Lonely world of a women’s football coach; still much work to do, says Liverpool’s Vicky Jepson

The award-winning coach says it’s not always about females breaking into the men’s game but more about helping to develop women’s soccer

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 3:17pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 9:05pm

Liverpool’s leading lady, Vicky Jepson, knows what it’s like to feel alone. Of the 36 coaches Vicky Jepson delivered a football coaching course to in Shenzhen last week, only one was female.

“It just goes to show that we are still a minority,” said the Liverpool Football Club Ladies coach. “There are still not enough female coaches in Hong Kong and Asia.”

Jepson was in town for the Premier League Asia Trophy and a women’s coaching programme organised by the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) and Premier Skills.

“It was the same for me – all the coaching badges I did in the UK, I was the only female on the course. We need more in the game,” said the 2015 FA Female Development Coach of the Year.

One female firmly in the game is Hong Kong’s history-making Chan Yuen-ting, the first female to coach a men’s professional team when she took charge of Eastern two seasons ago.

“It’s inspiring,” said Jepson, who sat alongside Chan in a panel discussing female engagement in football on Thursday.

“She managed a male team and got them into the Asian champions league. There aren’t many females who get that opportunity – I don’t know the real reasons behind that – but hopefully the females are inspiring each other to follow a similar path.”

Chan has had a whirlwind couple of years; last season, she became the first woman to coach a men’s football team in a top-flight league, winning accolades from the Asian Football Confederation and the Guinness Book of Records, before emotionally stepping down as Eastern coach in May this year after failing to win any silverware last season.

While hailing Chan’s success, Jepson said crossing over to the men’s game should not be an aspiring female coach’s primary objective. She says female coaches should share their knowledge within the women’s game.

“It’s important to have female coaches in women’s football because we’re so passionate about the game,” she said, adding that she had never been coached by a female in her entire playing career.

Jeremy Weeks, head coach of Premier Skills – a Premier League and British Council football-based learning initiative – agrees.

“At the moment, there are a lot of male coaches coaching the women’s teams. It would be great to see all women’s teams coached by females,” he said.

Along with enthusiastic Premier Skills and HKFA staff, Weeks guided 24 Hong Kong female coaches in the programme. “There is a prevalence of Hong Kong female players who want to move into coaching. They have the desire to become role models for players and other coaches – it’s a fantastic cycle, but there is still a lack of female coaches across Asia,” Weeks said.

One of the participants was Michelle Kwok Wing-suet, a secondary school teacher from Pok Oi Hospital Tang Pui King Memorial College. “I wanted to learn and help to improve my students – especially the girls. They seldom get the chance to enjoy football so I want to bring it back to PE classes,” she said.

Kwok identified one obstacle, though. “The boys think you’re not as skilful as them – some will look down on you. You need to prove you are prepared, as only then will they listen to your instructions,” she said.

“After I put them in goal and take a few shots, they gain respect for me,” she joked.

The 30-year-old sees Chan as an inspiration for not just football, but Hong Kong sports in general. “After Chan got her [AFC] A licence, more and more females want to follow in her footsteps after their playing careers [finish]. There’s a trend, and I will definitely participate in more coaching programmes,” said Kwok, who has a HKFA ‘D’ licence.

Weeks conceded that despite vast improvements, female coaches may still find it hard to gain respect and, at times, even get the opportunities to showcase their coaching talent.

“We try to give female coaches the confidence to deliver high quality activities to all genders, but sometimes it’s a case of trying to educate schools and organisations to give females the chance to coach.”