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The no-nonsense matriarch of England women's evolution

Now in her eighties, Norma Izard is a living testimony to the pioneering breed of women's cricketer who helped elevate the sport to today's professional levels

Raf Nicholson
Raf Nicholson
Norma Izard, former manager of England women's team, June 2017

Norma Izard was in charge of pretty much all of the England women's team's operations between 1984 and 1993  •  Raf Nicholson

When I meet Norma Izard, now a grey-haired lady of 83, it's possible to see more than just a glimpse of the woman who remains the longest-serving manager of any England cricket team, men's or women's, having experienced a nine-year stint in charge of England Women between 1984 and 1993. She retains a no-nonsense manner, even in her twilight years: "I set my standards high as manager," she says, "and I never deviated."
"They learned in the end," she adds, ominously.
Being manager of a women's side in the 1980s, even an international one, presented a somewhat different challenge to anything experienced by her male counterparts. Appointed in 1984, she was initially a combination of manager, coach, and physiotherapist, in the days when funds were tight and the still amateur Women's Cricket Association (WCA) could ill afford to send more than one non-player on international tours. That meant, she says, that she was "the representative of the WCA on tour, and we did it my way".
It was Izard who ensured players were "correctly dressed" while on tour; she who enforced a 10pm curfew. Every detail of accommodation, travel and functions between games was taken care of by her. Once, during a tour of Australia, a player turned up still drunk to a state game after some rather over-zealous celebrations the night before; Izard subsequently banned all alcohol consumption for the remainder of the tour.
She is full of tales, nonetheless, of player mischief under her rule. "I used to have to check for cling film on the toilet, grease on my door handles. Once someone sewed up the armhole of my nightdress. I never did find out who it was!"
"You were supposed to send your CV and all this sort of thing. I wrote a letter saying: 'I understand there may be a vacancy for manager. I wish to apply for it. I'm not putting any more on this letter because you know what I've done and what I can do!'"
"The worst thing I ever had was in England in 1986, during the India tour. A couple of players were in the hotel jacuzzi and while they were in there, the others went in and took all their clothes and towels. The next thing we knew was these players coming down in the lift into the lounge in their bikinis. I said, 'Get back to your rooms before I get really cross!'
"We had a match the next day, and they always had to wear their blazers at lunchtime. And one of the girls came in and got her blazer and I suddenly said, 'You're covered in white powder!' I examined all the other blazers, and someone had put talcum powder in the pockets. I had to empty it all out and it made such a mess.
"I was not impressed," Izard recalls, grimly. One wonders quite how they dared.
It was not a financially rewarding job - Izard was never paid a penny in her nine years as manager - but it was a way for her to help advance the cause of women's cricket, which she had long felt passionate about.
She was born in Beckenham in 1933, and the first evidence of her love of cricket is a photograph of her at three years old, taken on the beach in Cornwall, cap perched on her head, bat aloft. Izard was an only child and it was her father - himself a cricketer for Cornwall - who instilled in her a passion for the game: "He made all my bats. He was always throwing the ball to me."
She tells a moving story about the time when she was aged seven and had been evacuated to stay with grandparents in Cornwall during the Second World War. Her father was called away from a game of cricket in the garden to take a phone call. "I went in and he was on the settee crying his eyes out. He'd heard that our house in Beckenham had been bombed. Everybody in our terrace was killed. If my father hadn't been convalescing in Cornwall - he'd suffered bomb-blast injuries when on duty as a policeman - he'd have been there that night.
"I couldn't understand why he was crying," she adds. "Cry over a house? I wanted to carry on playing cricket!"
Later, when they had returned to Beckenham, she would accompany her father to his matches for the police force team: "When he wasn't batting, he would take me into the nets. The other men when they were out used to come along and join in. They always said, 'I'll get her out'. And they couldn't! That was my cricket coaching. There was no official stuff then."
At 11 she went to Beckenham Grammar School and was thrilled to discover that they played cricket there. She made the school team as wicketkeeper, attended one of the first ever schoolgirls' coaching sessions held in Blackheath, Kent, in 1948, and was selected for the Kent Junior XI. By the time she was 17, she was playing for the senior Kent side, and had also joined the nearest club, Kent Nomads. Pitches, as the club name suggests, were rather hard to come by.
