When the Lionesses romped to a huge win over Norway during the group stage of WEURO 2022, it marked a complete turnaround in fortunes during the 21st century. Back in June 2000, the two sides met in the qualifiers for the same competition, and on that occasion it was Norway who triumphed by the same emphatic margin of eight goals to nil.
It’s clearly been a remarkable two decades of progress for women’s football in England – and for the national team in particular. This progress is the result not only of the Lionesses’ stunning talent and awesome effort but also of hard work and dedication on the part of many more people behind the scenes. These people have been working right across the football industry and the grassroots game, and they include some of the directors of Women in Football.
Paul Barber was working for the FA at the time of that calamitous defeat by Norway. The team’s then manager Hope Powell made it abundantly clear to him that training facilities needed to be improved, and Paul saw to it that Hope’s players were given access to better pitches and all the bibs, cones and balls they needed. He also worked with England’s then kit provider Umbro to make sure the Lionesses could take the field in playing kit designed for women’s body shapes – as opposed to the ill-fitting men’s kit they’d had to use beforehand.
Twenty years later Paul is CEO and Deputy Chairman at Brighton & Hove Albion FC – a club leading the way in gender equality. An eye-catching new £20m training facility provides dedicated changing rooms, gym, meeting and briefing rooms for women’s and girls’ teams. And the club’s determination to provide for women players means another adaptation to playing kit, where blue rather than white shorts are now standard, so that women can perform with confidence regardless of the time of the month.
As a journalist and then an agent Jo Tongue has been a trailblazer for women in football during the 21st century. She was editor of the BBC’s flagship football radio show 606 for ten years, and has since become one of the most respected talent representatives in UK sport. Her agency Tongue Tied Media boasts more than 30 high-profile players and broadcasters, with a reputation for securing fair contracts for all clients, whatever their gender.
One of Jo’s most noteworthy achievements to advance the cause of women was her decisive role in placing Eniola Aluko the first female pundit on the BBC’s Match of the Day. If you see her at an event, ask her for the full story!
As Director of the Centre for Sports Business at Liverpool University, Prof Sue Bridgewater has contributed substantially as a researcher to the creation of a sustainable model for women’s football in England. This work has been undertaken for various organisations in the sport, including governing bodies.
Sue has also helped to widen understanding of the game by authoring a new module on women’s football for UEFA’s Certificate in Football Management course. The certificate is a foundation programme for people working in football organisations who want to develop a fuller overview of football and its management.
Women in Football’s Leadership Course has helped many participants to develop their skills and ensure that the women’s game has qualified and able managers and leaders to take it forward. Several of WIF’s directors have contributed as tutors on the course, including Sue and Jo, as well as Monique Choudhuri, Lisa Parfitt, WIF Chair Ebru Köksal, and Jane Purdon, who, as CEO of Women in Football until the end of 2021, worked tirelessly to make football an industry where everyone can thrive and reach their full potential.
As Women’s Professional Game Director with the FA, Kelly Simmons OBE has perhaps the closest connection to the sport at pitch level. Her remit in the job is to oversee the development of women’s football in England – from its higher echelons of professionalism in the Women’s Super League, through the Championship, National League and into the pyramid. The women’s professional game strategy she leads on aims to develop the best women’s football leagues in the world by developing and attracting world-class players, growing commercial revenue and maximising audiences.
During the transformation of women’s football in England in the 21st century, Kelly has also worked at grassroots level. In her previous FA role as Director of Participation and Development she oversaw a £200million programme of investment supporting football for children and amateur players. Her MBE was awarded for services to football way back in 2002 – and her ongoing contribution was honoured in 2016 when she received the BT Sports Industry Award for Leadership in Sport.