Advertisement

‘We have something Manchester United never will – history’: Tottenham Women’s remarkable rise

Tottenham Hotspur Women celebrate their FA Cup semi-final victory

Before she takes up her seat in Wembley’s Royal Box on Sunday, Val Weaver will make a trip to Edmonton Cemetery to visit her late brother Glenn, the man described as the “heart” of Tottenham’s women’s team.

“We’ll have a few words,” says Weaver of her brother, who helped voluntarily run the club for more than 20 years before his death in 2015 and had been chairman since 2000. “Everything I have done has been with him in mind, because it’s his legacy.”

Tottenham’s humble beginnings and the efforts of the many volunteers who nurtured it until the men’s club took over in 2019 will make Sunday’s Women’s FA Cup final – the first in their history – extra special for those who remember the days when Tottenham were a grass-roots team in the Greater London leagues. Volunteers like Weaver and June Clarke, who ran the club after Glenn died. Clarke, whose involvement began when her daughter was playing for the under-11s under Glenn’s coaching in the late 1990s, tells Telegraph Sport: “We were like The Borrowers – we used to scrimp and save. Now to see what the girls get is just phenomenal. They’ve got their own facilities, we would’ve killed for that.”

Weaver, who went part-time in her day job for six months after her brother’s death to give the club “a little push”, adds: “We’ve got something Manchester United will never have and that’s history.” She is referring to the fact that Sunday’s final opponents Manchester United joined the second tier via a licence application process, after 13 years without a senior women’s team, in contrast to Tottenham’s journey up the pyramid via promotions.

Tottenham’s executive director Donna-Maria Cullen says: “I remember at Glenn’s funeral, Val came up to me and said, ‘Donna, we have to keep Spurs Ladies going, it cannot stop.’ It’s been completely organic growth, and we’ve done it the hard way as opposed to the easy way.”

The journey began 49 years ago when two friends, Kay Brough and Sue Sharples, co-founded Broxbourne Ladies after their old team East Herts College folded. Now sitting in Cullen’s office at Lilywhite House, adjacent to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Brough says: “I’m not quite sure which one of us came up with the bright idea of ‘Let’s form our own team’, but it wasn’t easy because, back then, local authorities didn’t really want women playing on their pitches.

‘We had two footballs, a plastic bucket, a sponge and nine players’

“In the first game that we played, we had a set of shirts, two footballs, a plastic bucket and a sponge, and nine players, for an 11-a-side game. We couldn’t quite manage to get 11 together for that first game. We started off in the Greater London leagues, division four out of four, and managed to get promotion. I was quite proud of that.”

In 1991 – and with the help of former club secretary Peter Barnes – Brough and Sharples received permission to change the team’s name to Tottenham Hotspur Ladies. Brough, whose roles included everything from washing kit to booking pitches, from organising social events to ensuring people turned up on time, adds: “In the beginning it was difficult but I’m glad we persevered. We put the seeds in and now they’ve bloomed.”

Jesus Perez, Valerie Weaver, Mauricio Pochettino and June Clark
Val Weaver, second left, and June Clark, photographed with Mauricio Pochettino and Jesus Perez, kept Glenn's vision alive after his death

Much of the stem began to grow under the tenure of co-head coaches Karen Hills and Juan Amoros, who were at the club from 2007 and 2011 respectively until 2020. They oversaw a rise from the amateur levels of the fifth tier all the way to the Women’s Super League. Hills, who now manages Women’s Championship side Charlton, used to drive the Tottenham minibus to matches.

“When we were looking at coaches at the time of Glenn’s passing, Karen was at the [Tottenham Hotspur] Foundation and she really put her hand up and said, ‘I’d love to do it’,” says Cullen. “Later we added Juan into the mix and they were a great combination.”

Amoros, who is now managing American NWSL side Gotham FC, recalls: “When I got the opportunity for an interview for a club like Spurs. I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Tottenham, it’s a massive club in the world of football’, and then when I got there, it was really grass roots, but I didn’t care because it was Tottenham.

“We knew it was going to be a long path. Glenn was the heart and Karen was the engine, running the first team and the academy. Every day of our lives was dedicated to Spurs Ladies in different aspects. Karen was one of the main reasons why Spurs is where it is now. I loved working with her.

“Glenn was a die-hard Spurs fan, he would take me with his season ticket to watch Spurs games with his nephew and get fish and chips, and I fell in love with Tottenham because of him. He was contagious. If we could choose someone to watch this FA Cup final with, everyone would choose Glenn. It was probably the dream of his whole life.”

Glenn Weaver had taken over the side after meeting everybody at a fund-raiser following Sharples’s passing in 1994. Val Weaver adds: “He had this ability to meet someone and then the next thing they knew they were doing a job for him. He was the most generous, kind and compassionate person. He would have given you his last penny.

“His love affair was Tottenham Ladies. He was totally and utterly devoted to it. He was pushing and pushing and when he passed away in 2015, June [Clarke] and I got together and said: ‘We really need to knock on doors and push things through the main club.’ To eventually get into the WSL was unbelievable.”

At one point, Weaver and Clarke were overseeing a club with more than 150 women’s and girls’ players at different age groups, but in 2019, as the rigours of top-flight football arrived, it was time for the men’s club to take over. Cullen says: “I remember saying, ‘I know it’s your baby, but…’ I knew in my heart that they loved the club so much that they would want to take the next correct step for it.”

Around four years later, Andy Rogers was appointed as managing director of the women’s team and he oversaw the appointment of Robert Vilahamn as head coach last summer. Carried out at a similar time to the process that saw Ange Postecoglou take over the men’s team, Rogers says they targeted a coach with a distinct style of play.

“Women’s or men’s, we go through the same thing,” Rogers says of the recruitment process. “There are some really significant similarities when you watch all our sides, the intensity that we play at, the high press, etc etc. There’s an element of risk to how we play but we want to be the most exciting team on the planet.

“[After finishing ninth last season] we wanted to change the narrative on the women’s team. The passion we have for this is relentless, there’s an obsession. Being in an FA Cup final is huge for the football club, it’s a moment, and we want to have more of these moments.”

Cullen, who has been on Tottenham’s board since 2006, believes the women’s team’s training facilities now being on the same site as the men’s have made a key difference. She adds: “That’s also allowed us to bring across some of the knowledge of expertise in the men’s set-up and some staff have gone across, sports science and nutrition, the fitness. We’ve put in a planning application for a women and girls’ academy [to be built] next door, which will enable us to put everything on one site and really drive girls’ and women’s football.”

In the more immediate term, the focus is on Sunday’s showdown at a sold-out Wembley. They reached their first major cup final thanks to a 2-1 comeback win in extra time over Leicester City.

Co-founder Brough, who still works at the club in the ticketing and tours contact services team, says: “When the final whistle went, I just went into floods of tears. It means so much.”

Amoros, who will be getting up at 6.30am to watch the final from San Diego, where his Gotham side face San Diego Wave later on Sunday, adds: “We had a crazy vision. It looked impossible that we could compete against Arsenal or Man City or Chelsea, and [now] they’re in an FA Cup final. We always had that dream.”

Weaver, clutching a folder of old memories from the club’s history, sums it up as she adds:

“I’ve not stopped smiling. The last couple of weeks have been really emotional. I keep pinching myself. Next the dream is getting on a plane to watch them in the Champions League.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.