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    “The greenest club in the world” dares to revolutionize with a coach


    For the first time, a woman will coach a men’s professional team in English football. Hannah Dingley is the frontrunner for fourth division club Forest Green Rovers. The 39-year-old has been at the club since 2019 and is now being promoted on an interim basis. For the club boss, she is the logical choice because of her “fantastic work”.

    Forest Green Rovers are starting a revolution in men’s football: they are the first English professional club to hire a woman as coach. Hannah Dingley is promoted from head of the youth academy to interim coach at the fourth division club from Nailsworth in the west of England. The previous head coach Duncan Ferguson was sacked after just six months in office after he was unable to prevent relegation from EFL League One. It was only a year ago that the club achieved promotion for the first time.

    “It’s an exciting time in football. I’m grateful for the opportunity to lead such a progressive and forward-looking club,” said Dingley, 39, who joined the club in 2019. She remains the only woman to lead an academy at a club in the English men’s league. In 2021 she also founded the club’s girls’ academy. “I’m really looking forward to this next step in my career. Pre-season preparation has just begun and the full season will soon begin.” The first friendly game awaits them against Melksham Town this Wednesday.

    Club owner Dale Vince said of the promotion: “Hannah was our first choice as interim first team head coach – she has done a fantastic job leading our academy and fits well with the club’s values.” Vince is aware of the attention the club will receive with Dingley as coach: “It’s probably telling for men’s football that we’re breaking new ground with this appointment.”

    There are two role models in Germany

    Dingley is a pioneer in English football – and may be able to make the transition from an interim to a permanent solution. “You have a responsibility to be the first to open the doors for others and to encourage others,” she said in a conversation with the BBC about role models in football in March. There are role models for her in Germany, although neither of them were in office for long. Inka Grings and Imke Wübbenhorst are the only two female coaches in high-class men’s football that have existed in Germany so far. Grings had coached the regional league team SV Straelen from April 2019. She was no longer able to avoid relegation this season, but she managed to achieve successful promotion before leaving the club. Wübbenhorst was a coach at Sportfreunde Lotte in the regional league in 2020, but she only managed three wins out of 19 games.

    Grings has been the Swiss women’s national coach since this year and will be competing with them at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Wübbenhorst trains the women of the Swiss club Young Boys Bern, where she found the joy of football again, as she told “Kicker” at the end of 2022. The 34-year-old does not rule out a return to men’s football: “It’s not about men’s or women’s football. There are also well-positioned clubs where I think they have good leadership. But there are also many other examples . With good structures, it doesn’t matter whether it’s men’s or women’s football.”

    Dingley wants to encourage women

    For Dingley, it’s all about the visibility of women in the male-dominated world: “If you can’t imagine it, you probably won’t achieve it,” she told the BBC in March. “I hope that the fact that I’m doing this encourages more women to work as coaches, get into football and take on different roles. I feel a great responsibility to talk about it.” Back then, she was sure it wouldn’t be long before a woman took over a men’s professional team – now she’s the one leading the revolution.

    It is perhaps logical that Forest Green Rovers are taking this step; the club likes to explore new avenues. With the takeover of Vince in 2010, the topic of sustainability came up, and since 2013 the catering in the club and stadium has gradually been converted to vegan. The players’ equipment has also been adapted; they wear jerseys and shin guards made from bamboo. The stadium’s turf is maintained without pesticides. In 2018, the UN Climate Change Secretariat won the “Momentum for Change” prize for its goal of being the “greenest” football club in the world.

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