Boanas | “I Just Want To Get Started”
By Kevin Affleck
Watford's smart recruitment over the past month has not just been limited to the transfer market. The club have pulled off something of a coup by landing Keith Boanas as Head Coach to the club’s Ladies team.
The name may not be familiar to many outside of the women's game – but Sean Dyche knows exactly who he is. Boanas helped him on his way to becoming a Premier League manager.
"I was his tutor on his B Licence and I was the one who passed him," said Boanas.
Boanas, 57, hasn't done too badly himself. For starters, he built up the Charlton Women's set-up from scratch, turning them into such a force that they were main rivals to Arsenal for the top honours in the mid-00s.
"We were the only thorn in their side at one stage," said Boanas. "We always held our own and we beat them a few times."
They reached three successive FA Women's Cup finals so it was no wonder Boanas, who was very much the driving force, was "gutted" when the Addicks pulled the plug on the women's team when the men's team were relegated from the Premier League in 2007.
He had, during his time at Charlton, played a key role in the development of several international players, including Casey Stoney who went on to win more than a century of England caps. Indeed Stoney still holds Boanas in the highest regard and was one of the first to congratulate him after he got the Watford job.
The Estonian FA also hold him in pretty high esteem. Boanas went there in 2009 to become the Head Coach of the women's team and their Technical Director with his eyes very much wide open. He was only meant to stay three years tops but left, nearly eight years later, having doubled the number of female players playing the game and developed more than 80 female coaches, which is more than Belgium boast.
He left quite the legacy. His work led him to being awarded the Estonia Gold Star, an award usually only reserved for the country's elite sportspeople, like former Watford goalkeeper Mart Poom.
"That was a humbling day," said Boanas. "The remit was to develop the female game and affect the grassroots programme, both boys and girls. I said after one year that it was a ten-year job. I never thought I'd stay for eight. We had under 400 girls playing in the whole country when I turned up in 2009 and had girls in the national team who couldn't juggle a ball. It was about developing and going back to basics. It doesn't scare me."
It's why Boanas has no qualms about the size of the job facing him at Watford who have finished rock-bottom of The FA Women’s Super League 2 division for the past two seasons and won just three of their last 36 league games.
He loves nothing more than a spot of firefighting and starting from scratch. "I know there are problems but I'm used to that," he said. "I'm not scared by that. The meeting I had with the club went very well and I was impressed with the passion and ambition. I just want to get started, coach the team and make players better. I want to be in the technical area."
His wife, the former England goalkeeper Pauline Cope, will be glad he's got the Watford job. "I get bored sitting at home," said Boanas who lives close to Charlton's training ground. "Football is my passion and it's been my life. When I die, I'd prefer it if it was on a football pitch."
There is plenty of life in Boanas yet. Indeed, he's still turning out for a veterans team on a Sunday morning alongside Robbie Gee, the British actor who has appeared in Snatch and Pirates of the Caribbean. Football is in Boanas' DNA, you see, and his passion for the game coarses through his veins.
He refused to turn his back on the game despite the cruel twist of a double leg-break before the age of 16, robbing him of a potential pro career as a versatile defender at Chelsea. He did his coaching badges instead and now holds the UEFA Pro Licence and is a senior coach educator.
His first managerial job was at Tooting & Mitcham and he clearly talks the talk as well as walks the walk judging by the fact he laced up his boots well into his 40s during an emergency spell when the team was forced to play 12 games in 15 crazy days. They won the league that year but Boanas seems to have an uncanny knack of resurrecting teams and creating an infrastructure, even at pub football level.
"When I quit football playing in 1986, I went and brought a pub near the Old Kent Road," Boanas said. "The minute I got there the lads who used to just have a kickabout said about having a proper team. We developed the pub into three men's teams and two youth teams. It was great. I just get a buzz out of football."
Getting a buzz and the Hornets. Boanas and Watford seem like a perfect match.