Sport Sister Podcast - Input: 'Season 3, Episode 4"

Episode 4 – Changing perceptions of women in sport: Suzy Wrack and Denise Richmond.

Suzy Wrack is a football writer for The Guardian, author of the book A Woman’s Game and the 2023 winner of the best Women’s Sport Journalist award. Denise Richmond is the Chair of Kent FA and the of Southern Counties East Football league. She is also an FA Club Consultant and a Direct Marketing Director.

Suzy and Denise join Natalie Doyle to discuss the progress that has been made in changing perceptions of women in sport, and where work still needs to be done. They talk about the pros and cons of social media, the importance of improved coverage of women’s sport, and the various ways to get involved in working in sport.

Football is so powerful in society generally and the only way you’re going to change perceptions of women’s sport and attitudes towards women in sport is by changing attitudes towards women in society.

- Suzy Wrack

Read this episode’s transcript

Natalie Doyle

Welcome to the Sport Sister Podcast where we bring together professional experts with grassroots pioneers to discuss key topics for women and girls sport. I’m Natalie Doyle and today I’m joined by two amazing women working in different parts of the football industry. Denise Richmond is the chair of Kent FA and of the Southern Counties East Football League. She is also an FA Club Consultant and a Direct Marketing Director. Suzy Wrack is a football writer for The Guardian, author of the book A Women’s Game, and the 2023 winner of the Best Women’s Sport Journalist Award.

Today’s topic is a really interesting one around perceptions of women in sport and I think you’re going to find this conversation with Denise and Suzy really interesting. So let’s get started.

Denise and Suzy, thank you so much for joining me today. We’re going to get into a topic which is changing perceptions of women in sport, which I think is going to be an interesting one because we probably all agree that there’s been a lot of progress in recent years, but then every so often we get reminded that there’s still a lot of progress to be made.

Obviously, you’re both women in sport yourselves, but working in different fields, so I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this topic. So if I start with you Denise, how have you seen perceptions of women in sport change in recent years?

Denise Richmond

I think for me, it’s more about when I first started I got involved in our administration and that was acceptable. That’s what women were thought to be good at and that’s what they could do. Obviously, now the participation is so much bigger than it was when I was at school. You didn’t play football, you kind of played it on the street with the boys but you didn’t get involved at school or anything, and it was just netball and hockey. So I think that that whole massive change is the participation thing and the sheer want from girls to want to participate.

Natalie Doyle

How about you Suzy? How have you seen things change recently?

Suzy Wrack

Obviously, working in women’s football, I think it’s probably been the biggest growth area women’s sports-wise in the past say five years or so, despite the fact that all women’s sport I would say is booming relatively speaking in that time frame as well. But yeah, I mean The Euros had such a huge impact to exploding the interest in women’s football in England and globally The World Cup. Obviously, the England women’s team reaching a World Cup Final, it shouldn’t take these things. It shouldn’t have that kind of pressure put on players to perform, that the only way their sport is going to grow and change. But the way people look at it and stuff is by kind of top, top, top level success. But unfortunately, that is the way it is, but yeah it changed things dramatically, The Euros in particular. I think it was almost two-thirds of football fans were more interested in women’s football after the euros win in 2022 and, yeah, a huge, huge shift has taken place but then you still get really poor attitudes as well.

