This weekend is the Women's Football Weekend over in England. As the men are off for the international breaks, English media and the FA decided that this is the perfect weekend to continue to promote the Women's leagues. Last season, they did that by hosting games at the Men's stadiums - Liverpool playing the Merseyside derby at Anfield.
This year, of course, has the pandemic to contend with, and so those plans have gone by the wayside. The Women's teams are still playing, of course, and the matches will be shown across other platforms. Liverpool FC Women's match against Blackburn will be on LFCTVGo, free for everyone to watch.
In celebration of that, I've written another short chapter in the Del Cooper story. It's the eve of her first match, and something was weighing on her that she didn't know about until it was gone.
Del was alone.
This wasn’t new, or unexpected. As close as she and Coach Henderson were, she preferred this time alone, these moments before the big one.
The first match of the season was in 14 hours, give or take. A late kick off, under the lights and the setting sun, so she had put the squad through late day training almost every day leading up to it. She even had thought she’d made inroads with the players, loosening them up around her, slowly gaining their trust, their confidence. Fitz was still a hard shell to crack, but the others were warming to her. She was 90% sure that the Brazilians had a joke at her expense in Portuguese but considering her Portuguese was, well, poor, she rolled with it.
Now, she sat in her cavernous office, still only with the standard furnishings of any manager’s office - devoid of personal touches - alone with her thoughts.
She knew she could go home. No one was keeping her here, she was simply sitting in her chair, watching out the window that overlooked the practice pitches. She was still in her practice gear, joggers and a tee, although she’d pulled her shoes off as she curled her feet up on the chair with her, her knees against her torso.
She had the potential formations laid out in front of her, the preliminary lineups written down. Opposition tactics, strengths and weaknesses, scattered across her desk. She had even finished her first Manager’s Notes column for the program, the finished product there on her desk too. Her first chance to speak directly to the fans, outside of press engagements.
And she knew there would be plenty of those tomorrow, in the morning, as the first female manager of a Premier League club took to the pitch for her first match at the highest level.
If this were the sixties, or the forties, or some other bygone and misogynistic decade, she knew that the man sitting in her chair would pull out a decanter and a glass. Pouring himself a drink and maybe ruminating on the same thoughts - but the only woman would be outside, typing away on a typewriter.
Del didn’t have any drinks and she regretted not asking for it when the club had asked for her input into the office.
Instead she got up, took a bottle of water from a mini fridge, and gathered her papers and tablet, moving to the couch instead.
One more go over, just to make sure.
That one more would surely turn into more, but right now, it was just one.
One more chance to second guess herself, maybe, but also one more chance to get it right.
This would’ve been the perfect time for a drink, she muttered, hands shifting through the files - redlined already.
She may have changed the lineup a hundred times when there was a knock at the door.
She expected it to be Henderson, striding in to say goodnight, to go home and get some sleep, tomorrow’s a big day, to let him know if she needed anything in the morning.
Instead, it was Fitz whose head went around the door as it opened, before walking in. Del looked up and furrowed her brows in surprise at first. “Fitz! What a - what a surprise, come sit,” she said, waving him in as he shut the door behind him quietly.
“I wanted to see how you were feeling. About tomorrow.” The midfielder cut to the chase quickly, sitting on the chair diagonal to the couch, glancing over the papers and then at her. Del looked at him again, tilting her head a minute as she tried to figure it out. Figure him out. Though the statement was to the point, it was the most she’d gotten from him in weeks.
“Me? I’m fine. First match of the season, just peachy.”
Fitz stared at her, and she stared back, challenging him. She raised an eyebrow and he glanced at the table.
“Well, I just wanted to check. And let you know I’m on your side.”
It was a little bit of a punch in the gut, to hear from the captain, who had only come out with the typical platitudes given to him by the publicists for the club - “Our new manager is great and I trust that she knows what she’s doing” etc, etc. He had never said as much to her, personally, and it had been fine in the moment. This felt different, though. This weighed differently between them, settling on the table with her papers and her tablet and bottle of water.
“Are you?” Del finally asked and it was Fitz’s turn to look caught off-guard. He paused, opening his mouth and then closing it as he decided what to say.
“You’re the manager, what you say goes. I imagine it hasn’t been easy to get to this point, nor will it get any easier, so I wanted you to know that I trust you. We’ve had men managing clubs since football began, a change might do us some good. I’m on your side. Today, tomorrow, however long.”
She opened her own mouth to interject - to say that she wasn’t the first female manager ever, that there were plenty others - but thought better of it. When she looked at him, really looked at him, he didn’t seem unsure. He was steadfast as always, no hint of nerves or anxiety. That he was confident in his words, that challenging look as if daring him to say that he was wrong. That he shouldn’t trust her, that she didn’t know what she was doing or how she got there.
Del knew. She knew the work she had put into getting to this position, the hours and the lost sleep and the fights. The blood, sweat, and tears. Burns, wins, losses.
“Thank you, Fitz.” She said after a moment and he nodded, a punctuation mark on the conversation.
“Burnley’s tough, but we’ve got them. You handle the touchline, I’ll handle the rest. Partner.” Fitz held out his hand and Del finally smiled, taking it and giving it a firm shake.
The cloud of uncertainty that he had brought with him dissipated, and she looked at the lineups, knowing what she had to do.
“Now go on, captain needs his rest.” She joked lightly and he rose, giving her a wave and leaving the office just as quietly as he’d entered.
Del gathered her files together, packed them into her backpack, took one more moment to look at the practice pitches — sprinklers were on now — and turned off the lights, heading home.