Shelley Kerr: Ex-Arsenal Ladies boss on motherhood and football

By Jessica CreightonBBC Sport
Shelley Kerr talks about her family life, and the future.

Few jobs in British women's football come with more prestige than managing Arsenal Ladies. For a decade, the Gunners set the benchmark for the domestic game, winning the league nine times in 10 years.

When Shelley Kerr took up the role in February last year, she described it as "an honour". But only 16 months later, having won three trophies, she walked away midway through the season.

Kerr has been involved in football for most of her 44 years - first as a Scotland defender, earning 59 caps, then as a coach. Her meticulous attention to detail meant, for most of her time in the game, little else came before it. Even daughter Christie.

"Since Christie was walking, I've devoted all my time to football and maybe she's taken a back seat, which isn't nice," Kerr says at her home in Scotland.

"On reflection I could have been there for her a lot more, which is probably a big fault of mine."

Kerr now has more time to spend with 17-year-old Christie. She describes them as "best mates" and their bond is clear as they challenge each other to a keepy-up contest in the garden. "You don't want to be shown up by your 44-year-old mother on camera, do ya?" teases Kerr.

"If I was to change things, I'd try to be there more for Christie as a parent," she adds, balancing a football on her instep.

"She's not neglected me," says Christie. "I've got a supportive family so if my mum was ever away I'd stay with my gran and granddad, or my dad.

Highlights: Arsenal Ladies beat Everton to win FA Women's Cup

"It's sometimes hard not being able to see her, but I think it's awesome having a mum that coaches. I grew up watching some of the best players in Scotland - and when she was at Arsenal I got to see some of my heroes, like Kelly Smith."

Kerr's house is perfectly positioned in the picturesque surroundings of West Lothian. Her garden overlooks leafy fields and the famous Five Sisters mountains that remind you of a postcard. She has lived in these parts all her life, and knows everyone on her street. Her parents live just a few doors down.

Compared to the nondescript city flat in which Kerr lived during her time at Arsenal, often working from eight o'clock in the morning until past midnight, it is perhaps clear why she might have been tempted to put personal before professional. Especially when the professional did not play out as planned.

Despite the two FA Cups and Continental Cup she won, Arsenal are bottom of the Women's Super League without a win - a sight not seen in more than a decade. They also failed to qualify for next season's Champions League, were beaten by second-tier side Reading in a cup game and saw a handful of instrumental players, including England captain Steph Houghton, leave.

Shelley Kerr factfile
Date of birth15 October 1969 (age 44)
BornBroxburn, West Lothian, Scotland
International appearances (goals)59 (3)
Teams managedKilmarnock Ladies, Hibernian Ladies, Spartans Women, Scotland Women Under-19, Arsenal Ladies

"I didn't see the job as a pressure. I left because it was the right thing for me. It had nothing to do with the team winning trophies," insists Kerr.

Did she have a problem with the players that left? "Absolutely not. I'm still in contact with some of them, which sums it up.

"Women's football is a bit different. Males seek a new opportunity and it's about them as an individual, but when a female seeks an opportunity sometimes it has an add-on effect on another player because they're friends. There's still that degree of recreational rather than professional."

The Women's Super League, set up two years ago, has levelled out the player talent pool like never before.

There was a time when Arsenal had a monopoly on the top players, had the most experience and, seemingly, the most money. That is no longer the case, with teams such as Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City investing heavily in new players, taking some of Arsenal's in the process, and increasing the number of times they train.

"Arsenal have been reactive rather than proactive in seeing the situation that's happening now," says Kerr.

"At other clubs they have players that are very talented, they're well organised, well structured and if you don't get that goal cushion [in a game] then they'll always be capable of scoring."

But Kerr says it is "only a matter of time" before Arsenal improve, citing the 2-0 win over Everton in the FA Women's Cup final - her last match in charge - as evidence.

"Everyone was complimentary of the performance and a little bit judgemental as to why it happened at the Cup final instead of the league games," she says. "But I'd seen that every day in training."

Kerr's resignation highlights the dearth of women managing in the top flight. When the league returns on Sunday after its summer break, Chelsea's Emma Hayes will be its only female boss.

In May, Helena Costa became only the second woman to take charge of a men's professional team in Europe when she joined French club Clermont Foot. But the 36-year-old resigned this week, claiming players were being signed without her consent.

Arsenal Ladies, meanwhile, have turned to John Bayer, the club's centre of excellence technical director, while they search for a permanent replacement for Kerr.

Shelley Kerr and Rachel Yankey
Kerr won two FA Cups and one Continental Cup during her time in charge of Arsenal

"As much as you want to see more females involved, I think they have to be the right people and have the right qualifications," says Kerr. "National governing bodies need to take as many female role models as possible and try to mentor them into fantastic coaches."

The former Arsenal boss is evidence of the Scottish Football Association doing just that, as she is one of only a few women in the UK with the coveted Uefa Pro Licence.

Kerr looks back on her time at Arsenal with fond memories. She prioritised youth - with young players such as Leah Williamson, 17, and 18-year-old Jade Bailey breaking into the first team - and increased the amount of training.

But you get the sense there was more she wanted to accomplish in changing the infrastructure of the club.

It was not to be. So when Arsenal face defending champions Liverpool on Sunday, they will do so without a permanent manager.

Kerr, though, is not dwelling on her departure.

"Something I've learned over the past three or four months in particular is that to come away from football can be quite refreshing."