Vic Akers: The Arsenal Kit Man Who Revolutionised Women's Football in England

Keen Match of the Day watchers during Arsene Wenger's Arsenal tenure will be familiar with the Frenchman's entourage.

Wenger would be flanked by Pat Rice on one side - a league and FA Cup double winner as a player at Highbury - and kit man Vic Akers on the other.

The boy band to end all boy bands.

And yet even when combining Rice's accolades with those accumulated by Wenger during his time in the Arsenal hot seat, they are dwarfed in comparison to the kit man's own medal collection.

In 1987, he founded Arsenal Ladies and was appointed the team's coach and manager.

Akers was a serial winner, an astute scout with an uncanny eye for young talent, and a trailblazer in gender equality,

Much like Wenger, Akers spent his playing days in the lower echelons of the footballing pyramid. He played for Cambridge and Watford in the third and fourth tiers, and won the 'treble' (Isthmian League Premier Division, Berks and Bucks Senior Cup and the Isthmian League Cup - the holy trinity) with Slough Town in 1981 as his career as a left back began to wind down.

Shortly after hanging up his boots, Akers joined Arsenal to help with their schemes in the local community. In 1987, he founded Arsenal Ladies and was appointed the team's coach and manager. But this was women's football and this was the 1980s, meaning Akers took the post in addition to the community work he was already doing with the Gunners.

He was promoted to the first team staff as kit man under George Graham, but insisted that he continued to simultaneously work with the women's side.

This was still women's football and it was still the 1980s, and 90s... and 2000s, meaning interest, media coverage and budget were all minuscule.

The Gunners lifted 31 major trophies during Akers' stewardship.

Players had to balance their playing careers with full time employment. Akers shrewdly provided players with jobs at the club; admin roles, box office jobs and shifts in the Arsenal laundry department. It gave players greater flexibility and a wage, providing a platform as close to professionalism as they were going to be afforded at the time.

With Akers at the helm, Arsenal zoomed up the leagues, earning their place in the Women's Premier League in 1992. The Gunners also won the League Cup that year, the first of 31 major trophies Arsenal would go on to lift under Akers' stewardship.

Akers and Arsenal were able to scout and attract the finest players from across the country. The great Marieanne Spacey was integral to their success in the 90s, before the Gunners attention turned to scouring out the very best up and coming talent; Alex Scott was signed up at the age of eight, while Kelly Smith, Faye White and Rachel Yankey were brought in as teenagers.

The results were instant.

Success in the 90s made way for sheer, unrivalled and unrelenting dominance in the 2000s.

The Gunners won nine Premier League titles in 13 years, going an astonishing 108 games undefeated between 2003 and 2009.

The crowning jewell came in 2007 when Arsenal's entirely British and Irish side beat Swedish outfit Umeå - led by iconic Brazilian Marta at the peak of her powers - in the UEFA Cup final, doing so without suspended talisman Kelly Smith.

Victory made Akers' side the first - and still only - British female football team to taste success in Europe.

Arsenal won the UEFA Cup with a part-time side managed by a kit man

Even today, when teams are fully professional, backed by resources and infrastructure and with a media profile, no British side has even reached a European final.

Arsenal won it in 2007 with a part-time side managed by a kit man.

England qualified for the World Cup in 2007 for the first time in 12 years, and reached the final of the European Championships two years later. The spine of Akers' 2007 UEFA Cup winning side were also that of the England squad on both occasions.

Akers bowed out the only way he could - with a domestic double in 2009. Two years later, the WSL was formed, and in 2017, the league became professional for the first time.

The women's game would not be where it is today without the tactically astute kit man who began paving the way for professionalism in the 1980s.

Source : 90min