We’ve seen the likes of Joey Barton being the worst at putting out the most misogynistic abuse and attacks on individuals within women’s sport but also just generally over women’s football over the smallest things, over the most stupid things, like attacking the 17-year-old goalkeeper who played in the Scottish Cup and made a bit of an error, errors that you see day in day out in the men’s game that doesn’t call into question, like create an existential fret to their entire sport right? It’s just a mistake by a kid in a big game who hasn’t had the same level of training from the age of 5 or 6 that you know he benefitted from and so many of his peers and those that have come since have benefited from. So I would say that the reaction reviews towards women’s sport have got, that little pocket of it has got very, very loud and vocal online and in the press and things like that, and it’s given more space than it deserves to have, but generally speaking the growth has been massive. A lot of people have changed their views. There’s girls teams popping up all over the country and it’s a really exciting time.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it, the goalkeeper example, like you say I mean if that happened in men’s football, he wouldn’t have made a mistake because he was a man, he would have made a mistake because people make mistakes, so that’s what happens, whereas that happens within women’s football, all of a sudden it’s because all female goalkeepers are terrible and this is just demonstration of that evidence that they already knew which is absolutely ridiculous. But what is interesting, as you say, is it’s the reaction now that you see online is, I feel, that that’s changing, I think when the Joey Barton comments came out certainly I saw a lot more online, of people condemning what he’d said and criticizing what he’d said, whereas before there might have been a little bit more of a pile on. Do you feel that there’s a bit of a general positive change, maybe in terms of how people react to these sort of situations?

Suzy Wrack

I think so. I think there has and there hasn’t. Like I struggle with social media. I’ve actually come off X. Not entirely, but I’ve stopped posting basically because I find it such a horrible place to be, like the worst voices are amplified so massively that I do think it’s not a fair reflection of the world and society. You know it’s a tiny minority of people with those views who would not say the same thing to you in the street except maybe Joey Barton, than they would from behind their keyboard. So I think it’s hard to take those views too seriously. When you go to games, when you rock up to the Emirates Stadium, sold out, or 35 plus thousand to watch Arsenal v Leicester at the Emirates Stadium. It’s not even a game that is necessarily going to pull a massive, massive crowd. Pulling in those kinds of numbers and you see people from all walks of life walking through those doors just happy to be watching sport, and affordable sport as well, that’s a bigger indicator for me, like in my day to day of the changes that are taking place, over any kind of loud minority online. In part because when I was a kid, Arsenal ladies as they then were, putting leaflets in my council estate and were training in Shoreditch Park across the road, and me and my dad went across to watch and we were the only ones there and now they’re selling out the Emirates Stadium, like that’s a difference right? The actual players from that team leafleted my council estate, went door to door and no one was interested, except me and my dad who wandered across to watch on a Saturday or Sunday, and now they’re able to get people to travel and spend money and invest their time and energy and passion into them. So in my lifetime, that change is like really, really visible in a really clear definitive way.

Whereas, the noise on social media is, don’t get me wrong, it’s a reflection of a section of society, and it’s almost exaggerated a little bit because of the nature of online and being able to be anonymized. Yeah, just that aspect of it, making it a little bit of an exaggerated version of the real views in society. But those views do exist and they are a problem. And the problem is, social media gives them a voice that they wouldn’t usually have, so that’s always existed and there’ll always be these sorts of extreme minority views. But they are increasingly and increasingly in the minority. I agree that you see more people speaking up. I was looking at some of the comments about The Premier League yesterday on X after the arrest of the two players for the alleged rape of some people outside a club or something like that, and the reactions in the comments to some of the stuff around that were all very, you know, there was no speculation. There was a little bit of speculation around who they were but obviously, for legal reasons, I won’t repeat any of those kinds of things, but talking about previous stories and previous examples, there were people saying it makes me really sad to have them play at my club, it’s really awful every time they’re on the pitch, I don’t feel like it’s my club anymore, that kind of stuff, and I’ve never seen that before. Usually, it’s a complete overlooking of the issue because the club is more than anything and the player that is going to help you win a title or whatever it may be, or a trophy of any kind is, you know, could do no wrong. But there was serious criticism and serious arguments from the overall majority saying I don’t like this person playing at my club, and I felt like that was a little bit different as well. So I think there are definitely shift changes in attitudes towards women within football generally, which reflects the changes in society generally and, like we’re in a more progressive time. But, yeah, it’s far from eradicated as Joey Barton has shown.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, there’s pros and cons to everybody having a platform aren’t there, that’s the thing. So the benefits are that you can get people coming together and calling things out but also it does, like you say, for those more controversial opinions, shall we say, it does give people a platform to shout from the rooftops for anybody who will listen.

