Hail the Arsenal Ladies Man
In 1986, a former footballer who had completed his playing career in the lower English leagues joined the Arsenal staff. In 1987, he founded Arsenal Ladies FC, on top of his day job as the kit manager of the men's team. 23 years on, he has contributed to winning our club's 13 major men's trophies (5 league titles, 5 FA Cups, 2 League Cups and 1 European Cup Winners Cup) as well as a staggering 32 major women's trophies (1 UEFA Women's Cup, 11 Women's Premier League titles, 10 FA Women's Cups, 10 FA Women's Premier League Cups).
The all-conquering Arsenal Ladies reached the pinnacle of women's football in the 2006-07 season, winning the unprecedented quadruple of the Women's Premier League, the FA Women's Cup, the Women's Premier League Cup and the UEFA Women's Cup, where we became the first English club to lift the European trophy. It was also a well deserved achievement for the team that had dominated the domestic scene for more than a decade.
Last summer, key players like Kelly Smith, Karen Carney and Alex Scott left Arsenal for the Women's Professional Soccer League in the USA. But overcoming the challenge of replacing these international stars in the women's game, this man guided Arsenal Ladies to yet another domestic treble this season, by beating their title rivals Everton and hanging on to the league championship on goal difference (albeit a far superior one) on the last day of the women's season last Sunday - when he was with the men's team facing Chelsea at home.
Before that title-deciding game, the man was torn between his duties with the two teams. He saw the management of Arsenal Ladies as his 'forte' and so he was sad that he couldn't be in the dugout in his last game in charge. With his 63rd birthday approaching this summer, he'll step down as manager, but fortunately for our club, he'll stay on as General Manager for Arsenal Ladies:
'It's very difficult to let go of team affairs after over 20 years because it's my forte. I am better equipped at that than I am at most things - even the kit manager role. But there are times when you know it's time [to] step down. I've got a dodgy knee and that will need replacing at some point. When I can't actively be involved as I would like to be it's very difficult.
'Instead I will oversee everything as General Manager and run the Club from above now. I'll deal with the money side of things and bringing players in along with the coaches.'
Having won 11 titles out of the league's 17 seasons, 10 cups out of the 22 seasons that Arsenal has been involved in the cup's 39-year history and the only European trophy achieved by any English team, he has often been asked which win he thought was his greatest achievement in the women's game. The modest man decided against the unprecedented UEFA Cup success, but highlighted this season as the toughest and the one that he's most pleased with:
'This one is massive. It's probably the highlight of what has been a marvellous 22 years for us. To go there [away at Everton] and win under those difficult circumstances is probably one of our greatest achievements. I think the way this one had to be won has been the most pleasing. I think teams have avoided playing us until we have lost players. They obviously thought that was their best chance at winning the league. But sadly for them it has turned out to their detriment. It has been an outstanding achievement for our girls to have gone there, played and hung on.'
Reflecting on his 22-year association with the Arsenal Ladies, the man is full of pride and full of love:
'You don't spend 20-odd years of your life devoting yourself to something in an unpaid capacity. It's a love for me, it's a personal thing which I've carried through. I'm not walking away from it, I'll still be General Manager, and we'll try and improve as many areas as we can. We have to make sure we build a team ready for next season.
'The Club have been fantastic in what they've done for me from day one when I asked David Dein if we could run a Ladies football team. At that point it was almost an unknown so for him to agree that with the Board was the start of the Ladies Football Club. We've just worked on from there so now we have a 22-year history of success. We need to keep that going now and hope the Club is as successful in the next 20-odd years.'
If you manage to make Arsene Wenger, the most successful Arsenal manager, envy you, you know you've enjoyed an enviable career as a manager indeed:
'I would like to congratulate him for the tremendous job he's done - he could even reproach me for not winning enough trophies!' Enjoying that joke, a journalist followed up with a question: 'Do you envy him?' The Arsenal manager said gracefully, 'I envy him, of course I envy him. And we're very happy for what he's done for years, you know that's not easy. And unfortunately I think he wants to stop now. But we wish the Ladies team to go on like that.'
Take a bow, Mr Victor David Akers!