Former Charlton Athletic and Estonia boss Keith Boanas talks to Sent Her Forward of his Brighton experience and his early impressions of WSL 2 – and he’s not very happy
One of women’s football’s most highly regarded managers returned this year from his eastern European odyssey to a league that didn’t even exist when he last managed in this country – and yesterday he took his new team to play the club he could well have been managing instead.
Keith Boanas was at the head of a pretty long queue when the Brighton job came up following the departure of James Marrs, the man who had guided them to the Premier League title before their promotion, via a play-off, to the Super League.
That he did not get the job stunned many in the game – not least Boanas himself, who, while keeping his views pretty much to himself (save for the odd cryptic comment on Twitter), was clearly angered by his experience.
Yesterday, after his new team, Watford, had been beaten by the club he nearly joined in the Super League spring series, he spoke to Sent Her Forward about his encounter – and his assessment of FAWSL 2 – the second tier of the Super League structure that was not even a blueprint when he was leading the Charlton Athletic of the early 21st century.
Boanas enjoyed no little success as manager of the Londoners when they were an integral part of the men’s club – then ensconced in the Premier League.
His Charlton side reached the Women’s FA Cup final four times, lifting the trophy in 2005 when they beat Everton at Upton Park, Eniola Aluko scoring the only goal.
They also won the Premier League Cup twice during his seven years at the club.
More recently, he raised the profile of the Estonian national women’s team during a seven-year spell as manager, departing the country with the football federation’s highest personal honour, and is a highly respected coach.
When Brighton, newly promoted to the FA WSL’s second tier, were looking for a new manager, presumably with a proven track record, ideally in women’s football, Boanas, recently returned to England, looked an ideal candidate.
Yet with the WSL’s spring series – the interim competition before the switch to a winter league in September – looming, the club chose not to appoint Boanas, nor any of the other myriad initial applicants for one of the most attractive jobs in women’s football in this country.
I’ve heard stories like I was too ambitious and I hadn’t done my homework before the interview. But I did a three-hour powerpoint and I did a training session on the pitch, which was really well received – Keith Boanas on his Brighton job interview
Kirsty Hulland, who was appointed Brighton’s general manager towards the end of the interview process last October, was not directly involved. But she told Sent Her Forward in an interview in February that none of the candidates felt like “the right fit” for the ambitious community club.
“We’ve found coaches that are brilliant on the pitch but don’t hold the values, or do hold the values and the coaching levels aren’t there,” she told me.
We never spoke of Boanas specifically, and Hulland does not want to elaborate now as she was not involved in his interview.
“It was an interview process that I thought had gone really well,” Boanas told Sent Her Forward. “And at the time I was really disappointed that I received what I would call a bog-standard e-mail to say, sorry, you were unsuccessful at this time, with no real explanation as to what it was.
“I’ve heard stories like I was too ambitious and I hadn’t done my homework before the interview. But I did a three-hour powerpoint and I did a training session on the pitch, which was really well received.
“The bottom line is, what homework do I need to do? My CV is quite extensive and I think there has to be mutual respect.
“One of the reasons I took this job (as manager of Watford) was because yes, they needed help. It was a desperate situation, in all honesty. But when I went to have the meeting with the people here, they respected me.
“So I’ve given them that back and promised them that I would do my best until the end of this series and then we’ll look at the situation at the end of that.”
Boanas insisted he did not let his personal feelings affect his approach to yesterday’s game, which Brighton won 2-1, although he admitted in an interview on the Watford website ahead of the match that he would “dearly love to take three points off Brighton for my own personal reasons”.
He told Sent Her Forward: “I made it my job not to talk about that with the players. That wouldn’t have been fair. Does [the defeat] hurt me any more? No. A loss is a loss for me. Just because it is [Brighton], it makes no difference.
“It will be the same when we play Millwall (whom he also managed). Of course you get those little moments, but no, it’s not hurting me any more than it would have done had I not been for that interview.”
For all that, it was clear during my interview with Boanas, less than half an hour after the final whistle, that he was hurting, he was angry. But he made clear that was the result of how his side had played.
I think there’s probably too big a gap between WSL 2 and WSL 1, and I think with the players that those top teams are bringing in, it’s going to get bigger – Boanas
In fact, he has not been over-impressed with what he has seen of WSL 2 football since his return to these shores.
“This standard is below the level of my Charlton team (who competed in the Women’s Premier League that was then the highest tier in England).
“I had players like Fara Williams, Casey Stoney and Eniola Aluko. This is below that level. I’d love to have had that team out there today.
“I’ve got players even from Estonia that could fit into this level – not a lot, but two or three of the better players that I developed over the period that I was there. The young girl we’ve got out there from Bulgaria [Simona Petkova], she didn’t look out of place.
“She plays for Bulgaria and they are lower-ranked than Estonia. So the better players in those developing countries can fit into this league. Not WSL 1 because I think that is above.
“But I think there’s probably too big a gap between this and WSL 1. And I think with the players that those top teams are bringing in, it’s going to get bigger.
“So there’s a little bit of a fear factor there.
“I don’t think the gap between this and the FAWPL is big. Tottenham beat Brighton in the FA Cup. I watched that game.
“And we played West Ham in a friendly. It was a 0-0 game. All right, we didn’t push and push, but it wasn’t a massive gap at playing level, and there are players in that league who are going to step up quite easily, as and when.
“And if Tottenham win the play-off and they come up, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with at this level, as well.”
* Updated April 17 2017 to correct number of FA Cup finals Charlton reached under Boanas