Denise Richmond

Social media is really frightening, to be honest. I think it does give that voice and platform to people, keyboard warriors isn’t it? They hide behind the keyboard. They don’t actually openly, a lot of them wouldn’t come up to you in the street and say the same things or make the same comments. And I think that’s across all, it’s not just X, it’s across all of them isn’t it, that people feel that they’ve got the right, they have the right to an opinion, but they feel they’ve got the right to voice it, however, ill-informed it is and I think that’s the frightening piece about social media. It is changing, as you’ve just said Suzy, but there still are a whole lot of people out there who probably won’t change, unfortunately.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, I think I remember seeing a, I think it might be in the Alex Scott documentary actually when Leah Williamson talked about how she didn’t like tiddlywinks for example, but she doesn’t feel the need to go on to X and say I hate tiddlywinks. But for some reason, in sport, people feel the need to tell everybody that they don’t want to watch it, which is a very strange reflection on our society I think.

Suzy Wrack

I’m not a big fan of rugby, I don’t go around saying rugby shouldn’t exist! Like, anything that I don’t like should not exist! I think that’s twofold right? It’s ingrained misogyny that’s coming to the fore. But I also think that is just like the nature of social media as well. It’s a combination of those two things. Everything is black or white on social media. There’s no room for nuance, discussion, debate. You’ve got to be controversial. Something is right or wrong. There’s no debate for the benefit of improving your view on things or your view on the world and accepting, oh wait, yeah I’ll happily change my view. You’ve convinced me. There’s no room for any of that. If you say something wrong, you are cancelled. You can’t step to one side. So I think there’s the twofold thing of you are either, you know, there’s deeper grey misogyny, but then there is also this aspect of people want to shock and want to be controversial and opinionated, and they’re the things that do good traffic and everything is very black and white. So you get those views in an even more extreme form on social media for that reason. There are huge benefits as well. It’s massively contributed to the growth of the game as well. So I don’t think we should slag it off too much but, you look at the way, The Lionesses, that name was created by Lee Moore who was working on social media for England fifteen years ago, or whatever it was, and got a number of the Lionesses to be social media ambassadors and use their profile to try to grow the profile of the team. And it was hugely successful and people feel like they have connection to players in a way that they’ve never had before and yeah, it’s been massive for creating community around women’s football as well. So there’s loads of good things, but you know obviously, it provides like Denise said, a voice for people that will use it in an awful way as well as for good.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, one hundred per cent. So you’re both working in different parts of a similar industry in some ways I suppose, what about women coming into those industries? Have you seen changes in that in recent years? More women coming through into the roles you’re involved in now?

Denise Richmond

Certainly in the area that I work in, so obviously I was a volunteer as a club secretary initially then working within leagues. I think when I started, I was the first lady chair of a non-league national league system league, which encompasses over a thousand teams. So I was the first lady chair of that level of the game. I think that there are now a couple more, so that’s good. It’s moving slightly and people are moving forward and certainly, I’ve always been respected but that maybe, as I said to somebody a few weeks ago, that’s maybe because I was in the administration side of it. I wasn’t trying to play it and I have to say I’ve never played but more the administration. For the Kent FA side of it, so County FA’s, again I was the first lady chair of a county association of which there are 52 in the country. That again has moved on. There’s now a lady chair at Manchester FA so that is moving. We’ve got a lady chair of The FA so that’s also moving. So there are things moving around. With my club consultant hat on, there are many of us who are women and we’re not just working across the women’s game, we’re working across the men’s game too. And I think that’s a strong acknowledgement of our skills and knowledge about both the national league system and then the grassroots game and that encompasses boys, girls, men’s, women’s.

