Aylesbury-born footballer shares memories of the 1971 Women's World Cup

Gill Sayell
Gill Sayell

At the weekend, Aylesbury born footballer Ellen White scored for England in their first match of this year's Women's World Cup as they beat Scotland 2-1.

Ellen, 30, who grew up in Fairford Leys and attended The Grange School is not the first woman from Aylesbury to compete at a Women’s World Cup.

In 1971, Gill Sayell, then aged 14, who was born and bred in the town, was part of the England squad who competed in the tournament in Mexico.

England's presence at the tournament was not sanctioned by the Football Association but led by manager Harry Batt the squad ignored the restriction and played.

England lost 4-1 to Argentina and 4-0 to Mexico in the group stage, before participating in the fifth place play-off which they lost 3-2 to France.

Speaking to the Herald from her home in Milton Keynes Gill, who played as a wide midfielder within the squad said: “It was thanks to our manager Harry Batt that we sent a team.

“The FA were not organised and did not help us at all but Harry made arrangements so we could go.”

Gill was playing at the time for Thame Ladies in Oxfordshire, but at 14 was not the youngest member of the England squad as Leah Caleb travelled at the age of 13.

Looking back at the tournament, Gill said: “We were not ready for such an enormous occasion - we were used to playing on municipal pitches not in big stadiums in front of crowds of 90,000 people.

“The matches themselves are a bit of a blur in my mind - I wish I could remember more.

“Mexican television showed all the games but none of the tournament was shown in England.”

Once the squad returned, the Football Association banned all the players in the England squad for three months.

Gill said: “It was a really disappointing and unnecessary decision and if the FA had embraced us rather than punished us the women’s game would have developed faster and we would have been further forward much earlier.”

Gill is travelling to Le Havre in France later this week to watch the Lionesses second group game of the World Cup against Argentina - opponents the squad played back in 1971.

She will go to the match alongside Leah Caleb and another footballing friend having managed to obtain tickets - she received no help from the FA with this.

After her international career and subsequent brief domestic ban, Gill went on to play for Arsenal Ladies for several years following the club’s formation in 1987.

She was forced to retire from the game at the age of 36 with cruciate ligament damage but went on to coach Arsenal's reserve ladies team for a year.

After this she worked for the Irish FA where she coached at the Soccer Sisters footballing school.

Gill's early footballing career is similar to some of the current England squad in that for her first local team she had to play disguised as a boy.

She said: "All I wanted to do as a youngster was play football but there were no girls teams at the time - I played disguised as a lad called Billy.

"I have some memories of playing football as a child - I can remember playing some games for Bedgrove Dynamos and then being scouted at the age of 12 while playing for Thame Ladies in a charity game."

Gill's father Bob Sayell was a well-known local football figure in Aylesbury, helping to establish the Aylesbury United ladies team in the mid-Seventies.

Gill added: “I am very proud to see a fellow Aylesbury girl in Ellen White being a key part of the England squad.

“I wish we had the opportunity and the profile the current squad are fortunate to enjoy but I am pleased to see them doing well and hopefully they can bring the World Cup home.”