My journey into management: Forest Green trailblazer Hannah Dingley

Hannah Dingley has been Forest Green's Academy Manager for four years and is now their caretaker manager

Hannah Dingley has been Forest Green's Academy Manager for four years and is now their caretaker manager

HANNAH DINGLEY has made history by becoming the first female to manage a professional men's club.

Last night, Forest Green Rovers created the landmark by announcing that the 39-year-old would be taking over from Duncan Ferguson as caretaker manager of the League Two club. Dingley is used to being a trailblazer, having already become the first female Academy Manager in English football.

Hers isn't an overnight success story though. The UEFA Pro Licence and LMA Diploma holder has done the hard yards during two decades in coaching and had to overcome prejudice and even abuse along the way.

During a superb presentation titled 'Another Way at Forest Green Rovers' at TGG's Youth Development Webinar last month, Dingley outlined her career journey. You can read and watch a section of that presentation below.


Hannah Dingley: I was brought up in a small village, with older brothers playing football. Football was my passion.

There’s a nice picture of me in my boys' team, playing in the local boys club. But as many females of my generation found out, when you got to a certain age those opportunities were taken away.

You weren’t able to play past primary school age, you had to play hockey and netball, and I probably didn’t get to the level I would have liked as a player because of those lack of opportunities.

It’s really sad to hear that a lot of females have had similar challenges. You talk about some of our current Lionesses having to pretend to be boys or having to sign up under different names to try and get into clubs. Hopefully that’s changing with the level and quality of provision for female players at the minute.

Having not been successful as a player, I went into coaching. I was really lucky to have a very supportive family network. When Match of the Day was on, it was the one day of the week that we were allowed to stay up late; when the World Cup was on, we’d get good food in and little snacks and could sit around and watch the football.

Football was a really strong part of the family culture and what we grew up on.

When I left school, I said, ‘Actually I’m going to go and be a football coach.’ I had really strong academic qualifications, but, no, I’m going to go and do a BTEC in sport. I wanted to learn about football and being a football coach. There’s a photo there of me in college - the only girl, again, on a BTEC course that was designed all around football.

I progressed from there to Loughborough University, a fantastic university, and went on to coach teams there. I coached one of the boys’ university teams and I coached men’s non-league football, because that was the way to get coaching alongside playing and all the other things I was doing.

You can watch Hannah Dingley's full presentation at the Youth Development 2023 Webinar. There are a total of NINE presentations:

  • Des Ryan: Physically Developing The Player & Person.
  • Hannah Dingley: Another Way At Forest Green Rovers.
  • Mathieu Lacome: Using Data To Aid Player Development At Parma.
  • Dr Perry Walters: Why Understanding The Teenage Brain Is Key To Coaching.
  • Benjamin Balkin: Importance Of A Detailed Digital Record In Youth Scouting.
  • Jack Brazil: Foundation To First Team At PSV Eindhoven.
  • Andy Goldie: Evolving A Club-Wide Game Model At Swansea City.
  • Tom Hocking: Video Analysis At Wolves Academy.
  • Carlos Casal Lopez: LaLiga's 10-Year Plan For Academies.


[In 2013, Northwich Victoria manager Lee Ashcroft was given a 10-match touchline ban and fined £1,200 for abusing Dingley during a match against her Gresley side. An independent Football Association commission found Ashcroft guilty of using 'abusive and/or insulting words' during the Northern Premier League Division One South fixture between the teams].

Women’s football was largely played on Sundays, so to get my coaching hours in I’d coach on Saturday afternoon, which was a really great experience. But, as you’ll see, I found challenges with some of the people you faced, in terms of how I was dealt with.

I still, to this day, often get seen as a member of medical staff, because it’s such a strange cultural thing for people to see females as coaches or females leading in football environments.

Also, alongside all this, I did some coaching out in Africa [through the programme Tackle Africa, Dingley travelled to Uganda, Kenya and Zambia to educate young people about HIV and Aids through football], some coach education, and I think those things formed those values.

The sense of injustice is something I feel really strongly about, because I’ve experienced that myself. I felt strongly about trying to help different communities.

One of the photos there is of me coaching a team called Leicester Nirvana, which is a really inner city club. I absolutely loved it, but some of the challenges and injustices those young people faced growing up in those communities is something that will live with me for a long time.

The players were often treated really differently by parents, by officials, but they are still children, still young people. That sense of injustice has always stuck with me.

Until I got my break in professional football, I was a teacher. I taught at Loughborough College (as course leader on the HND in Sport & Exercise Science), I taught at Wolverhampton University (as Senior Lecturer in Sports Coaching Practice).

I think that linked really well into coaching. Then I had my role at Burton Albion, as Head of Coaching, and now I’m at Forest Green.

The club are trying to do things another way, which is the title of this presentation. The road to the stadium is being re-named ‘Another Way’ and we have an owner, an organisation, that wants to innovate and look at things differently. That makes this a fantastic and exciting place to work.

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