Fisher: price £500

23 02 2009

Last week hapless Fisher Athletic lost 2-1 at home to promotion chasing Eastleigh in the Blue Square South division. Nothing unusual in that, the Fish had lost their last 11 league games, but the post-match talk wasn’t of how to turn the club’s fortunes around, it was the story of how the side were managed by Donna Powell, the first woman to take charge of a men’s team in English football.


“Fisher place faith in manageress” read the BBC’s football website last week. It was the story of the hapless Blue Square South side club Fisher Athletic entrusting the manager’s job in its turnstile operator Donna Powell, who had bid £500 for every Football Manager player’s dream of taking charge of a real side. Of course the story wasn’t that a women is taking charge of a men’s team for the day, despite nearly all factions of the media taking that angle, it is how she landed the “job” that is the true story.


Hard up and down on their luck, the Fish, or more aptly the Martyrs as they are sometimes known, auctioned off the chance to take over the reigns from their manager Dave Mehmet for the day against fourth-placed Eastleigh. The lead-off from the BBC’s article stated that “Fisher Athletic are set to make football history when a female manager leads them out for Wednesday’s Blue Square South match against Eastleigh,” when really it should have read “Fisher Athletic are set to make football history when a competition winner leads them out for Wednesday’s Blue Square South match against Eastleigh.”


This was a league game, three points depended on it.


Fisher Athletic had been on a dismal run and were just a point off the bottom of the table going into the crunch fixture against Eastleigh. Off the field things aren’t much better for the Bermondsey club who are in dire need of a cash injection, leading to the insalubrious auction.


Teaching assistant Donna Powell, who is also a turnstile operator, won the auction after raising £500. What would have happened if an Eastleigh fan would have won? Played the youth team?


Eastleigh’s director of football, David Malone was not impressed. “This is a sideshow we can do without. It wouldn’t matter if it’s a man, a woman, a monkey or a horse. My understanding is that Fisher have sold the manager’s job for £500 and I think that devalues the league.”


It was an unwanted distraction for the promotion chasing club currently in the play-off positions in the Blue Square South table. “I’m not particularly happy about it, simply because we’ve got to concentrate our minds on getting three points from the game. I think what they’ve done is unprofessional,” Malone went on to say.


It’s nothing to do with her being a woman, after all, she is a qualified coach, but flogging the manager’s place in the hot seat for a day is not a saleable commodity. We’ve already had the fans owning the club at Ebbsfleet, now we’ve got them running it at Fisher.


I’ve always been one to get more women into football, even as a child. Most weeks when I was in the London Road End as a boy I’d have to aim some desultory like “for fuck’s sake, my mum could’ve scored that” towards Jason Lee when he fired another effort so far over the crossbar low flying aircraft were in danger of a direct hit.


Sadly she’s never had, and probably never will have, the chance to show her footballing prowess on any stage other than her back garden, but Powell did, even if it is in less than ideal circumstances.


What would have happened if Fisher were getting thumped at half-time? Would Mehmet take the team talk? Similarly, you have to pose the question what would happen if they won. Would they keep the 4-4-2 formation Powell has already said she would revert to from the side’s usual 3-5-2.


Either way, it’s sporting of her to give away her formation and tactics of “playing my way, none of this long ball nonsense – we’ll be passing the ball on the floor, playing the game the right way.”


The noises coming from Powell before the game were of sexism in football, which, indubitably does exist, and if a man had won the competition, it would have barely registered on the news, perhaps a snippet in the BBC football gossip column. In this case it is a different story altogether, though.


As Malone said last week “I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man – which I probably do – but at this stage of the season we’re working extremely hard to get our side up into the Blue Square Premier, and I think the whole thing is just badly timed.”




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