What was supposed to be a momentous night for women’s football in Northern Ireland was marred by the controversial post-match comments from boss Kenny Shiels.
A record crowd of 15,348 watched on as Northern Ireland were beaten 5-0 by England. Though the result was a disappointment, the attendance highlighted just how far the women’s national team has come in a short space of time and the many thousands they have inspired following their qualification for this summer’s Euros.
But Wednesday morning’s headlines instead focused on the damaging, arguably sexist, comments from Shiels.
Kenny Shiels damaged his reputation with controversial remarks about women footballers
Northern Ireland Women’s manager Shiels remarked that females are more ’emotional’ than men following their 5-0 defeat by England in a 2023 World Cup qualifier
England scored their first goal in the 52nd minute of the game that took place in Belfast
The visitors added to their goal tally in the 60th, 70th and 79th minute of the game on Tuesday
The 65-year-old had claimed in his post-match press conference that women concede goals in quick succession because they are more ’emotional’ than men.
He said: ‘I felt they [England] were struggling a wee bit at times to open us up until the psychology of going 2-0 up in the women’s game, I’m sure you will have noticed if you go through the patterns – when a team concedes a goal, they concede a second one in a very, very short space of time.
‘Right through the whole spectrum of the women’s game, because girls and women are more emotional than men. So they take a goal going in not very well.
‘When we went 1-0 down we tried to slow it down to give them time to get that emotional imbalance out of their heads. That’s an issue we have. Not just in Northern Ireland but all of the countries in the world.’
Shiels then remarked: ‘I shouldn’t have told you that.’
The manager has since apologised for the offence his comments have caused. In a statement released by the Irish Football Association, Shiels said: ‘I wish to apologise for my comments made in the post-match press conference last night. I am sorry for the offence that they have caused.
‘Last night was a special occasion for the women’s game in Northern Ireland and I am proud to manage a group of players who are role models for so many girls, and boys, across the country.
‘I am an advocate for the women’s game and passionate about developing opportunities for women and girls to flourish.’
Shiels has been widely criticised for his remarks, with Arsenal legend Ian Wright calling him ‘foolish’. Wright tweeted: ‘Kenny Shiels talking foolishness! Talking about emotional women! Didn’t that man see how many times I was crying on the PITCH!’ Wright then attached a photo of him crying during a game for Arsenal.
This is not the first time Shiels has rocked the boat. A series of controversial comments, which included questioning the impartiality of the Scottish FA’s judicial panel, and touch-line bans was one of the reasons he lost his job at Kilmarnock in 2013.
A year later, while manager of Greenock Morton, Shiels was advised to stop giving post-match press conferences on advice from his doctor.
Ironically, Shiels was told he could become ’emotionally imbalanced’ in key moments. Speaking at the time, Shiels said: ‘It’s important I don’t compromise my position as manager of Morton Football Club.
‘I don’t want me to be the centre of attention, I want my players to be the centre of attention and my club.
Ian Wright has led the condemnation on social media to Shiels’ controversial remarks
‘Journalism in promoting the game is so important and the Scottish journalists are brilliant at it.
‘Every decision I make must be in the best interests of Morton and I’m very susceptible to being controversialised. It’s happened to me in the past. I’m not going to go down that road anymore.’
But just two years later he was back in the spotlight. While manager of Derry City in 2016, Shiels told reporters that international football ‘is not what it used to be’. He described Republic of Ireland players as ‘England’s reserves’ and Northern Ireland’s players as ‘England’s reserves’ reserves.’
Shiels said: ‘There’s no pride in it anymore because you could have a pint of Guinness and play for Ireland.
‘There are Italians and Scottish people playing for Ireland. When you look at the people who can go and play, the Republic of Ireland are England reserves and Northern Ireland are England’s reserves’ reserves.
It isn’t the first time the 65-year-old has hit the headlines for eye-catching remarks in his career
‘It’s diabolical. I’ve no time for it all.’
Shiels later dismissed these comments as a ‘joke’.
Republic of Ireland international James McLean was one of Shiels’ biggest critics after he made those comments in 2016, and the Wigan winger was quick to weigh in on his latest remarks.
Posting on his Instagram story, McLean said: ‘Gift that keeps on giving. Same guy when managing Derry said that international football has no pride anymore, that Ireland are England reserves and the North of Ireland are England reserves’ reserves and now manages the north of Ireland’s women’s INTERNATIONAL team’.
Shiels became Northern Ireland women manager in 2019 and has overseen a significant period of growth. Last year, the country qualified for the Euros, their first major tournament, by beating Ukraine in a two-legged play-off. That achievement came when the majority of Shiels’ squad were still part-time.
In January, 22 players entered a full-time, professional training camp to help aid their preparation for this summer’s tournaments. There is no doubt the 65-year-old has done much to advance the women’s game in Northern Ireland and it is no secret that he is popular and well liked by his players.
But his comments on Tuesday risk jeopardising that progress. The country and its women’s team is on-course for a memorable summer. They will hope that it will not be marred by any further controversy.
He steered Northern Ireland Women to qualification to the Euros, which takes place this year