr’s upward trajectory in the game is irresistible, believes Ian Maxwell. The SFA chief executive recently extended Kerr’s contract to ensure it runs to the end of the women’s 2021 Euro finals. However, he recognises that the lure of the club game, and the regard for Kerr’s coaching prowess, could put her in line to become the first female top flight manager by then.
Maxwell maintained that “one hundred per cent” he could envisage such a scenario. “She already has [been in charge of a senior club side in] managing Stirling University and I could see that happening further up the pyramid,” he said. “She’s an incredible ambassador for Scottish football, she handles herself so well and I don’t see Shelley having any issue achieving in the men’s game either.”
That, one day, could extend to the Scotland national side. Doors are opening everywhere for women in men’s football – from the technical area, to the boardroom, to burgeoning interest in women playing the game. Maxwell illustrates that point by revealing that minds weren’t closed to Kerr’s credentials when a successor was sought for the sacked Alex McLeish.
“I don’t see any reason why not,” he said of a woman managing the men’s national side. “There were a few people suggested her for this time around so I definitely wouldn’t rule that out either. [In terms of our thinking] Steve [Clarke] was always the obvious candidate for it. He was the one we wanted straight away and we are delighted we got him.”
Maxwell believes that Scotland can be considered one of the more progressive football domains in the world when it comes to giving a platform to the talents of 51 per cent of the population.
“I think we definitely are,” he said. “There’s been a lot of investment over a number of years and we’re reaping the rewards of that now in getting to the World Cup. That’s something that will continue, and women’s football is definitely on a journey. You see the game on Tuesday night when Thailand obviously had a really poor result, so there are big gulfs, but having watched Belgium against us it’s not outwith the realms of possibility that they could go and beat someone 13-0 because they have an incredible squad.
“When you think about the numbers that volunteer in football, watch it, referee it, coach it, there’s millions of people in a country of five million people that have some engagement in football. Every other house has some involvement.
“It’s incredible, and being able to try and harness that as the governing body is a challenge, but it’s also really encouraging. For the Scotland-England game to attract 6.1 million television viewers was incredible, and we’ve gone from a 4,000 crowd at Love Street to 18 and a half thousand people watching them play Jamaica at Hampden. The exposure that they’ve had in France has been incredible.
“The girls are lapping it up every minute of representing Scotland at a World Cup and it’s a huge opportunity for ourselves as an Association, but also for our member clubs to go and engage with a new fanbase, new playerbase, it’s a real growth area and I’m sure it will continue.”
There is still a real lag, of course. Far few women have senior positions running football clubs. Yet, there should be no impediment to such as Hearts owner Ann Budge becoming SFA president one day, and Maxwell recognises that.
“We are on a journey. But that is happening [that women are on football boards]. Obviously Jacqui Low is in at Partick Thistle, who I know well,” said the former managing director at the Firhill club. “And if you look at the number of clubs that have diverse boardrooms and diverse leadership, I think it is on a journey. Like a lot of businesses, to be honest.
“It is one thing to say you want to do it, but it takes a bit of time to get there. As an Association, we are more than committed to it and I think the clubs are seeing the benefits of it as well.
“In terms of Ann, I know her from my time on the SPFL board. The nomination process is that the SPFL board nominate on to the Professional Game Board, then the PGB will nominate two on to the main board, so if Ann goes through that process there is no reason why she wouldn’t be a very effective board member alongside our new president [Rod Petrie] and vice-president [Mike Mulraney]. When you look back, it wasn’t that long ago that nobody would have seen a female owner of a club or a female chair, so there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a female president.”