So I think for me there has been a sea of change. It’s been slow. I think it’s been a lot slower than the impetus behind The Lionesses over the last few years. But that said, it’s all coming together, I think. With the greatest respect, it’s taken the men’s game one hundred and fifty years to get where it is. You know what the women’s game and what women in football have achieved in the last twenty-five years, it’s bloody brilliant. Comparison isn’t it? So there is this, I think there is a sea of change and it is changing and women are being listened to. I’ve always worked on the knowledge that if you have the knowledge, that will shine through and then your voice gets listened to and I think that’s where it’s really important for me, and the area of the game that I’ve come from. I think as well from a journalism point of view from your side Suzy, I worked at News UK for a while and, there’s a strong journalist on The Times, there was a strong, she suffered from cancer and passed away and I can’t for the life of me think of her name but she was from Sheffield, and they’ve got an award now in her honour. So she was a sports journalist and football, across the men’s game probably because it was there, but they were the forerunners too from your side of it, from a journalist’s point. Now the media channels are multiple, aren’t they? They’re multimedia channels not just writing in a newspaper or reporting after a game on TV.

Suzy Wrack

Yeah, I think you mean Vicki Orvice from The Sun. Absolutely fantastic writer, a real trailblazer, and one of a few that led the way for us. But yes, it’s completely different now. It’s still the comparison to the development of the men’s game generally is really interesting when you said obviously the men’s games taken more than 100 years to reach the point it’s at and the women’s game is doing what it’s doing in a much shorter space of time. It’s also doing it against society’s perception of it and against the administrators and things like that for so much of its time. The men’s game had a clear run at things, right? And investment and people committed to it and there was this relationship between the press and football because you didn’t have social media. You didn’t have TV, games live on TV. Newspapers were the only way people got scores and match reports and things like that. So there was this real mutual respect relationship where football needed the written words to become what it is today and the written word needed it to sell papers. So there was a real marriage there, whereas now, people can watch stuff on the telly, people can follow score updates on their phones. It’s really easy to stay in touch with football without traditional media. So that’s a different relationship, but there’s still responsibility there for the media to grow women’s football because it’s not going to grow unless you can see it right? You’ve got to see it to be it, is what the players say. But you can only see it if the media is there covering it. So that’s a really important aspect of it.

But yeah, it’s changed hugely since I came in. I was working on the subs desk at The Guardian for a few years and then I started writing on women’s football for them in 2017. They decided that they wanted to write a weekly women’s football column. There’s no, at that stage, full-time women’s football writers anywhere. And now, like you know you talk this many years later, that was 2017 just ahead of The Womens Euros in the Netherlands. Now I’m full-time at The Guardian on a full-time staff contract, we’re hiring a second full-time women’s football writer on a full-time staff contract. The Telegraph are hiring a new full-time women’s football writer. The BBC have full-time women’s football staff, like there’s a lot of places with full-time women’s football staff and then there are a lot more women covering men’s football as well than there were before. Loads. So it has changed.

There’s two main big problems. Traditional media is shrinking. They’re all facing cuts, particularly print media. Nowhere’s really worked out how to monetize online content really effectively. Subscription models don’t necessarily save you. The Guardian’s voluntary donation model doesn’t necessarily save you, and no one’s really worked out how you do it. How you get people to recognize that they need these organizations to exist and they need news to exist in a form that they pay for? That’s the only reason it’s going to stay alive in any meaningful sense, is like something that nowhere has really sort of worked out. So that’s a problem in that then you’ve got this issue of, the industry as a whole is shrinking right? So regardless of how big women’s football is growing, there aren’t the jobs there. They can’t just find new money to make it happen. So you’re sort of reliant on existing staff moving on, retiring jobs, names changing and then shifting across into women’s football and I’d say all of the appointments in women’s football in the past 3 to 5 years or whatever it’s been, have sort of almost bucked the trend of cuts and it’s been mostly papers and broadcasters going, this has to exist so we’re going to find the money for it right? And there’s only so long that could go on and already we’re seeing some cycle back on that a little bit. So you think The Euros would explode it and suddenly there’d be a whole load more coming in but that’s not the case. If anything, a few places are actually shrinking their staff. Some have moved on to different areas and they’ve not necessarily filled the gap in the same way and that kind of thing. We’re expanding at The Guardian because The Guardian, as you can imagine, is very, very committed to the idea of women’s sport having good quality coverage and as a paper, would like to ultimately move towards fifty-fifty women’s and men’s sports coverage because it’s the right thing to do. It makes sense. But that takes a paper of The Guardian’s nature, that is to the left and progressive and to be able to make those decisions that sort of defy what is necessarily going to sell in the short term to make those decisions and not everyone will do that.

