Tony Readings has eagerly watched the development of women’s football in the Pacific and believes the current standard is the highest he has seen.
Readings arrived in New Zealand from England in the early 2000s and worked with New Zealand’s U-20 and senior women’s teams from 2006-2017 in various coaching roles.
His stint as head coach of the Football Ferns from 2011-2017 saw him lead the team to two Olympic campaigns, an OFC Women’s Nations Cup title in 2014 and an appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup the following year.
Last year, the 45-year-old was appointed FIFA’s Technical Consultant for Oceania.
His job is wide-ranging and focuses on providing support to OFC’s 11 Member Associations, while collaborating on Confederation-level projects where possible.
The women’s game in Oceania has experienced a notable surge in the past 12 months with new leagues starting in the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
“It’s fantastic to see the growth of women’s football because I’ve been involved probably since about 2006 competing within the region and the difference between now and then is just huge,” Readings said.
More Member Associations are pouring resources into women’s football with the next FIFA Women’s World Cup to be co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia in 2023.
Readings said it was pleasing to see strong investment into women’s football in the Pacific, including the appointment of Women’s Football Development Officers in all of OFC’s Member Associations.
“You’ve got someone on the ground thinking about the women’s game every day influencing the decision-makers around the women’s game every day,” Readings said.
“So, whilst it has grown a huge amount I think with these people in those roles – and as they continue to improve – I think those departments will only get bigger and I think it’s just the start of where the women’s game could go.”
Earlier this year, Samoa appointed former Wellington Phoenix standout Paul Ifill as coach of their national women’s team, which Readings said was a big moment for the country.
“It really shows that people want to be involved in the women’s game because it is exciting, it’s still growing and it’s great to be part of something where you can be part of growing it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a range of challenges for football throughout the world but there has been one positive for OFC’s Member Associations.
Given they’re not preparing teams for continental tournaments, they’ve been able to dedicate more resources to their local competitions.
“I’m across a lot of what’s been happening and there has been a huge amount of growth over the last challenging year,” Readings said.
“Sometimes in our [Member Associations] the resource in the Technical Department can be stretched and if there is an international competition the focus sometimes gets shifted towards there or when travel is required and people aren’t present domestically, so that can really stretch Technical Departments at times.
“But because that has been not possible now that time and energy has been spent developing programmes and that’s only going to benefit national team activity in the future; more better players coming through, more better coaches, women’s football growing so women’s national teams are going to be improving.”