Vic Akers on how Arsenal and 'unbelievable' Julie Fleeting shaped women's football
- Credit: Arsenal Football Club / Stuart MacFarlane.
Women’s football has come a long way in the past 20 years but the transition might not have been possible without a legendary team and their star striker.
Arsenal Women were almost unbeatable in the mid-to-late 2000s thanks, in part, to the goals of Scottish striker Julie Fleeting.
The number 10, who played at Arsenal’s Boreham Wood stadium from 2004 to 2012, is now the subject of a BBC documentary.
Under the guidance of club founder Vic Akers - the former longtime kit man for the men’s team - the Gunners won pretty much everything.
With ever increasing attendances, the women’s game is seeing massive growth and Akers is happy for his players to take credit for their part in a resurgence.
He told the Gazette: “Undoubtedly (our success) made a big impression on the football world and on women’s football.
“We worked hard to establish the women’s game in the country and I feel we contributed more than most in that respect. Having the name Arsenal behind us was a major factor.”
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Akers had first seen Julie Fleeting as a 16-year-old in the 1990s playing for Scotland. She had moved to the US in the early 2000s but at the end of 2003 needed a new club when the league was dissolved.
An agreement was struck that allowed her to train in Scotland during the week but travel down to London on match days.
Akers said: “I couldn’t have been more pleased from what we got out of Julie, she is a fantastic person and her ability to score goals was second to none.
“She came down on a flight every weekend and sometimes on the morning of the game, even. That’s the way it worked, it was quite unique in this day and age.
“You could guarantee she would be working hard and training.”
Akers cites her 116 goals in 121 games for Scotland, as well as her consistent and prolific prowess in front of goal for Arsenal.
In her first season, she injured herself while playing for her country one day before the Gunners took on Charlton in the FA Cup final. Akers was reluctant to play his number 10 but Fleeting “didn’t want to give it up” and scored a hattrick to take the trophy back to north London. The team added to it by winning the league win that season.
“That is the character of Julie Fleeting, it was unbelievable,” said Akers who founded the team in 1987 and remained manager until 2009.
With Akers at the helm and Fleeting leading the line, Arsenal dominated the domestic league - winning seven successive titles from 2003-04 to 2009-10. A highpoint was the 2006-07 season when the Gunners won a quadruple, including a European cup win, which has gone unmatched to this day. The side featured legends of the women’s game including Faye White, Alex Scott, Jayne Ludlow, Kelly Smith, Karen Carney and Rachel Yankey. Despite the greatness around her, Akers said Fleeting was among the best he ever worked with.
“Julie would have progressed any team and at that point in her career, a player I was delighted to have and I was lucky to have her as a friend.
“She is a lovely person, and it just fitted into the club as you would expect. She was a great asset all around.”
Akers contributed interviews for the documentary, simply called Julie Fleeting, which was made with Gaelic-language channel BBC Alba.
“We had some wonderful players during my time and she would be among the top of those for everything she brought about,” he added.
Women’s football teams are now gearing up for this summer’s European Championships, which will be held in stadia around England.
Fleeting said in a statement: “Now I can see how far women’s football has come and watch the players that have been developed through the game, I'm so proud to have been a part of it.”
Julie Fleeting will be shown on BBC ALBA on April 10 and available on BBC iPlayer shortly after.