The Women Working Behind The Scenes In Football Prove That The Talent Isn't Only On The Pitch
The 2019 Women’s World Cup is a huge opportunity to celebrate female sporting excellence at its finest. However, while all eyes are on the star players heading to France, we should also remember that so much work is happening off the pitch that we never really get to hear about. But who are the women working behind the scenes in football? And what motivates them to do what they do? I spoke to five of them — a manager, a CEO, a psychologist, a coach, and a sports scientist — to understand their experience of the game and to hear how they'll be celebrating the Women's World Cup 2019.
When Scotland and England's World Cup teams take to the pitch on June 9 2019, hearts all over the UK will swell with pride. It's an important moment for fans of the game, and especially for young female players watching at home. But, aside from the players, who else should we be celebrating this June? Across the UK, countless women work tirelessly to make football what it is. While these people may not make the headlines as often as our star players, they certainly deserve some serious recognition for what they do for the game.
Hope Powell, Manager at Brighton & Hove Albion FC
Hope Powell was appointed manager of Bighton and Hove Albions first women's team in 2017 and it isn't hard to see why. One of the most successful and influential female managers and coaches in the game, Powell coached the England Women's team in 1998. She was their first ever full-time coach.
Powell lead the England team to multiple victories including the 2001 UEFA European Championship finals. She took on the under-19's national team and took them to the semi- finals of the UEFA European Championship in 2002 and 2003, and the quater finals of the FIFA Championship in 2002.
She coached Team GB during the London Olympics in 2012 and has been awarded an OBE and CBE for her service to the game. If you are looking for a coach with a peerless CV and more experience than you can comprehend, Powell is your woman.
However, Powell's name is not one you'll hear as often as Gareth Southgate. Speaking about the changes that need to be made in the football scene, Powell says: "It only comes from change right at the very top, where people fundamentally, honestly, and passionately believe that things need to be changed."
The Women's World Cup is an awesome time to get behind the Lioness' and cheer them on. However, it's also a great opportunity to recognise the high flyers such as Powell who have made the game what it is today.
Roisin Wood, CEO Of Kick It Out
The 2019 Women’s World Cup has seriously highlighted how the women’s game is thriving. And this progress is all down to individuals and organisations that have been prepared to take on the status quo. One organisation that has been fundamental in tackling discrimination in football for over two decades is Kick It Out. Working with teams, governing bodies, and communities, Kick It Out has made football more inclusive for everyone who plays, watches, and works in the sport. And CEO Roisin Wood has played a huge role in that progress.
Woods began working in football over 12 years ago, originally as the Head of Diversity for the Football Foundation and then as the CEO of Kick It Out, where she started eight years ago.
"I have always loved football and have been a Liverpool fan since I was eight," Woods tells me. "However it was the work within equality that was the biggest attraction for me."
During her time at Kick It Out, Woods has worked to eliminate racism, sexism, and any other discrimination from the game. She says, “my favourite part of the role is building new creative partnerships with passionate people who want the help us change football for the better.”
For someone who has dedicated their work to opening up opportunities and attitudes to make football far more inclusive, the Women’s World Cup must be a pretty big deal, right? As it turns out — yes it is. Wood says, “I will be spending the World Cup glued to my TV like many others. It’s an exciting time for women’s football.”
Dr Josephine Perry, Sports Psychologist
After working for years in journalism and public relations, Dr Josephine Perry turned her sights to helping athletes improve their performance through her business Performance In Mind. From teaching players how to work under pressure to looking at what is holding them back, Perry has a key part to play on and off the pitch. Although not a huge football fan per se, Perry says she loves "the processes that athletes go through" and "the interaction between players in any team sport." She continues: "I have worked with so many athletes now I can really appreciate the pressure they feel in matches.”
Prioritising player’s mental stability on and off the pitch is a big part of Dr Perry’s job and, while she may not be playing on the pitch, her work is all made worth it when they get those crucial wins. She says: "I love excitement and joy in the text messages you receive from athletes after their matches that have gone well but equally I enjoy seeing them reflect after a match hasn’t gone well and realising there is something important they can learn from it so it wasn’t a wasted experience."
So, how will Perry be celebrating the World Cup? "I have a two-year-old daughter," she says, "and my mission is to make sure she knows that any sport she wants to do is open to her, so I imagine we’ll be watching quite a bit of it together."
Shirley Fletcher, Coach at Chipping Junior Football Club
While there has been a massive rise in popularity for female football at national and international level, grassroots teams have also thrived.
Shirley Fletcher is a grassroots coach at Chipping Junior Football Club. Speaking of her work with the young players, she explains how they "arrived for their first training session and some had never played football before and even the basics were like a foreign language to them." Fletcher's job was to help them become fluent speakers.
"I have always been a supporter of local and professional football and just wanted to get involved in the community," Fletcher says when I ask what interested her in becoming a coach. "When I was young, there was very little opportunity for women to play football," she continues. "I saw coaching as a opportunity for me to get involved in a sport I love."
Through coaching the female team at Chipping, Fletcher has seen her team develop as athletes. She says, "my favourite part of training the ladies is seeing them develop, having fun and developing in confidence, ability, and understanding of the game. Seeing them coming back week after week wanting to learn more and feeling proud of how they are all progressing in skills and ability."
Coaches like Fletcher, who are working on the grassroots level, nurture talent and help build momentum as the profile of women’s football rises. This Women’s World Cup, Fletcher says she'll be "cheering on Phil Neville’s [team] proudly."
Hannah Pitt, Sports Scientist
Scoring goals and winning matches is a fine art, or — more accurately — a science. While players definitely come onto the pitch with natural talent, they are surrounded by people that ensure they can play at their best on match day. That is where sports scientists like Hannah Pitt come into play.
Having worked with the likes of Reading Women FC, Aston Villa FC, Birmingham City Ladies FC, and so many more, it's down to Pitt to look at players' training schedules, gym sessions, and more to ensure they’re working to the best of their ability.
Working for Catapult Sports, Pitt delivers sessions to help other sports scientists get into football as well as working with players to help them get the most out of their games. "My favourite part of my role is getting to go to the different clubs I work with, such as Reading FC Women, Aston Villa, and MK Dons, speaking to the staff and sharing ideas between ourselves to try and implement the best practice within Sports Science," she explains.
Working in the game, which has been male dominated for a long time, Pitt says she has seen massive progress for women. "We can’t change the past," she says. "What is most important now is to really focus on closing the gap at the elite level and ensuring opportunities for female participation at a grassroots level."
Speaking about this year's tournament, Pitt says: "I am so excited! The build up to the World Cup this year has been so good — just look at the Lionesses team announcement from over 20 famous faces. It's great to see so much more in the media and to hear so many more people talking about it. I'm going to spend it by watching as many games as possible and supporting England!"