Last weekend saw the crowning of Virgil Van Dijk as the PFA Player of the Year 2018-19, Van Dijk’s assured performances at the heart of Liverpool’s defence have ensured their title challenge keeps ticking over, right to the dying embers of the Premier League season.
22 years ago, the PFA awards were shrouded in a darker cloud among the tomfoolery and hijinks of a bunch of drunken footballers. Rachel Anderson, who, at the time, was the UK’s first and only FIFA Licensed woman Football Agent wasn’t allowed in to the awards dinner; why?
Because she was a woman.
She was invited by the first player she represented, defender Julian Dicks who Anderson helped secure a transfer to Liverpool from West Ham for a then record-breaking fee of £3million. It seemed as if the only criteria for entry was an invitation from a player.
The event had a “men only” status since its inception and Anderson was turned away at the door by then PFA Deputy Chief Executive Brendan Batson. Batson himself had been subject to injustice and inequality due to his Caribbean roots for much of the 1980s: he was one of the first black footballers in the Premier League.
As she made her way back up the stairs, to a sea of what seemed like light-hearted mockery by some of the players thanks to her self-proclaimed lack of direction, Anderson debated the change that would define her career.
It would have been easy to cause a fuss, but Anderson didn’t want that kind of publicity falling on her or her players who were no doubt a few drinks down by this point. But she did plot the start to a plan that she would set in motion just over a year later – when she was invited to the awards ceremony again in 1998.
Julian Dicks would write to the PFA on her behalf, shocked and appalled by their treatment of his Agent. PFA Chief Executive, Gordon Taylor, stuck to tradition and refused to change the policy claiming the board wanted it to stay an all-male affair – this is rumoured to be a shrewd guise for his own beliefs.
With the backing of then Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the support of the House of Lords, Anderson took her case to the high courts in 1998.
The case cost Anderson around £210,000, reclaiming “reasonable costs” and £75,000 in compensation; but she helped to blaze a trail for women who are in professional football today after her landmark victory. In 2013, the PFA had their inaugural women’s player of the year award for the first time in the union’s 106-year history, an award won by Arsenal’s Kim Little.
In 2019, alongside Liverpool centre back Van Dijk, his female Dutch compatriot Vivianne Miedema – a striker for Arsenal – won the Women’s PFA Player of the Year, after becoming the top scorer in the Women’s Super League this season. An award which wouldn’t have been possible, had it not been for the likes of Rachel Anderson.