Hannah Dingley, the first woman to take charge of an English Football League club, oversaw her opening game on Wednesday as Forest Green began their pre-season campaign with a 1-1 draw against non-League Melksham Town.
Forest Green’s academy manager of four years, Dingley has stepped up on an interim basis after Duncan Ferguson’s brief reign came to an end earlier this week.
A former university lecturer, Dingley was already the only woman in charge of a men’s academy at an EFL club, and while no time-frame has been put on her interim appointment, she hopes the landmark move will inspire others.
“The important thing is role-modelling for other female coaches and young girls and growing up knowing that anything is possible if you work hard enough,” she told a busier-than-usual press conference at Oakfield Stadium.
“It’s the first and it’s great, but I don’t want to be the only. It’s slightly disappointing that, as the first female academy manager, I’m still the only one.
“If we want change to happen we need more females in these positions throughout clubs. We need more opportunities.
“This is about those players in the changing room. It’s about them getting the preparation they need for the campaign ahead, nothing should distract from that. The team are the priority. This isn’t a gimmick.”
Confessing that her appointment on Tuesday had been a “stressful day”, Dingley added: “It’s a bit embarrassing as I was sleeping and my phone started pinging. I was thinking: ‘What’s going on here?’
“But I’m grateful for all the messages of support.”
Club chair Dale Vince, who sat alongside Dingley to take questions post-match, said: “It’s a football decision that just happens to shock the world of football.
“When we made the decision we made it on merit. Hannah is the most qualified person at the club for the job. Nothing else came into the frame. We did know it would be a first – that didn’t matter.
“All of this attention tells me what a really big thing we have done. It’s not accidental, because we were conscious of it, it’s incidental. This has happened because of a football decision we made.
“Out there in the world, off the back of the coverage, girls and women will be thinking ‘are there actually any limits?’
“As Hannah says, this could break through the glass ceiling. I think it’s a great thing.”
Asked whether Dingley could do the job on a permanent basis, Vince added: “The recruitment process will take several weeks.
“If Hannah wants to put her name into the hat she’s very welcome. She’s been here four years and you could argue she’s got an inside track, but it’s going to be a very thorough process.”
Before Dingley’s appointment as caretaker, Rosi Webb – head coach of Eastern Counties League Division One North side Stanway Pegasus – was the highest-ranking female in charge of a men’s team.
Speaking to Sky Sports News, she has praised Forest Green’s decision and says it is “inspirational” for coaches involved in both the men’s and the women’s game.
She said: “It’s fantastic news and it’s really exciting for the game, not just females within the male game, but the game as a whole. It represents the forward-thinking this country has when it comes to football now, where we’re trying to create an inclusive environment for everyone.
“It’s really important that, even though the story is the first female in the male game, I think the story is much bigger than that.”