I grew up in a very different era of football to my parents, my teachers and many other people you would come across as a child. Growing up in a family full of football fans gave me the chance to watch and follow – and now work – in the game I love but the stories regarding hooliganism, racism, and so on from the 70s and 80s didn’t sit well with me, a 90s kid!
It’s one of the main reasons women’s football captured my imagination so much. I first started work in the women’s game by chance with Leeds United Ladies (Leeds Carnegie as they were then) back in 2010 while I was at University in the city. That side was full of fledgling England internationals – Carly Telford, Ellen White, Jess Clarke, Laura Bassett, Steph Houghton, Jade Moore, and the list goes on.
Perhaps it was luck that I was there while a huge story was developing. Carnegie could no longer fund the side as the creation of the FA Women’ Super League (FA WSL) grew closer, and pulled funding, leaving the club in tatters. This was a club that was the closest to getting anywhere near a dominant Arsenal side and gave chances to many young girls to come through and help rebuild the club.
Through that, I loved going up to their stadium on a freezing cold Sunday, a plastic cup of tea in hand, and the same familiar faces week in, week out – only really family and friends went to watch. That team included now England international Amy Turner and attacker Leah Galton, newly drafted by Sky Blue FC of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
Access to the players, their families and friends, and the coaches was what made working in the women’s game so appealing, and thankfully, six years on it hasn’t really changed too much. I was working at Doncaster Rovers Belles recently and both times press were invited to work in the player’s lounge after the game along with the club’s regular fans.
In what other world would you see regular match-goers chatting to Chelsea Ladies manager Emma Hayes over a glass of red wine, children running around excitedly getting autographs and pictures with whoever they wanted? Some Belles fans even waited at the top of the stairs to hand Easter treats to every player who arrived in the lounge – the majority stopping to say thank you and pose for photographs. Karen Carney was happy in the presence of her boyfriend and parents while most players relaxed over a post-match meal with friends – ex-Belles player Bethany England happily mixed with fans she’d become all too familiar with during her time in Doncaster.
It’s an incredibly free world for the media and it’s refreshing to see that players’ attitudes toward the media and the fans alike hasn’t changed despite their rising fame over the past 12 months or so. The press officers are much more trustworthy; Arsenal Ladies seemingly didn’t even send one to their game against Manchester City Women, leaving journalists free to speak to whoever they wanted after the match.
FA WSL is back for 2016 and it’s as fun and enjoyable to work in as it was when I started out in Leeds six years ago!