She attended Dartford PE College, became a PE teacher, and got as far as being invited to England trials ahead of the 1957-58 tour to Australia and New Zealand. But "they had a wicketkeeper, and the team was pretty well picked". She had married in 1955, and decided to give up cricket in order to start a family; her two sons arrived soon afterwards.
"Ruth [Prideaux] started all that fitness stuff: we had a javelin coach come in, a dance class for footwork, a runner who taught them to run properly. And she got a sports psychologist too. It took the men a long time afterwards to adopt that"
It was years later, with her sons grown up, that she became involved again, initially as manager of the first ever Junior England side, then as a national selector, then finally - when a vacancy arose - applying to become the manager of the full England side. "You were supposed to send your CV and all this sort of thing. I wrote a letter saying: 'I understand there may be a vacancy for manager. I wish to apply for it. I'm not putting any more on this letter because you know what I've done and what I can do!'" Wisely, the WCA executive chose to appoint her purely on that basis.
The crowning glory of her time as manager - England's 1993 World Cup win at home - came at the end of her nine-year reign. Norma is modest about her own contribution to the team's success - "I was thrilled for them, but it wasn't a personal achievement for me. It was their win, not mine" - but it becomes obvious, talking to her, how fundamental she was to the result, working closely as she did with coach Ruth Prideaux.
It was Izard who pushed for the appointment of a permanent England coach in the first place. "All the other international teams were getting in coaches, and I said to the WCA executive, 'It's no good having different coaches every week.'" Together she and Prideaux drew up a strenuous training programme in the build-up to the tournament, involving weekends spent in sleeping bags on Prideaux's living-room floor in Eastbourne. Izard insisted that, during the tournament itself, players must remain together for the duration: no returning to their jobs in between games, as had previously been the norm.
"They'd never even done warm-ups before. Ruth started all that fitness stuff: we had a javelin coach come in, for their throwing, a dance class for footwork, a runner who taught them to run properly. And she got a sports psychologist to come and work with us too. It took the men a long time afterwards to adopt that."
"We've done a lot of firsts in women's cricket," she adds, proudly.
One thing is for sure: the players retain warm memories of Izard's time as manager, despite her reputation for strictness. The huge pile of thank-you cards she shows me, received at the end of each tour, is testament to that. "It was like being a parent to the players," she says of her management role. "And I think maybe being a real parent helped."
Subsequently she served as the last ever president of the WCA, overseeing the eventual merger with the ECB in 1998, and being awarded the OBE for services to cricket in 1995. She recalls that, while president, she invited the prime minister at the time, John Major, who famously attended the 1993 World Cup final, to subsequent women's matches at Lord's. "The first time, he said: 'Don't introduce me to anybody while they're playing, because I want to watch!' He even put off a meeting because he wanted to watch the end of the game. Any other match I used to invite him, and he would come along sometimes. I'm still on kissing terms with him!"
Perhaps her proudest moment, though, was being invited to become one of the first ever female members of the MCC in 1999. She shows me the letter from Roger Knight, MCC secretary then - "It gives me great pleasure to be able to advise you of the unanimous decision which was recently made by the Committee" - and tells me that she was the first female member to walk through the door into the pavilion: "I just happened to be standing by the door when the doorman said, 'Come on in.' So in I walked!" It was, she says, a very special day.
Izard retains a strong interest in the women's game: she is still a trustee of Chance to Shine, and hopes to attend some World Cup matches this summer, when the current England squad will attempt to replicate the achievement of their 1993 counterparts and raise aloft the trophy at Lord's. It would be fair to say that - should they manage to do so - their efforts will have been built on the backs of the women who, in an amateur and far from glamorous era, pushed forward with no thought for anything except the game they loved.
Women like Norma Izard.

Raf Nicholson is an England supporter, a feminist, and has recently completed a doctoral thesis on the history of women's cricket. @RafNicholson