A passion for the women’s game with Wayne Phillips

Jonathan Tomlinson



The sign of a good coach is often two things: how dirty their boots are at the end of a training session and how well acclimatised they are to the rain. For grassroots coaches across the country, rain and mud merely have an effect anymore, it’s all just part of the process.

A wet Sunday at Weaver Fields in Bethnal Green isn't too far from the ideal Sunday, according to football coach Wayne Phillips, as he circles the perimeter of the cones, attentively studying each player as they joyfully run about the grass performing their warm-up drill. The sun peeks out from under the gloomy clouds that dominate the vast London sky and the rain makes the ground more marshy than it was before. “It’s all part of the process,” he says, “this drill, in particular, is one that teaches the players about awareness, you know, looking around and making sure that they always have their eyes on the opposition.”

Wayne has always placed a high value on football throughout his life. He tells me that he has been playing football since he was a little boy and that much of his childhood was spent playing competitively. “I was very fortunate to represent my county after having represented my school and my borough in East London.” With clear talent at his feet, he was picked up by Leyton Orient and played there for two years until he went to Gillingham and eventually played semi-professional for a couple of years after.

But as many people in the footballing industry learn as they mature, it’s difficult to make it professionally and to earn enough money for it to be passable as a career. “You get to an age where you just start getting into work, you’re not so young anymore and you need to make some money. I went into banking and it feels like I’ve been in the industry forever,” he explains.

Getting lost in the daily grind is a story that is often all too apparent. For a high percentage of people who dream of playing football when they’re young, there’s a chance they will never find a career in the game later on in life. 

For Wayne, that wasn’t an option, he still felt the passion to be out on the pitch doing what he desires. “I feel like I never really reached my potential as a footballer, in fact I know I didn’t. For years I’d say that to a degree I was lost because football was my life,” he says, “I’d say there was a piece of me that was unfulfilled as a young child, you truly dream of being a pro and playing in front of packed out stadiums and everything else that comes with it and I never got there, knowing that I could of and knowing everybody around me was expecting me to.

“For years I didn’t want to speak about it because it hurt too much. How could I give back and fill that void? To make sure that if I see anybody else with half, just as much or even double the talent I did, how can I make sure they don’t waste it? The coaching side of things is to give back to make sure at the very minimum people enjoy the game and develop.”

The support from the important women in his life – his wife and daughter – was the catalyst for Wayne fulfilling his passion and getting into coaching. Working mainly within women’s football and wanting to progress the game further, Wayne eventually set out on his dream after leaving his job in banking. “I was raised by women, my mother, my grandmother, my sister. My wife enables me to do a lot of the things I do in the football space, so for me, it’s just a natural progression to be in this space.

“I want to help and just feel like any way that I can share my experiences and my knowledge base to help the women’s game grow, that’s what I want to do and that’s what I’m going to do. Luckily enough I’ve been given the chance to do so and these great teams have trusted me with their time and their space and I just want to honour it.”

With the positivity Wayne instils in the women’s game, we talk about representation and how the problem with football is the lack of representation at the top. “People have more access to football, however, the further we go up the chain, for the lack of a better word, the gatekeepers remain the same.” 

In the past year and since the women’s EURO, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in women on our screens, both on the pitch and talking about football from the sidelines. But women who are passionate about the game need to be accepted into making decisions from the top and Wayne believes this is key to making a noticeable positive change in the game. 

For the people like Wayne and for every person that turns up to training, manages teams, volunteers, or is partly responsible for the wider growth in the women's game, you are the unsung heroes.


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