Arsenal Women’s First European Goalscorer Angela Banks Proud Of Place In History

Arsenal Women’s First European Goalscorer Angela Banks Proud Of Place In History

Barclays FA Women’s Super League leaders, Arsenal Women kick-off their UEFA Women’s Champions League season away to defending champions FC Barcelona next week, 20 years after their inaugural campaign in which Angela Banks (now Taylor-Banks) scored their first-ever goal in European competition.

This season, every team competing in the revamped tournament will earn a guaranteed minimum of €400,000 ($467,908) for playing six matches in a new group stage with a centralized television contract and sponsors specific to the women’s game, such as Visa, Hublot and Just Eat. Yet, when the competition was founded in 2001, as the UEFA Women’s Cup there was no prize-money on offer.

Then, as now, Arsenal represented England, fielding many of the world’s best players. This season, the North London side are the beneficiaries of the competition’s expansion, one of two teams who finished in third place in their domestic league to come through two qualifying rounds to reach the group stage. 20 years ago, only the champions of each country were eligible to enter. Arsenal had won the domestic treble in 2001 with Angela Banks scoring the only goal in their FA Women’s Cup victory over Fulham, one of 42 she scored in that campaign.

“It was the best team I’ve played in for sure”, Banks tells me. “I enjoyed playing alongside Jayne Ludlow and Ciara Grant in midfield, they had great energy and leadership. Same with Faye White and Casey Stoney, a big presence at the back for us. Emma Byrne was such a great keeper, the best at that time. Kirsty Pealling and Marianne Spacey, both had such accurate passing ability, they always picked out my runs. Marianne was great to play with, such natural ability”.

Arsenal’s first-ever European game was played on October 1 2001 away to Swiss champions Bern who hosted a four-team group stage also featuring the champions of Poland and Israel. On the stroke of half-time, Banks opened the scoring for the English champions, the first of 256 that Arsenal have scored in the competition, only seven-time champions Olympique Lyonnais have scored more (409).

Banks celebrated her historic goal by doing a knee-slide, the only one she attempted during her entire career.  “There was so much build-up and hype going to a new tournament, with it being abroad. . . new teams, the unknown. It was exciting. It was great we got to play other teams from different countries”.

Banks is one of only nine Arsenal players in history to score over 100 goals for the women’s team. The latest to join this elite “century club” is Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema who has already scored five goals in this season’s Champions League as Arsenal overcame three preliminary opponents to qualify for the sixteen-team group stage.

Unlike Miedema, Banks was never a full-time professional soccer player with Arsenal. Previously employed as a printer in a factory, Banks, like many of her semi-professional team-mates, was employed by the club, in her case as a football development officer, in between training twice a week with the team. At that time, the idea of being paid a wage to train and play women’s soccer seemed light years away. “We all received bonuses if we won cups or the league”, Banks tells me. “There was no match fees at that time”.

Nonetheless, the new concept of a European club competition for women’s soccer seemed like a new dawn for Banks and her Arsenal team. “It definitely seemed glamorous, it was really exciting to travel abroad. The way Arsenal Ladies (now Women) were so well supported within the club, we had the financial support and facilities to take part in it”.

“We flew out on normal scheduled flights. The club paid for everything. We stayed at the same hotel as the team from Israel. Everything was covered. We was even allowed to give away our match and training kit to the other teams after the group stage was finished!”

A recorded attendance of 500 people watched the game, Banks does not recall any of the players’ families travelling over nor any English media covering the game other than the club’s official photographer. In contrast, for the first time, all 61 matches in this season’s competition will be streamed live around the world for free on the DAZN Group YouTube channel.

In common with Dennis Bergkamp, the star striker of the Arsenal men’s team at the time, Banks suffered from a dislike of flying. Despite attending a British Airways fear of flying course at Heathrow Airport in an attempt to overcome it, Banks eventually quit international soccer in 2002 a few months after captaining England for the first time at the Algarve Cup.

She continued to play for Arsenal until 2005, twice reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Women’s Cup. After scoring 133 goals in 143 matches for the club, Banks worked for one season as a player-coach at Whitehawk before returning to her old factory job where she is now a production manager. Although she would love to work in soccer again, her only current involvement in the game is coaching her six-year-old twins and following the current Arsenal players on Instagram.

She is full of admiration for the strides women’s players have made in recent years to now play in a fully professional league. “I think it’s amazing, and now so many more teams are able to be involved. The level the game is at now and the support is so much better across all the clubs, so it’s not just one team from each country, it’s many more that can now financially take part”.

Arsenal went on to win the UEFA Women’s Cup in 2007, before it was re-branded as the UEFA Women’s Champions League in 2010. They remain the only English side to win the competition. Under new coach Jonas Eidevall, they have recruited well bringing in five international players, including United States World Cup and Olympic champion Tobin Heath, winning every match they have played so far this season. Banks believes they are well-equipped to go far in the Champions League, “they have a great team and under the new manager seem to be playing really well and focused. So I do see Arsenal as favorites but I think Chelsea will be strong too”.

“I’m very proud of all of us that helped at that time, the players, but also all the volunteers. Without them, a lot of how the clubs were run on a daily basis and on match days wouldn’t have happened. I have been called a trailblazer and it’s so nice to feel that we helped put women’s football in the spotlight. Arsenal was a great women’s team and really showed the way forward at that time”.

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