Natalie Doyle

Obviously, we have talked about that there have been a lot of positive changes, but where do you think is the biggest potential for improvement? Where do you see there are real opportunities in terms of changing these perceptions?

Suzy Wrack

For me, I think football has a responsibility to challenge misogynistic and anti-women ideas generally. Football is extraordinarily powerful as a sport in terms of the way people perceive it. As a whole, men’s football mainly, in most countries, people are more dedicated, and will follow their football team more than they will their most preferred political party right? Like, that level of trust and respect and loyalty. Political parties would pay money to have the level of those things that the clubs can garner right? So football clubs and leagues, and Fifa and Uefa and other confederations are extraordinarily powerful bodies in that sense, in that people listen to their football clubs, people listen to footballers when they speak. So I think there’s a responsibility of football there to do more to challenge and to be progressive and to commit resources to challenge these ideas, and, you know, committing resources to the education of young premier league players in academies and all that kind of stuff where you’ve got thousands and thousands of boys who mostly aren’t going to make it but are going to go out into society, you’ve got them, there ready to listen to you. And then the opportunities you have to be vocal about it publicly, there’s so many things that football could do in a real practical sense, to use the strength of its voice to be quite powerful in that space.

But then also you need to go beyond that because yeah, like I say, football is so powerful in society generally and the only way you’re going to change perceptions of women’s sport and attitudes towards women in sport is by changing attitudes towards women generally in society right? Because you’re not going to have a perfect bubble that exists where sport is this safe haven for women, separated from this terrible world around it that is full of misogynistic ideas. You only change one when you change the other, and that’s the pattern throughout history, right? Any progressive step forward for women in sport has usually come at a time when there have been big movements or changing attitudes towards women more generally in society. Look at 2012 for example, the biggest U.S. women’s Olympic delegation of women, more than they sent men to the 2012 Olympics. At the same time, you’ve got Obama being elected for his second term with women the majority of the vote that got him in and you know that’s no accident right, that those things happen at the same time? There’s so many parallels towards what is taking place generally and what takes place in sports. So you’ve got to challenge ideas generally as a society to be able to change the way they’re viewed in sport. Those views are amplified in sport to a great extent and some of the worst aspects of it could be really amplified. But sport again, like I say, has huge power and it needs to use it more so they’re like the bigger picture ideas from me.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah I mean it’s fascinating isn’t it when you look at the whole how sport reflects society and sometimes sport can drag you forward ahead of society and bring society with it. But sometimes it goes the other way and I think that’s a really interesting point that you’ve made there around 2012 and Obama and how it all ties in together is a really good flag. How about you Denise?

