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Keith Boanas Q&A

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Steve Wilson | 10:51 UK time, Friday, 16 October 2009

Whilst English football is flooded with coaches imported from around the globe, there are precious few English coaches making their living beyond the shores of our green and pleasant island.

Off the top of my head I can only think of a handful: Bryan Robson has recently replaced Peter Reid as the national coach of Thailand, whilst Bob Houghton is in charge of India, Steve McClaren is at the helm of Twente Enschede in the Netherlands and Stuart Baxter is in the dug-out for Finland.

Then there is Keith Boanas, national coach of Estonia's women's team.

Keith BoanasKeith Boanas - the national coach of Estonia's women's team

I first met Keith back in 2003 when he was manager of the Charlton Ladies side and I was covering the FA Women's Cup final for BBC TV.

I covered the final for eight consecutive seasons and Charlton appeared in three of them, winning at the third attempt against Everton.

Back in 2003, Fulham Ladies were professional, Arsenal Ladies were backed handsomely by David Dein, the then vice-chairman of the club, and Charlton Athletic were giving their support to their successful women's side.

It seemed possible that women's football was about to take off just as it had in the USA.

Six years on and it hasn't happened.

After the England women's team reached the final of Euro 2009, and the FA's promises of backing for a so-called Super League; I wonder if this time any real progress will be made.

Having seen the highs and lows, Keith seemed to be a good guy to ask. After all he had run around The Valley with the FA Women's Cup to a standing ovation and two years later had seen his job disappear when Charlton's men's team were relegated out of the Premier League.

He has been assistant director of the David Beckham academy in Greenwich, taken charge of the Millwall Lionesses and earlier this year became coach to Estonia's national women's team.

So I emailed him a Q&A this week to see how he is getting on as a male coach in the women's game in a new country.

Q: How did you feel about Charlton Athletic pulling their support for the successful ladies team to save money after the men's team were relegated?

A: Absolutely gutted! At first the club seemed open to ideas on how to keep the team going, but then they told me the whole programme was going to be cut.

Telling the players and the parents of the centre of excellence kids was incredibly difficult. They actually staged a demonstration at the training ground in protest. To be honest I felt badly let down by the people I had trusted at the club.

After a while the team was taken over by the community trust and they asked me to interview for the job I had done for the last eight years. I said no.

Q: What did you think of the performance of the England women's team at the recent European Championships?

A: I was in Finland watching the tournament; especially Iceland and France who are in our World Cup qualifying group.

I went to watch England's opening game against Italy (England lost 2-1) and it was an unmitigated disaster. Then the players showed great character to reach the final against Germany.

They put in a really solid performance to win the semi-final so I couldn't understand why Hope (Powell) changed the team for the final. I thought she picked the wrong team, and they were beaten far too easily given the talent in the squad.

EnglandEngland applaud their victorious German opponents

I have a lot of respect for Hope and the team has progressed; but no more than you would expect given the support and resources she has been given.

Q: If the England women's team played in men's league football, what level do you think they could compete at?

A: Really this is a silly question as it will never happen - and nor should it. It is a completely different game to men's football.

Even from a technical point of view it's difficult as the level of technique is less the lower down the men's leagues you go. If I had to say I would reckon at just below Conference level.

Q: How does the standard compare in Estonia?

A: We are ranked 78 in FIFA's rankings and there are only 500 registered female players in the whole country. There are only about 30 players who are good enough to consider for the national team.

There are a few who could play in the English league but we have to try to convince young Estonian girls that it's OK to play football.

Q: Do you think a professional women's league will ever take off in England?

A: I really hope so for the sake of all the people who work so hard in the women's game.

Of course it is not as fast or physical as the men's game, but that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed. I would rather watch a good women's game than a lot of the sport that gets on TV. The concept of a professional summer league is great.

In Estonia if a men's side want to play in a licensed competition they must facilitate a women's team too. That means that no Estonian female player has to pay to play.

At my last club in England, the Millwall Lionesses, it cost each girl around £350 per season just to play.

Q: Would the women's game benefit from being played on smaller pitches with smaller goals?

A: NO! Look at the Americans, Germans and Swedes. It's all about improving the quality with really good coaching from a young age.

Q: What's it like being the only man in a dressing room full of women?

A: It almost never happens as most of my assistants are male and obviously you keep out when the players are changing and showering.

The banter is really the same as in a men's dressing-room. They are footballers and if you treat them with respect they will respond in the same way. They do not stand in front of the mirror swapping tips on make-up.

Q: Who is the best female player you have ever worked with?

Casey Stoney

A: For sheer dedication and loyalty it would have to be Casey Stoney. She has worked so hard to become as good as she is.

Having said that I am getting married next year to Pauline Cope who was the best goalkeeper in Britain and one of the top 10 keepers in the world - I'd better say her too!

Q: And the best male player?

A: That would be Leroy Lita who is now at Middlesbrough. He was at Margate when I was the director of their centre of excellence.

When I was manager of Tooting and Mitcham we had a kid called Alex O'Brien who was like a non-league Roy Keane. He ended up being in Dream Team on TV.

