Those watching the exciting match of the day during Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal tenure will be familiar with the Frenchman’s entourage.
Wenger will be flanked by Pete Rice on one side – a league and FA Cup double winner as a player at Highbury – and cutman Vic Akers on the other.
The boy band to end all boy bands.
And yet when comparing Rice’s accolades to those collected by Wenger during his time in the Arsenal hot seat, they dwarf Cutman’s own medal collection.
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“In 1987, he founded Arsenal Ladies and was appointed coach and manager of the team.”
Akers was a serial winner, an astute scout with an extraordinary eye for young talent, and a trailblazer in gender equality.
Like Wenger, Akers spent his playing days at the bottom 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 Isthmian League Cup – Holy Trinity) with Slough Town in 1981. The left back started to go down.
Shortly after hanging up his boots, Akers joined Arsenal to help with his schemes in the local community. In 1987, he founded Arsenal Ladies and was appointed coach and manager of the team. But this was women’s football and it was the 1980s, meaning Akers took on the role in addition to the community work she was already doing with the Gunners.
He was promoted to the first team staff as a cutman under George Graham, but insisted that he would continue to work alongside the women.
After more than 30 years at the club in a number of different roles, Vic Akers is taking on his kitman duties for the last time today.
Thanks for everything, Vic? pic.twitter.com/2zMIPWvLU2
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) May 13, 2018
It was still women’s football and it was the 1980s, 90s… and 2000s, meaning interest, media coverage and budgets were all low.
“The Gunners lifted 31 major trophies during Akers’ tenure.”
Players had to balance their playing careers with a full-time job. Akers cleverly provided the players with jobs at the club. Manager roles, box office jobs and changes in the Arsenal laundry department. It gave players more flexibility and wages, providing a platform as close to professionalism as they were going to afford at the time.
With Akers at the helm, Arsenal moved 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 lift under Akers’ tutelage.
Akers and Arsenal were able to scout and attract the best players from around the country. The great Marine Spacey was integral to their success in the 90s, before the Gunners’ focus shifted to unearthing up-and-coming talent. Alex Scott was signed up as an eight-year-old, while Kelly Smith, Faye White and Rachel Yankey were brought in as teenagers.
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The results were immediate.
Success in the 90s gave way to sheer, unprecedented and unrelenting dominance in the 2000s.
The Gunners won nine Premier League titles in 13 years, going an astonishing 108 games unbeaten between 2003 and 2009.
That crown came in 2007 when Arsenal’s all-British and Irish side beat Swedish outfit Umeå – captained at the height of its powers – in the UEFA Cup final, without suspended talisman Kelly Smith. What did
The victory made Akers’ team the first – and still only – British women’s football team to taste success in Europe.
“Arsenal win UEFA Cup with part-time side managed by a cutman”.
On this day in 2007 Arsenal won the UEFA Women’s Cup (later renamed the Women’s Champions League) after a 1–0 aggregate win over Umea.
?⚽️?#WeAreTheArsenal #COYG pic.twitter.com/NcMwOixSh6
— Action Images (@ActionImages) April 29, 2019
Even today, when teams are fully professional, backed by resources and infrastructure and with a media profile, no British team has reached a European final.
Arsenal won it in 2007 with a part-time side managed by a cutman.
England qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 12 years in 2007 and reached the final of the European Championship two years later. The backbone of Akers’ 2007 UEFA Cup winning side was also part of the England squad on both occasions.
Akers tied the only way with a domestic double in 2009.
The women’s game would not be where it is today without the tactically savvy Cutman who paved the way for professionalism in the 1980s.