Denise Richmond

For me, I think it starts at the bottom in the sense that the sheer number of young girls that we’ve got wanting to play football, that won’t be a quick sea change but it will drive it. I think that girls now, it’s accepted, parents are taking their girls, their daughters, to football. They’re taking their daughters to play football. They’re dropping them off for their Saturday morning training in a way that probably even ten years ago, it wasn’t a done thing. So that’s happened in 10 years. I think that will continue and that those young girls playing football will move into the women’s game and move further, and if it’s not necessarily football, it could move across other sports in a way that those opportunities haven’t been there. Like I said at the beginning football wasn’t an option for me to play at school, and I’ve never played it but at the same time, girls now, it’s an expectation that if you know there’s Wildcats, there’s Squad Girls, there’s all of those opportunities at whatever age you want to fall into it, it’s there. And I think that will start to bring that sea change forward, so that those things that you just mentioned for 2012 potentially will be there for the future too and not just a one-off. They will continue and the momentum will continue to roll.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, that’s a really good point. It ties in with how this generation of children are being raised I think. I’ve got 2 sons and I went to pick one up from an after-school club yesterday there was also a girl’s football club going on there at the same time and I’ve never seen so many girls at that school taking part in the girl’s football club that they have, and for the boys, it’s just like that’s normal. If I take my boys, they say is it the men’s or the women’s, and sometimes it’s the men’s and sometimes it’s the women’s and they’re equally excited regardless of which team it is and I think, yeah, just another example of how sport reflects society and the changes that are being made for that generation.

Suzy Wrack

And also, what are parents’s more likely going to be able to take their young boys to? Men’s football match at a ridiculous cost if it’s a premier league team or championship team…

Natalie Doyle

If you can even get a ticket yet.

Suzy Wrack

…or to a women’s game where the tickets are much more affordable. It’s much easier to get a ticket, you’re going to watch high-quality football if you’re watching the Women’s Super League or even the Women’s Championship. What are they going to see? What are they more likely to see live? What is their experience of football most likely to be live? My son, obviously, being a women’s football Journalist, I go to a fair amount of men’s games too, has been to more women’s games than he has men’s. He was at The Euros final, he was at the opening game at Old Trafford of The Euros, he came out to a couple of games in 2019 at The World Cup, he was at the USA game at Wembley, he had a friend at the USA game at Wembley with him. He went to the Sweden game at Wembley the other week with a different friend who has now probably been to more women’s games than he has men’s himself, despite the fact that his dad goes and watches Spurs men regularly, he prefers going to watch the women’s game. They’re going to Chelsea v Barcelona on Saturday. There’s a real shift change there in what it means to watch live sport and how joyful that can be and how that builds a fanbase right? That’s how fanbases are historically built. It’s, you have a relationship between a player on the pitch, going through hardship or celebrating or whatever it may be and you feel that emotion in the stands and that’s how you build the fan that is going to buy the season ticket for the rest of their life. And that’s what’s currently happening in women’s football, starting to happen. You’ll get a whole generation of young girls and boys that are starting to feel emotionally invested in a football team in a way that they’ve not necessarily been able to because their parents can’t afford to take them to a men’s game on the regular so that for me is like a big thing as well. It’s building that kind of level of fandom. It takes decades of support to build up, but we’re heading in the direction of that being a possible viable thing.

Denise Richmond

I think as well, you mentioned it earlier Natalie, boys now seeing girls play football and women play football, it is normal, whereas probably, as I said, ten years ago, it wasn’t quite so normal. So I think that hopefully that misogyny that we’re talking about to some degree would disappear in and of itself. There’ll still be that lone voice or lone few voices, but that forgive me, they’ll probably die off at some point, but the boys, they think it’s normal for girls and women to play football, and I think that’s where the momentum will continue for me.

Natalie Doyle

Okay, right, starting to think about if we’ve got listeners here who want to have a positive impact and want to make sure that they’re trying to positively change perceptions, what can we all be doing, what can people listening be doing to help change perceptions of women in sport for the better?

