Wales

Women's Euro 2017: The Welsh boss delivering for England

Mark Sampson Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mark Sampson is the second Welsh manager in as many years to help a team into a European semi-final

He admits his GCSEs didn't go well. He acknowledges he's a failed footballer. But the man who hated his first job at a sorting office is now delivering.

Mark Sampson is one game from a major international final as England play hosts to the Netherlands in the Euro 2017 semi-final on Thursday but the journey of the Lionesses manager is unique.

Firstly he's a Welshman managing England - and 10 years ago he was a student coaching children before lectures.

But his big break was at Taffs Well FC in Rhondda Cynon Taff.

It's hardly Manchester United or the Anfield dugout but Sampson says the seeds for his current success were sewn trudging around the amateur leagues in south Wales.

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Media captionHighlights: England into semis with France win

"My first real job was in the sorting office on Penarth Road in Cardiff after I finished my GCSEs," recalled the former Radyr school student. "I didn't do well at all.

"I stayed on at school but I'm not sure my father had much faith in me doing well at A-levels - and he was right.

"So he got me earning my corn to show me what it was like in the real world. That taught me a valuable lesson about getting an education and being disciplined, it showed me how difficult it was to earn a living."

The interventions of Derek Sampson have helped shape a coach from the middle-class village of Creigiau, just north of Cardiff, who has followed up England's best World Cup finish ever, with their first last four European place for 23 years.

This was also a father who told his then 16-year-old son he wasn't good enough to be a footballer. Deep down Sampson knew that too.

"I wasn't the best player," said the former defender.

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Image caption By Royal appointment: Prince William joins Mark Sampson to watch an England training session

"My first job wasn't the one I wanted to do and I realised from a very early age that my best route was coaching and I was determined to do whatever it took."

While studying for a sports development degree at the now Cardiff Met University, he took his professional Uefa coaching qualifications and just worked and worked.

"I was working sometimes seven days a week, working anywhere who wanted me at various leisure centres and schools across south Wales to get experience working with different players," he recalled.

"When I was in university I was aware it would be difficult for me to compete with these guys getting jobs because academically they were far superior than me but I knew I had to work hard.

"I'd coach before lectures, then coach in the afternoon and then in the evening, I was living out of the backseat of my car with balls, bibs and cones as company.

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Image caption "While I was an ordinary player, I was hard-working, tenacious and determined to win and those traits have served me well in management"

"I found a way to have some money, while still playing on a Saturday and training twice a week, so I could have a nice time on the weekend.

"I learned a lot about myself as one minute I was working with eight-year-olds, then veterans followed by coaching elite players. Not just learning tactics and systems but how to manage people. That's crucial in management.

"If you want to be the best you have to put the work in and I certainly did that back in my late teens and early 20s and I'm feeling the benefit now. Looking back, that was such an important time for me."

Sampson's playing CV was more Pentyrch Rangers, Taffs Well, Bridgend Town and Cardiff Corinthians - but his players now come from Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.

The 34-year-old's development was helped by a spell at Swansea City's youth academy before Sampson took Bristol Academy into the Champions League twice and finished runners-up twice in the Women's Super League.

"While I was an ordinary player, I was hard-working, tenacious and determined to win - and those traits have served me well in management and the players respond," he said.

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Last year Chris Coleman was the Welsh manager in the European Championships finals, this year it is Sampson and he hopes even his homeland can get behind their biggest rivals.

"I'm a proud Welshman but I am proud to be the manager of the England women's team," said Sampson, whose team have already beaten superpowers Spain, Portugal and France to reach this stage.

"I understand the rivalry but whatever happens as a coach you want to be working with the best players and organisation that has a chance at winning - and we have a team that can win things.

"This team is good enough to be the best team in the world and establish themselves there - and I want to play a part in that.

"I am fully committed to England. And what I'd say to the Welsh today is, you've got to get behind the little Welsh boy from Creigiau!"

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