Q: What is David Beckham really like?

A: He is a really unassuming guy. Whenever he visited the academy in London he just wanted to spend time with the kids even when his people were trying to hurry him along.

I was lucky enough to see him with his own kids too. They obviously idolise him and he is like any loving Dad. He adores football and I am really proud to have worked at his academy.

Q: What is the toughest thing about being based so far from home?

A: Missing my family and Pauline. She has been out to take come coaching clinics with goalkeepers here, and of course there is a wedding to plan!

Q: Would you like your Estonian national team to play against England?

A: I asked Hope for a game in the summer, but their schedule was too tight. I will ask again, even if it is for one of the younger age groups. It would be a fantastic experience for our girls, though we would almost certainly be beaten.

Q: What's your next game in charge?

A: We play France in Le Havre on 27 October in a World Cup qualifier. We are working on our defence!

Q: Tell us three things we probably didn't know about Estonia.

A:1 - They invented Skype.

2 - Mart Poom is Estonian and coaches the national team's keepers as well as at Arsenal.

3 - In the summer daylight lasts way beyond midnight. The resort of Parnu with its white sand beaches is the place to be!


  • Comment number 1.

    Q: If the England women's team played in men's league football, what level do you think they could compete at?

    A: Really this is a silly question

    I have to agree!!!!

  • Comment number 2.

    to LABSAB9

    Silly or not it is the question I was most often asked when I covered women's football - so thought it worthy of inclusion. Obviously you know better so good for you.

  • Comment number 3.

    I would guest one of the failures of coaching development in England In both the men's and women's game is the failure of the FA to in force and develop coaching standards.

    In such in the latest When Saturday comes article "Stunted growth" (Nov 2009) the writer Chris Green noted that "England has far fewer qualified coaches than any comparable footballing nation. By 2012, the FA predicts that just 40 more Englishmen will obtain the top qualification, the UEFA Pro Licence, bringing out total to just under 150 (Spain has 2,140).

    He late notes that Spain has 12,720 UEFA A licences holders we have 895. You must remember that the population of Spain is 40,525,002 (CIA world fact book) compared to 51,710,301 for England (ONS).

    In such one of the reasons that England is not exporting enough managers and coaches abroad is that there barley enough qualified coaches for all the english clubs let alone for them to go off to the rest of the world.

    In such what is the cause of this ? Is it that what Davies notes as the "Unsubtle approach is a deep rooted English distrust of anything that smacks of academia."

    Is football in England and some ways in the whole of the UK intellectually bankrupt and lead by men with no vision for the future?

  • Comment number 4.

    Haha! Great response Steve!

  • Comment number 5.

    Is it the lack of educational backgrounds of a lot of the coaches and players compared to continental coaches and players and many of coaches coming into the premier league have other backgrounds.

  • Comment number 6.

    One reason I think woman's football is difficult to get going in this part of the world is probably the amount of top class football we watch here, television is absoloutly saturated with it... there's maybe only two days a week throughout most of the year where you can't watch a high quality Premier league, Spanish League or Champions League game. Then every two summer's there's always the Euro or World Cup. Where can woman's football find a slot to be shown and regularly and reliantly in order for it to build up a fan base. I would say there are very few woman football supporters who would choose to watch a woman's league game over any such games if given the choice.

    It's a shame but it's not something that's going to change quickly.

  • Comment number 7.

    That's it, I'm going to book a holiday to Estonia next summer!

  • Comment number 8.

    Obviously you know better so good for you


    what a petulant little response!

  • Comment number 9.

    Steve, do you know roughly how much funding the FA gives the England Ladies international side per year?

    I presume it must be "making a loss" in comparison to whatever it receives in from shirt sales, sponsorship and TV revenue?

  • Comment number 10.

    Personally I don't think it was a stupid question... it's one I would have liked to have seen asked (and it was, so kudus Steve) it's only a stupid question to Boanas who no doubt has been asked that very thing on countless occasions. The rest of us, who frankly don't watch a lot (if any) woman's football would be interested to know.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hey, 'signori'. Put the whole thing into context and perspective rather than pulling out the one little bit.

    Steve Wilson states that the question he raised was the one MOST ASKED and therefore considered it worthy of inclusion. Yet some little moron decided it wasn't.

    So the response was what the comment deserved - short, sharp, shrift!

  • Comment number 12.

    From the womens football I've seen, some of the players and teams would be able to compete well in the football league, technically at least. I think it's hard to compare the two as mens football is becoming increasingly about the physical aspect of the game.

  • Comment number 13.

    When will the FA give what's due to the womens game?

    They banned women from playing at the same grounds as men for decades, purely because they started to get comparable crowds to the men.

    They continue to plough many £m into 'grass roots' football when there is no real need, any half talented boy will get snapped up by a professional club as early as possible in todays money orientated game.

    They promised a pro league and where has the sport moved now?

    All excess monies the FA has, including giant bonuses paid to its executives for signing an already done deal with Sky and the big wedge it gets from Sport England, should go straight to the womens game.

