Michele Robinson: a coaching pioneer

On the 27th of November 2023 Michele Robinson, a pioneer for women in football coaching, visited the National Football Museum. Michele was interviewed for a research project and generously loaned her personal collection to the museum. What follows is a summary of her life experiences and contributions to coaching.

Image: Michele Robinson with the Mary Earps mural at her visit to the National Football Museum in November 2023.

Image: Michele Robinson with researcher Jodie Neville at the National Football Museum in November 2023.

Back in the eighties when Michele gained her multiple coaching awards, including her advanced badge, it was far from being the norm for women to pursue professional football coaching. She was the only female participant in attendance for her preliminary and advanced badges and was frequently told by course leaders that she was the first woman they had taught.

When Michele turned up for her preliminary course at an Easter school in Blackpool, the course organiser informed her that when he had checked the register prior to the course starting he had assumed she was a man called Michael and promptly warned that there was only one set of changing facilities and toilets. Michele was totally unfazed by this and responded in her unflappable and determined manner: “Well it’s fortunate I’m changed then … so I’m alright!”

After successfully gaining her prelim, new opportunities opened for Michele back in Leeds, where she was living and working as a teacher at the time. Michele met Colin Morris, who was head of the Leeds Football Development Scheme and started running football holiday schemes on their behalf. Colin was delighted to have a female coach on his books and promoted her successes wherever he could.

The eighties being what they were, the headlines often had misogynistic undertones. When asked about these articles, Michele struggled to identify with the person represented in some of them, saying “I wish I knew who they were on about, this person with ‘model good looks’ and ‘scoring with the boys’.”

When looking back at her annual reports in her eventual development role with the FA, however, Michele felt proud of all she had achieved.

When discussing these, which feature as part of her loaned collection, Michele said: “When we were talking it prompted me to get out all of this, because it’s been locked in cupboards for donkeys years, it was quite funny. Especially when I read the report, I thought I was actually quite intelligent. You know, I actually knew what I was on about type of thing. It was quite uplifting to read what happened.”

Image: A newspaper extract from Michele’s personal collection kindly loaned to the National Football Museum for one year.

As Michele continued to have success with her coaching this opportunity with the FA was bought to her attention by Colin, who told her she was a good enough coach and that she should go for it. One of the prerequisites for the job was to have the advanced coaching qualification, and Colin had to negotiate with Michele’s headteacher so she could have the necessary time off her teaching job to attend. This was a two-week residential, designed to test the coaches physically and theoretically, and would be Michele’s biggest coaching challenge yet.

Michele says about the lead up to the course: “I was petrified, to be honest. I was petrified of the unknown.”

Once there, however, Michele took it all in her stride. She would often have larger audiences at her assessments; when I asked her why she thought this was, Michele said: “I was the first woman to ever have been on this course and I think they wanted to make sure that I was there by right.”

Image: Michele is the only woman on the FA Advanced coaching course in 1987.

Again, in keeping with her determined nature, and although many of the other course participants recognised it was unfair for her to be subject to this extra scrutiny, Michele wasn’t going to be put off.

“For me to have to prove myself not to one person, but to three or four, I felt right, sod ya, I’m gonna prove myself to three or four.”

Once Michele had made her mind up that nothing was going to get in her way, there was no stopping her. She described her final assessment as “hilarious”, and she says “I may as well have just got the whole of the FA to watch it… I had an audience. I really had an audience.” Despite being exhausted after each day of the two-week course Michele also made a point of dressing up for dinner. She says “I did purposely take a lot of dresses… Because I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose me. I didn’t want to lose me and my identity.”

Image: Michele’s coaching badges from her personal collection, kindly loaned to the National Football Museum.

Michele was eventually commended by Charles Hughes, Director of Coaching at The FA, who acknowledged the extra scrutiny Michele would have been put under to pass the course. The application and interview for the FA Women’s Development Officer role swiftly followed and Michele was appointed to manage the Northwest, a huge area, and she worked incredibly hard to establish her own remit and embed opportunities for women’s football and coaching.

Michele sorely missed her first love of teaching, however, which was her reason for getting into football coaching originally. After everything Michele had experienced and achieved, she re-entered teaching feeling much more confident.

She said, “I could go into most situations and not really be too daunted by issues … You just thought on your feet you could do something else… nothing seemed to be big issues or I never felt that anything was gonna be a big issue anymore, which was quite nice.”

Michele was able to take her resilience back into teaching with her, where she continued to embed sport at every level and eventually incorporated it into her leadership agenda as headteacher. Michele’s role at the FA was replaced by two new development officers and a re-structuring of the FA’s regional coaching areas.

You can listen to extracts of Jodie’s interview with Michele here:

If you were a woman in football coaching before the year 2000 and would like to volunteer to be interviewed about your experiences, please email jodie.neville2@stu.mmu.ac.uk for more information.