The Saturday Movie Club: The Manageress

by | Apr 28, 2018

The first clue comes in the title. In an era during which gendered language is giving the impression of starting to die out, just the name “The Manageress” – which does at least explain concisely the conceit of the entire series – reeks of a different age. For example, in 2018 actresses are increasingly referred to as actors, and as such the word “manageress” feels almost entirely redundant, a product of an age when it felt necessary to draw a line between whether a man was doing a job or whether a woman was doing a job. This, however, ignores a particularly large elephant sitting in this particular room. In terms of the specific job that we’re talking about here, a woman would be treated completely differently to a man, and it’s certainly at the very least possible – perhaps even likely – that they they’d be treated even worse in 2018 than they would have in 1989, when this show was first broadcast.

Briefly, then, Cherie Lunghi plays Gabriella Benson, who is appointed as the manager of a struggling Second Division football club and has to overcome almost exactly what you’d think the first woman manager of a professional men’s football club would have to overcome. Written by Stan Hey, better known elsewhere for his work on Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Spender – knowing this makes it almost surprising to not see Jimmy Nail on the cast list as a tough centre-half with a heart of gold – over two series and twelve episodes it addressed the issues that the first female manager of a professional men’s football club would have had to face at the time. The craggy-faced Warren Clarke plays Martin Fisher, the club’s chairman, whilst Alan Bleasdale favourite Tom Georgeson plays Eddie Johnson, the, ahem, “traditionalist” coach who’d had eyes on the managerial position himself prior to Benson’s unexpected arrival at the club.

The world, of course, has changed a lot over the course of the last twenty-nine years, but the likelihood of a woman becoming the manager of a club at the level of the game at which The Manageress is set feels, perhaps, even further away than it did in 1989. Many of these reasons are bad, of course. That football media has exploded as a phenomenon in recent years is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there would doubtlessly be considerable support from many of us as a matter of principle. On the other, though, one can only imagine the “Real Football Men” of television punditry dissecting every tactical move through the lens of the manager concerned’s gender, or a post-match press conference meltdown being put down to “women’s problems.”

Then there’s the fact that football is worth so much more money than it was in 1989, a fact which makes club owners far more conservative in their appointments. Appointing any untried manager these days is considered a gamble, when the financial stakes are as high as they are. Appointing an untried female manager would, and we have to bear in mind that 99% of football managers ultimately fail, be considered an even greater risk. The fact that appointing any manager into any position at any time is a risk would likely be considered irrelevant by some. The truth of the matter is that women have higher hurdles to jump than equivalent men in many, many areas of life. And we haven’t even mentioned the extent to which social media allows hate to ferment and become amplified like nothing that even existed when The Manageress was first broadcast.

The reasons why this might be even less likely to happen than it was in 1989 aren’t entirely bad either, though. Would that many people in 1989 have predicted the growth of women’s football in the way that grown? Perhaps not and, despite the fact that the majority of Women’s Super League managers are men, it might even be argued that in Emma Hayes, who has managed Chelsea LFC to the WSL1 title and is currently engaged in a Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg, or Hope Powell, who took England to four European Championships and two World Cups, the growth of women’s football has given opportunities to coach and manage in an environment far removed from the bearpit that professional men’s football has always been. The past is a foreign country, but not always in the ways in which we expect it to be.