Written by Staff Writer
Emma Hayes is the first black British woman to manage a women’s team
Just seven years ago, Emma Hayes’ only charge on the men’s side of British football was husband and former Fulham player Darren. Now, of course, she leads one of the top clubs in the women’s game.
On Saturday she will be hoping to stretch their unbeaten run against compatriots Arsenal in the Emirates Cup at London’s Park Lane stadium.
The result could signal a breakthrough for the women’s game, especially in the male-dominated capital.
For many of the 10,000 capacity crowd — a record-breaking 10,000 fans — the competition is a chance to see a host of top-flight talent up close and personal for the first time.
“I think London is the perfect place to bring a tournament like this to. I think Arsenal is a football club and they need to push themselves to be with the elite clubs in the world,” said Hayes, who turns 40 this year.
“I think they will do that, and I think the engagement with the fans and I also think that this is a terrific opportunity for women to have a real look at some of the international stars.
“Alex Morgan’s having a tremendous year; Bebé in France, and she’s had two goals in five games.”
Hopes for her hometown club
The event is a must-see for Arsenal fans — not least for their manager.
A Welsh-born redhead, Hayes grew up in London and used to watch Arsenal’s famous bus movements from her living room window in nearby Bloomsbury.
From there, Hayes went on to play for Birmingham City FC, Queens Park Rangers and Rangers Women.
Her only professional team then was Fulham and at 26, after 19 years as a player in the Women’s Super League, Hayes was handed the reins of the West Londoners in 2015.
Following success this season under her tutelage, Hayes is now in talks with British counterpart Mark Sampson about a possible deal to manage the England team on a full-time basis.
Although not on board with the introduction of age limits for international managers, Hayes does see herself in an encouraging role.
“We’ve got players in their 20s that are going to be the next generation of goalkeepers and defenders and strikers, so we can’t just expect the same players to play at that level with the same commitment and belief,” she said.
Expecting some new faces
Visitors to Saturday’s tournament could get a taste of some of those bright young things in action in an England XI that includes Bianca Wilkins, who plays for Sky Blues side Birmingham City Ladies.
“I’ve got four goalkeepers and two defenders and from one to 10, they’re all top, top talent. It was a pleasure to watch,” Hayes said.
“I had a look at them in training and they’re very impressive. So hopefully the English team will come and help us with the crowd on Saturday.”
‘Fraser the giant’
Wilkins, who turned 20 last week, will join the England squad at St George’s Park later this month and admits the prospect of playing with the national team is exciting.
“Hopefully with the fans at home and watching on TV, we’ll bring a bit of excitement,” she said.
“We’ve got a couple of good strikers and a couple of good defenders so hopefully we’ll see some changes from England to the Arsenal team and that will be fantastic.”
Apart from the 40-year-old Hayes, a number of notable names will also take part in the Arsenal Cup.
Goals will come from former England striker Rachel Yankey, the only player to make 400 appearances for the club. Another former England international will also feature in the Arsenal line-up.
“This is a massive tournament for Arsenal and I can’t imagine a better way to launch our season,” said club director Alex Hargreaves.
“It will give us a great opportunity to build on the positive progress we’ve made over the last four seasons.”
The 23-year-old Thomson will be one of the guests of honor at Saturday’s trophy presentation and feels the tournament will help to secure further international recognition for Arsenal.
“Emma’s English but she grew up here and so she understands the city very well, so a lot of her players are in the city as well. I think that it’s been great bringing her to Arsenal because she gets it,” Thomson said.
“Hopefully it will give them the confidence to go and work really hard and earn some experience.”