Like the popular saying, “What a man can do, a woman can do much better.” This is the story of UEFA licensed soccer coach, Helen Nkwocha, an amazing female soccer coach of the men’s team.
Nkwocha narrated that she never taught of becoming a football coach in her career path. But now, she is the first female coach of a top-flight men’s team in Europe.
“I didn’t think twice,” the London-born former police officer tells BBC Sport.
“People’s reaction is not the same as mine because they are reacting to my gender. But I am used to being a female. It is nothing new to me.
“And the fact I am working with male players? I have worked with more male players than female ones. To be working at this level, yes, that is different. But working with male players is not different to me.”
Nkwocha, a former police officer making history as a men’s football coach in the Faroe Islands.
Nkwocha became the first female coach of a top-flight men’s team after taking charge of Tvoroyrar Boltfelag.
Nkwocha coached in England, China, and the US before her appointment at Tvoroyrar Boltfelag.
“I always expect to see a dinosaur coming over the mountains! There are mountains everywhere, it’s like Jurassic Park.”
Nkwocha has lived in Tvoroyri, a village of under 2,000 people situated on the Faroese island of Suduroy, since January after joining the country’s oldest football club, Tvoroyrar Boltfelag.
Initially appointed to oversee Tvoroyrar Boltfelag’s youth team, and persuade the village’s youngsters to play football in the wind and rain rather than take up indoor sports sheltered from the elements, the south Londoner was handed a promotion last month, becoming head coach of the club’s first-team. The appointment was a historic one, making Nkwocha the first female manager of a men’s top-flight team in Europe.
Nkwocha couldn’t have been given a much tougher assignment. Tvoroyrar Boltfelag are bottom of the 10-team Faroe Islands Premier League, the top division, after losing 20 and winning none of their 23 matches this season.
“When I took over we knew that we were probably going to be relegated,” Nkwocha said.
“We had not won all year so we knew that it would be a difficult job. The main thing is to bring pride back to the community,” Nkwocha added.
Tvoroyri is the latest destination in a coaching career that has taken Nkwocha around the world.
After graduating from the University of North London with a literature degree in 1997, Nkwocha joined the Metropolitan Police. She spent 15 years with the force but having spent much of her free time teaching children on football pitches, decided to pursue a career in coaching instead. It was a bold step to take.
“I realised that I didn’t have the same passion for my job as I did for my hobby,” she recalls. “I wasn’t feeling a fire in my belly for what was paying my mortgage. It was a brave decision and some people were like ‘what are you doing?’ The financial difference was massive. It was difficult trying to juggle everything and not having the money to do courses to improve.”
Nkwocha sold her house and bought a boat as a cost-cutting measure. “I lived on a boat for three years. It was a lovely lifestyle. I was in a marina next to Harlow Town football club where I worked and it was a wonderful community. Everybody was so relaxed. It was so calm and chilled out.”
Financial issues were not the only obstacle in her way. “Usually, when I work at a club, I’m the only black female there,” she admits. “I played for 23 years and only ever had one female coach. That was a long time ago, and I know that there are steps that have been made to increase that sort of visibility. But you still don’t tend to see many people that look like me, especially in a decision-making role, in a sporting environment.”
Having made a historic move into the men’s game, Nkwocha says that aspiring female coaches from similar backgrounds may look to her as a role model. “When you’re part of a marginalised group and recognise that you are one of the very few, you have to take on that responsibility.
In the last past six years, she has been permanently stationed abroad, working in Shanghai in China before moving to the United States, initially to California and then on to Chicago.
It was while living in The Windy City that Nkwocha was contacted to the position in the Faroe Islands.
Nkwocha explains that greater job opportunities abroad, rather than any particular desire to travel, have seen her expand her coaching horizons outside of England.
“Over the last five years, I’ve applied for work back home,” she says. “It’s such a competitive field, there are so many good, hungry and competitive coaches. I think a lot of coaches end up going to random countries or obscure roles because you need to coach regularly to improve. That’s why I’m here.”
“I had someone who did that for me. When I was trying to decide whether or not to stick with coaching I looked up to [former England and current Brighton manager] Hope Powell and saw the level that she was operating at and how she was able to navigate the challenges of football at the top level. Whether I like it or not, I’m part of a small group. So I think there’s some responsibility that comes with that.”
Women’s football is on the rise in the UK with the Super League rapidly gaining popularity and exposure. The league landed a record-breaking television deal with the BBC and Sky Sports for the next three seasons and clubs are doing more to promote their women’s teams and encourage supporters to attend matches. Ultimately, Nkwocha would like to return home and be a part of the game’s exciting development.