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Yalla Shoot :Hannah Dingley: Female football boss hopes to inspire young girls to break through glass ceilings

Forest Green owner Dale Vince and caretaker boss Hannah Dingley
Forest Green Rovers owner Dale Vince said it was a ‘simple decision’ to appoint Dingley as the club’s caretaker manager

Hannah Dingley says she hopes becoming the first woman to manage a professional men’s team in English football will inspire young girls to break through barriers.

Dingley has taken over as caretaker boss of League Two’s Forest Green Rovers after Duncan Ferguson’s sacking.

Her first match was a 1-1 pre-season draw at Melksham Town on Wednesday.

“It’s the first and it’s great, but I don’t want to be the first and only,” said 39-year-old Dingley.

“It’s slightly disappointing as the first female academy manager I’m still the only female academy manager.

“If we want change to happen we need more females in these positions throughout clubs.”

Last month, Premier League side Brentford appointed former Leicester City women’s manager Lydia Bedford as head coach of their under-18s side.

“If there are more female coaches in youth football – I know Lydia Bedford has got the U18s at Brentford – then these opportunities will happen more and more because coaches get promoted from youth football,” added Dingley.

“The more female coaches we can get in the boys game through the academy system then I think change will happen more naturally.”

Dingley has been at Forest Green since 2019 when she took charge of the academy and remains the only woman to manage a men’s English Football League academy.

Born and raised in Carmarthenshire, she also initiated the club’s girls academy which launched in 2021.

Asked about fans wanting autographs and pictures after the game at Melksham, she said: “Do you know what’s nice about that – the young people who are waiting for things to be signed etcetera – is the amount of girls there are.

“We want to diversify the crowd at Forest Green, encourage more women and girls to come and watch the men’s and women’s team so actually seeing so many young girls there – Melksham fans or playing for Melksham in their tracksuit tops by the looks of it, fantastic.

“Hopefully then we are inspiring young girls whether it’s in football or any industry that there aren’t these glass ceilings and, if there are, then you have just got to break through them.”

A group of female Forest Green fans held up a placard before the game
A group of female Forest Green fans held up this placard before the game

‘This isn’t a gimmick’

Dingley, who has a Uefa Pro Licence and previously worked at Burton Albion, said she had no hesitation in taking her new role.

“I’ve grown and developed in my time at the football club and it was an opportunity that I felt I was ready to take,” she said.

“I haven’t just rocked up today and chose to coach a men’s team. I’ve coached men’s non-league football and in the academy.

“I’ve coached men for 20-odd years. This isn’t different to me and I’ve never had a problem with players. They just want good coaching and a good programme.”

Forest Green start their 2023-24 season with a home game against Salford City on Saturday, 5 August.

Dingley added: “I’m not one for the limelight. For me, I wanted the attention to be on the players and that’s almost my biggest concern in a way is that this isn’t a gimmick.

“This is about those players in the changing room and them getting the preparation they need for the campaign.

“I would like nothing to take away from that because, if it does, then it’s probably the wrong thing to do to put me in this position in the first place.

“The team is the priority and this isn’t a gimmick. This is because we need to do the best thing for those footballers and our football club.”

Forest Green owner Dale Vince talked about appointing Dingley and said the attention the club’s decision had generated had shown “what a really big thing” they had done.

“It was a very simple decision,” he said. “Hannah was the most qualified person at the club for the job. Nothing else came into frame.

“It’s not accidental because we were conscious of it. It’s incidental to the football decision that we have made.

“Girls and women in football, other sports and non-sports will be thinking, ‘are there actually any limits?’. As Hannah said, let’s go and break through the glass ceilings.”

Vince explained there would be a recruitment process, which could take several weeks, for a permanent Forest Green manager and, if Dingley wanted “to put her name into the hat”, that “she would be very welcome”.

He added: “It will be a very thorough process and, hopefully, we will get a great person for the job.”

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