Mark Sampson farce heaps further misery on FA, but it’s not all gloom for women’s football

Mark Sampson was sacked as England women's coach this week

Mark Sampson has been dismissed by the FA due to 'safeguarding allegations' which date back three years

Thursday, September 21, 2017

It seems a long, long time ago that Mark Sampson, the now-former England women's national football team manager, unequivocally stated his ‘conscious is clear’ amid an ongoing row centring on allegations of discrimination.

Sampson was given the briefest of respites from the dispute on Tuesday night, as the Lionesses thumped Russia to begin their 2019 World Cup qualifying campaign with a resounding 6-0 victory, before it was announced the following day that he had left his role.

Just as men's football is so often marred by events which occur well away from the actual field of play, it's been off-the-field scandal which has made headline news for the women's game since their return from the Euro 2017 finals in the Netherlands.

Nikita Parris's 'statement' celebration during the win over the Russians only added to the childish drama of the past few months. The forward ran straight to Sampson for a cuddle after opening the scoring, while urging her team-mates to follow suit in a painstakingly obvious, and desperate, show of solidarity.

But, remarkably, a vague statement released by the Football Association explained, rather conveniently, that Sampson’s contract has been terminated due to ‘safeguarding allegations’ which surfaced a full three years ago, while Sampson was with Bristol City.

Sampson was cleared of posing any risk in a 2015 assessment, and it’s only in the past week that the full report of this case reached the hands of the FA. Let that sink in for a moment.

More recently, of course, Sampson has been the subject of racism, harassment and bullying accusations made by England striker Eni Aluko and her Chelsea teammate Drew Spence. Much of the furore centred on a ‘joke’ the coach made about Ebola. Once again, Sampson was cleared by an investigation and has always denied any wrongdoing.

So the whole picture is very confused. But, whatever has happened behind the scenes, one thing is clear: the chaotic handling of the situation has only added to the FA’s ever-diminishing reputation. Internal politics, no matter the playing level, might regularly complicate the basic management of a football team, but such issues shouldn’t be so plainly visible to supporters, nor should they be allowed to drag on so publicly for so long. It's this, above all, which has been most infuriating.

Rather than suffering through the Carabao Cup mid-week, I didn't hesitate in favouring the Lionesses taking on Russia. But Parris's celebration, following her 11th-minute strike, resulted in me rolling my eyes, turning the TV off and waiting for Doctor Foster to provide the evening's entertainment.

While Sampson had been cleared in two inquiries by the FA, constant suggestions that an investigation could be reopened, along with Aluko's insistence his punishment should have been severe, made a confusing, pitiful spectacle of an issue that should have been resolved efficiently.

With the intense spotlight football is under, certainly in this country, it is of course no easy feat to evade attention. But, almost a year on from Sam Allardyce's leaving his post with the men's team in hugely controversial circumstances, our nation's female counterparts have similarly been reduced to back-page hysteria.

Despite concern from some quarters, though, this farce should have little impact on the popularity of women’s football. It might even generate extra publicity, although certainly not in the way the governing body would have intended.

As the saying goes, all press is good press… but not quite for the FA.