During the 2000s, Arsenal were the pace setters for the women’s game in the UK.
The Gunners lifted nine consecutive top flight titles between 2004 and 2012 – including the quadruple in 2007 – went 108 league games undefeated between 2003 and 2009 and won 51 consecutive league matches between 2006 and 2008.
Key to their success was the way in which Arsenal treated the women’s game. Although Bend it Like Beckham would not be released for another six years when future England captain Faye White joined the club in 1996, the club was setting the bar in terms of standards and professionalism by using Highbury to do fitness work, despite not yet being professional and only training twice a week on an indoor five-aside pitch.
“We didn’t have what they have now, but we knew we were in a very fortunate position and privileged position that what we had was the best at that time,” White told 90min. “We travelled on the first team coaches to away games with Sky and microwaves and stuff like that. We knew we were looked after and Arsenal always treated the women’s game with a lot of respect.”
At the heart of the Arsenal Women’s side was Vic Akers – the men’s first team kit man who helped to found the female side, was appointed manager and would go on to win 31 major trophies in 22 years.
“He just appreciated that women should be given the right to play football and supported that in the best way he could,” White added. “He did so much for every player to support them in their individual needs, and to try and get the club to support them and the team as a collective.
“He had a big heart but he didn’t always show it often because of the standards he was trying to portray and push the game onto. We knew we were the flagship team so we were having to push the standards both on the field but also how we conducted ourselves off the field. So in terms of being professional in the way that we looked and acted but also in the way we trained and looked after ourselves.
“There’s only one Vic Akers. I was privileged for him to think I was a good enough player and to give me the armband for Arsenal.”
White won 27 major trophies during her time in north London, and like so many players at the time was part of the spine of both the Arsenal and England team.
The Gunners frequently attracted the very best talent from across the country, and when a 16-year-old Jordan Nobbs turned in a match winning performance during Sunderland’s shock 2-1 victory over Arsenal in November 2009 (just their second league defeat in six years), the club’s latest transfer target was confirmed.
“I remember playing against her first and just this young kid bossing the midfield and the energy that she had to get back and fourth and back and fourth,” White recalled. “One game we played when they beat us and she just ran the show against seasoned, experienced midfielders.
“And we were like: ‘we need her. We’ve got to go and get her.’ And we did, luckily. When she came into the team you knew she was going to be a regular international and go on to be part of the club for a long time.”
This season BT Sport is showing more Barclays FA Women’s Super League matches than ever before. Watch Arsenal v Man Utd on BT Sport 2 from 6pm on Friday 19th March.