    With its fair share from the pot of gold football has, many more girls would become interested in playing the game and less would stop if they didn't have to pay expenses, add some good coaches and we'd soon have a league the envy of all outside the USA.

    Maybe even take on the rule Estonia has, "In Estonia if a men's side want to play in a licensed competition they must facilitate a women's team too. That means that no Estonian female player has to pay to play."

    This last idea points directly at Charlton Athletic, who rather than sell one overpaid PL failure whose £20,000+ per week would pay for most of the womens game in England, decided to get rid of their womens team instead (that helped their push back to the top, didn't it ;) ), alienating a large chunk of their local community in the process.

  • Comment number 14.

    Q: Tell us three things we probably didn't know about Estonia.

    A:1 - They invented Skype.

    Really? i've done a case study about Ebay taking over Skype in Business Studies.

  • Comment number 15.

    I love how the article appears to have nothing to do with the title. Before I am shot down by the author, like the first person who commented, I am a female who plays football. So yeah, I do know.
    There's this stigma around women's football and people agreeing to sink to as low a 'reporting' standard as what level is it compared to men's isn't helping. It is a completely different game. It's still young and is still developing, but this development is going to grind to a complete halt if it's not given the recognition and support it deserves by the relevant football associations. There's certainly no problem with local teams setting up and encouraging females to play football from an early age. Even at schools now, girls are encouraged to play football as the schools and teachers can give the girls the advice, coaching and support they need. It's what comes after that where the problem lies.
    How about an article to raise awareness about that rather than asking someone if they stay in the changing rooms when the players are having a shower or not?

  • Comment number 16.

    i was coached to be a coach by keith,he's a pure professional,fair,strict,and he definately knows the game...he deserves the best and i wish him all the luck in estonia..i just wish he was still here!

  • Comment number 17.

    I always used to feel a warm glow of pride whenever I saw how well the Charlton ladies team used to do - it was one of the things that made us as a club stand out.

    It was a disgrace when they ended it because of the relegation in 2007. Although to be fair between 2006 and 2009 the way the entire club was run was a complete shambles.

    Dr Marlowe makes a good point - putting women's games regularly on TV would not pull in the audiences given that there is so much of the men's game to see. It is difficult to see how the women's game can progress without it though.

  • Comment number 18.

    Steve - I have to say I sometimes find you somewhat arrogant and childlike in your responses on here. Whether or not it was a silly question is a matter of debate, however labsab9 was only agreeing with what Boanas had said, I am therefore left wondering if you responded to him in the same tone "you know better so good for you!" I think probably not as you, I hope would atleast acknowledge it is rude!

    It's actually not a bad blog however, not that you probably care what your readers think!

    As someone who has played a decent standard, and been lucky enough to coach girls teams in the states, I would say that it is very difficult to compare mens and womens football.

    I'll try and explain why- at very young kids level there is little to choose and often the good girls are on a par with many boys. However due to some social conditioning issues growing up boys then often spend longer playing football than girls. Meaning they often advance quicker. However the really good girls are still competitive with the boys. The main gap occurs as the physical differences occur- as is true of even non contact sports - even those where women have a strong established pro games- tennis, athletics, swimming, etc.

    The question is "silly" in the sense that it is a contact sport a d as a result skill levels (which I accept some of the female players have in abundance) is only part of the game and in the mens game at almost any level, in any country, the physical battle is often the most important. I am 6ft and when playing in the dr martens league weighed about 14stone. I'd come home every week with swollen ankles, bust lips, etc and despite the fact I like to think I can play a bit- the actual time you spend on the ball is tiny in comparison to how many headers, tacked and general dirty physical work you are doing "the physical stuff". And this is where it is difficult to compete- not only as a female - but as a 28 year old 14 stone 6ft man- and if you lose the physical battle you get even less time on the ball (as I have found as I've got fatter and older). This is why, whilst the womens game is great (and I hope my daughters play) it should always be treated as a different game - as unless you have a team of women with the physique of grace jones or Jane couch, (both who incidentally would outmuscle me with ease I am sure - but probably not the didier drogbas of this world, then they can't compete.

    And from my experience even the top women just would get out muscled -
    - and therefore not get enough of the ball- all the way down to probably county league level and even a few divisions below... Even if (and this is debatable) the girls are technically better/as good/comparable.

  • Comment number 19.


    good entry, says it all & very interesting

  • Comment number 20.

    2. At 1:38pm on 16 Oct 2009, Steve Wilson - Match of the Day wrote:
    to LABSAB9

    Silly or not it is the question I was most often asked when I covered women's football - so thought it worthy of inclusion. Obviously you know better so good for you.

    Ooooh check you out Steve!!!! I was merely agreeing with the response you received from Keith Boanas it was not a personal attack on your interview technique or on you.

    Thanks for your support aswell boomshakalak i have a feeling he did not respond to Keith Boanas as he has to me. Oh well i won't let it ruin my day!!!

  • Comment number 21.

    Call me old fashioned, but I just can't get into women's football. To me something just doesnt ring true. Perhaps its the fact that it is slow, boring, and my 6 month year old son can kick a goal kick further than Englands number one.


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