Laura Harvey: Why an Englishwoman abroad is NWSL's sole female survivor

By Joanne Smith & Seth BennettBBC World Service
Laura Harvey

"I don't want a job because I'm a woman, I want it because I'm the best person for the job."

That is the verdict of Englishwoman Laura Harvey, who was the only female coach in charge of a National Women's Soccer team when the 2017 seasonexternal-link kicked off in the United States on Saturday.

At 36, Harvey is in to her fifth season in charge of Seattle Reign, in arguably the most competitive women's league in the world.

Yet she is possibly best known in the UK for her time in charge of Arsenal Ladies. Harvey, from Warwickshire, guided the club to three consecutive English league titles, one FA Cup and two Continental Cups.

So how does it feel to be the sole survivor in a competition that had three of its eight teams coached by women when it started in 2013?

Watch: 'I want a job for my ability - not gender'

The only female coach

"I honestly don't think about it until people bring it up to me," Harvey told BBC World Service. "Whether that is because I was raised in a male-dominated world, I don't know. I do feel pride, 100% I do.

"People ask me if I am a role model. I don't think I am, but when I sit down and talk about it I can understand why people might look at me that way. That is an added responsibility that I should take on."

Harvey left Arsenal to take up the role with the Seattle Reign in 2013. Since that inaugural season they have twice won the NWSL Shield for finishing top of the league, while attendances have doubled, but Harvey says had she not been pushed, she wouldn't have even got the job.

"I didn't put my name in the hat, someone called me and asked me if I was I wanted it," she explained.

"I don't think I would have applied for it, if it was an application process. I probably didn't believe at the time that I was the best person for the job."

Harvey has signed a contract extension until 2020 and is such a part of the country's football set-up she has been helping to coach the USA's Under-23s.

Keelin Winters of Seattle Reign
Keelin Winters celebrates scoring for the Seattle Reign in a 2-0 victory over the Washington Spirit

Why are there so few coaches in the WNSL?

Harvey says there are "loads of reasons" for the dearth of women coaches in the league, but thinks men are more likely to chance their arm when it comes to appointments.

"I think the main reason is that a female is more likely to apply for a job and put themselves out there when they believe they are the right person for it, whereas a male might take the risk a little bit more and just put their name in the hat and see how it goes," she said.

"I think sometimes female coaches don't want to put themselves out there to be shot down - because women's football at this level is relatively new, I don't think the cut and thrust of applying for jobs, being let down and the process around it is something we are all comfortable with, but that is a barrier we have to pass."

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At the age of 22, Harvey's hopes of a career as a professional footballer were ended as she ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee playing for Birmingham City Ladies. She quickly turned to coaching at the club, influenced from an early age by her father, who was a youth coach at Coventry.

"I think that any female coach who is willing to put themselves out there and really give it a shot will be given the opportunity in this league. I really believe that.

"There is no female coach that I know who wants a job just because it is something that has been put in place to ensure that they get it."

Harvey's first season in the NWSL was a steep learning curve. She lost nine of her first 10 games in charge. But the club's owners, Bill and Teresa Predmore, stood by their coach and their support was rewarded. Harvey is one of only three coaches remaining from that debut season.

Laura Harvey of Seattle Reign
In 2015, Harvey was named the NWSL Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season

Will a woman ever manage in the Premier League?

Harvey doubts any breakthrough for women is imminent in her own country.

"Do I think it is going to happen in the Premier League in my lifetime? No, I don't," she said.

"It doesn't really bother me - if someone is willing to take a risk on a female and truly believes that they are the right person for the job then I would like to think it can happen.

"Back home in England, though, the media are ruthless - you only have to look at Bob Bradley at Swansea for that. The moment that he said something that wasn't quite what people wanted him to say, that was it, it was game over.

"There is just not that barrier here in America as much. There is still a barrier, but it is one I think can be broken down a lot earlier than at home."

Despite the fact the NWSL has struggled to employ women in high-profile coaching jobs, Harvey remains optimistic there is a route for the best female coaches to move into the men's game.

"I actually think if it is going happen, it will happen here before it happens in England. The US is more open-minded towards the women's game. I think the TV ratings show that.

"The level at which the US national team is held in regard compared to the men gives everyone a chance. I think that the MLS could be the place that you see a female coach. I really believe that.

"I am not saying it can't happen at home in England, but if it did, it would happen in the Conference or League Two."

Harvey made her name in England as Arsenal Ladies coach
Harvey made her name in England as Arsenal Ladies coach

Laura Harvey was speaking to the BBC World Service as part of the BBC's From Elite to Grassroots women's football series.

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