Why Football’s Response to Emma Hayes and AFC Wimbledon Shows Sexism Still Runs Deep in Our Game

Why Football’s Response to Emma Hayes and AFC Wimbledon Shows Sexism Still Runs Deep in Our Game

Emma Hayes is a world class coach – but in no other sport would a female coach of a men’s team, or male athlete, be considered so controversial. It shows we still have work to do.

February 5th 2021

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Chelsea and their manager – and I’m not talking about Thomas Tuchel. For a lot of football fans, I’ve got no doubt this past week may have been the first time you’ve ever heard of the Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes, one of the game’s most decorated coaches, as rumours circulated linking her to the vacant manager’s job at AFC Wimbledon in League One.

The suggestion that Hayes could take charge of the team, filling the boots of ex-manager Glyn Hodges, caused a lot of controversy on the timeline. For every open-minded fan who recognised the merits of such a conversation being had, there were at least double the number of comments far more cynical and menacing in tone.

Hayes is no stranger to being linked with big jobs in management.

Phil Neville’s early departure from his role as Head Coach of the Lionesses paved the way for speculative comments in relation to Hayes taking over from the former Manchester United full-back. She quashed these rumours immediately, and nothing more was said on the matter.

And despite now twice being linked to the ever-revolving hot seat with Chelsea Men’s team, her most recent association to the Dons has highlighted how deep sexism runs in the not-so beautiful game.

Within minutes of the news breaking, the implication that a three-time Women’s Super League and two-time FA Cup winner would be progressing in her coaching career if she were appointed manager of AFC Wimbledon was expressed countless times.

“I just don’t know why anybody would think women’s football is a step down,” Hayes said earlier this week before thrashing West Ham Women 6-0 to reach another Continental Cup final. “If coaching World Cup champions and players who have represented their countries in the Olympics or Euros is a step down from anything, I think the football world needs to wake up and recognise women’s football is exactly the same sport.”

That last comment by Hayes triggered quite a lot of so-called football ‘fans’.

Women’s football is football. Yes, there are physiological differences between male and female players, but your gender doesn’t affect how to take a corner, set up a defensive line, or score a tap-in.

“Women’s football is something to celebrate, and it’s an insult to the quality and the achievements of all the females I represent that we talk about women’s football being a step-down,” Hayes went on to explain – and she’s right.

The Blues manager currently works with some of the best talent in the game, and that’s credit to her skillset as a manager.

Last season, the W-League and NWSL all-time top goal scorer Sam Kerr signed for Chelsea months before a second superstar of the game, Pernille Harder, joined her. The Danish captain and two-time UEFA Women’s Player of the Year left Wolfsburg for a record breaking transfer fee estimated to be in excess of £250,000. Hayes attracts world-class players because she is a world-class coach, making it all the more laughable a potential move to a League One side facing relegation would be deemed a promotion.

In no other sport would a female coach of a men’s team, or male athlete, be considered so controversial.

Andy Murray appointed two-time Grand Slam winner and Olympic silver medalist Amélie Mauresmo as his coach in 2014. Mel Marshall coached swimmer Adam Peaty to gold and silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Katie Sowers was the first woman to coach in a SuperBowl with the 49ers in 2019. Yet it’s unthinkable to many someone like Hayes – who’s aiming to dethrone current Champions League holders Lyon – could manage AFC Wimbledon.

It feels like there is a bit of a double-standard when it comes to management in football.

Phil Neville can waltz into one of the most high profile managerial positions in the women’s game, Head Coach of the Lionesses, with incredibly limited experience but Hayes can’t manage AFC Wimbledon after 20 years in coaching, spanning two continents?

The value not only placed on women’s football – seemingly a stepping stone to Neville on his way to the MLS – but the value placed on female coaches and managers is so disheartening, especially when we are expected to believe football is supposedly for all.

When we find ourselves in a position where Black, Asian and ethnic minorities, plus women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, are given opportunities and mentorship in football – on and off the pitch – that’ll be a step up.

Not when a female manager of one of the world’s top women’s teams chooses to coach a men’s side ranked 66th in England.