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Peckham Town more than happy to blaze a trail with Mary Phillip only female coach in English pyramid

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An hour before kick-off and Bryan Hall is busy clearing leaves from the car park. Then there’s the lines of the technical areas to paint and the goals to move into position. He’s already been up since first light mowing the pitch.

Life as a football club chairman in the eleventh tier of English football certainly isn’t one of hospitality and hobnobbing as would be found in the Premier League.

But for Hall, who was 13 when he founded Peckham Town by pinning a notice to a tree in a local park – what passed for social networking in 1982 – it’s all in a day’s work for his labour of love.

Peckham Town take on Kings Hill at the Menace Arena on Saturday in the Kent Premier

Peckham Town take on Kings Hill at the Menace Arena on Saturday in the Kent Premier 

Lionesses legend Mary Phillip manages Peckham and is the only female coach in the men's football pyramid in England

Lionesses legend Mary Phillip manages Peckham and is the only female coach in the men’s football pyramid in England 

The club represents one of the country’s most diverse areas and has never been afraid to go against the grain. Not least in 2019 when Hall appointed Mary Phillip to mange the team.

In women’s football, Phillip is a legend. The first black woman to captain England, 65 international caps and a European champion with Arsenal.

In the men’s game, she holds the distinction of being the only female coach in the English football pyramid. You certainly have to delve a long way down the leagues to find one.

Even in 2021, old-fashioned attitudes remain entwined with football. Phillip has arrived at away grounds with her team only to be told that ‘girlfriends have to pay to get in, the turnstile is round that way.’

Hall recalls: ‘I’ve heard the opposition say, “what does she f**ing know? She’s a bird.”

‘We won the game 5-0. I said “do you think she knows nothing now?”‘

Phillip addresses her players on the pitch at half-time as they took on Kings Hill on Saturday

Phillip addresses her players on the pitch at half-time as they took on Kings Hill on Saturday

Peckham are nicknamed 'The Menace' and play at the Menace Arena in south London

Peckham are nicknamed ‘The Menace’ and play at the Menace Arena in south London

You only have to look at barrage of sexist comments on Twitter when Chelsea’s Emma Hayes – the best coach in the women’s game and an outstanding TV pundit – was merely linked with the AFC Wimbledon job earlier this year.

But Peckham-born Phillip, 44, takes it all in her stride.

‘I’m not trying to recreate the wheel, it’s football. I could do it with a girls’ team and nobody would bat an eyelid,’ she said.

‘That’s what it is. It just tells you the stigma that has been there and is probably still there with women doing men’s jobs. But you see men in the women’s game and nothing is thought of it.

‘You still get the odd comment, it’s just life. The easiest target is that I’m a woman and women shouldn’t be here or girlfriends have to be somewhere else.

The entrance hut at the friendly club, where admission is just £3, attracting very good crowds

The entrance hut at the friendly club, where admission is just £3, attracting very good crowds

The team line-ups are displays on a notice board outside the Peckham Town clubhouse

The team line-ups are displays on a notice board outside the Peckham Town clubhouse 

Saturday's programme cover at Peckham

Saturday’s programme cover at Peckham

‘It’s always going to be there, you always take it on the chin and go out there and play football.

‘Emma Hayes knows her stuff and would be fantastic within the men’s game. Hope Powell knows her stuff and would be amazing.

‘It just needs somebody to be bold enough to take that chance, be open to change and willing to make it work.

‘If the person to take a club forward is female, then so be it.’

Peckham certainly keeps Phillip, who volunteers her coaching services, busy for the time being.

She held a 20-minute debrief on the pitch after Saturday’s 1-0 loss to a stubborn Kings Hill, a result that knocked their promotion chances in the Kent County League Premier.

Bear the dog watches the action from one of the stands at the Menace Arena on Saturday

Bear the dog watches the action from one of the stands at the Menace Arena on Saturday

The Menace Arena also boasts 'The World's Smallest Stand' with a capacity of only four people

The Menace Arena also boasts ‘The World’s Smallest Stand’ with a capacity of only four people

But you couldn’t escape the feeling Peckham are a club on the rise.

While the sticker in the gents’ toilets depicting the Trotter brothers and their three-wheeler with Del Boy saying ‘Don’t worry Rodney, this time next year we’ll win the FA Cup’ might have been a tad optimistic, there is certainly potential.

154 supporters, many supping £3 cans of beer from the local Brick Brewery, watched Saturday’s game – a huge crowd for this level.

Peckham have an Ultras group and such novelties as ‘The World’s Smallest Stand’ – capacity of three, or four at a squeeze.

Hall oversees 28 teams at various age groups and has branched out into basketball and cycling too.

One sticker at the ground featured Peckham's finest - Del and Rodney Trotter from Only Fools

One sticker at the ground featured Peckham’s finest – Del and Rodney Trotter from Only Fools

Phillip gets her instructions across during what proved to be a frustrating 1-0 loss for Peckham

Phillip gets her instructions across during what proved to be a frustrating 1-0 loss for Peckham

Formerly nicknamed ‘The Trotters’ for obvious reasons, Peckham acquired their ‘Menace’ monicker as a badge of honour after a team from suburban Kent described their guests from inner-city London as a ‘f**king menace’ a few years back.

Hall says it will cost £2million to bring the club’s facilities up to scratch if they want to progress up the leagues.

It jars when the ground is a short walk from private Dulwich College on a road of lavish properties that aren’t exactly Nelson Mandela House.

But Peckham don’t necessarily need promotions. With Phillip such a unique manager, they’re already blazing a trail.

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