Suzy Wrack

I say be vocal. Support it obviously and invest in it, and invest your time and energy in it and enjoy it if you want to, but also don’t be afraid to challenge ideas and perceptions generally as you hear them in your day-to-day, right? It doesn’t have to be outright getting into arguments with people and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations but just chipping away, if you’re a fan of women’s football at some of the things in the broadest of senses. My friend was actually messaging me last night, saying she was in the pub chatting to a Spurs season ticket holder, a men’s season ticket holder and she mentioned the Women’s FA Cup Final to him and the fact that they’ve got Man Utd and he wasn’t that interested. But she raised it and she’s you know like, it’s Spurs’ first chance for a trophy in years and then they got into a little bit of a back and forth about whether Spurs winning a trophy via the women’s team means as much as it does when the men’s team wins, if ever the men’s team win a trophy. As an Arsenal fan I don’t give a crap either way, but, yeah, like just those kind of conversations right? Like in your day-to-day can have an impact in the way that person then goes away thinking about things and taking the opportunity to challenge those ideas and just drip-feed enjoyment of the game and the positivity around it. If you’ve got a daughter who desperately wants to play football, take them to football, but they’re obviously all little things that people can do. In terms of big things, it’s hard, isn’t it? Like there’s no big campaign that you can join and say ‘we’re a part of this movement to change the way’ but challenging misogyny generally in society and championing women and women’s voices is helping change ideas more generally in society and that impacts sports. So like any kind of progressiveness, allyship from men towards women in any walk of life is going to have a positive impact on women’s sport ultimately.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, it might seem like small things, but if we’re all doing small things hopefully it adds up to build into something bigger doesn’t it?

Suzy Wrack

Exactly.

Denise Richmond

Yeah, I think you said it earlier Suzy about if you see it, you can be it, and I think when you’re taking daughters to watch, play, train football, it’s having role models. So it’s actually becoming involved. Become a volunteer, look at the coaching, look at refereeing, and I think that then, that’s giving something back. So it’s that consistent message that actually for me the biggest, strongest thing I always say is, football is massive isn’t it, but you don’t have to just be thinking about playing it and watching it. You can actually be involved in so many different ways and for me, obviously, you’re a writer and talk about it and write about it a lot, for me, I’m a volunteer and get involved from an administration point of view and there’s always at clubs, a little job that needs doing. You do find yourself taking on more and more as you get more and more involved but those little jobs can actually alleviate somebody else’s headache and you can work with clubs and just getting involved in engaging shows for me, that helps bring that sea change forward.

And as you say be vocal. You know it’s, I can do this, I want to do this, but also challenge if somebody says you can’t, you’re a woman. It’s actually, yeah I can and here’s why and it is those kind of things I think that will take it forward too. You’re much bigger picture Suzy from a side of it. But I know with my involvement at County FA’s in the grassroots level and those lower levels, it’s actually, if we push from the bottom up, and you’re pushing from the top down, we’ll meet in the middle at some point, won’t we, and get where we need to be and that strong voice will become one, it’s all one, but it’s just giving out different messages. But if you can see it and you can be it and I think that’s a strong message for people.

Suzy Wrack

I think there’s a really important point there in the fact that there are jobs beyond just being a player on the pitch. When I was growing up, I loved football. I loved it! But I watched Arsenal ladies play across the road from me when I was like five or six years old but then they moved on somewhere else and it wasn’t accessible to me in any way. Men’s football was the thing for me, for like the overwhelming majority of my teens. I knew they had a women’s team, I saw them at the trophy parades and things. But I had no real relationship to them week in week out in the way that I did the men’s. I followed men’s football, I wore men’s shirts. That was the way I engaged with football. I remember saying from a little kid, I want to be the first girl to play for Arsenal men’s team because the only way I could see being able to be involved in the sport I love was by being a player right? So journalism was never a thing that I ever thought was something that someone like me could do. Not because I didn’t think I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t see anyone like me doing it. I didn’t really know that it existed as a profession despite the fact that I read the pages, I didn’t ever think about who writes them. But you don’t think about so many of the jobs like, you know, being a physio or working in a canteen at a club or being a scout, you know, all of these different roles that you can take up in men’s football as much as you can in women’s and be a real positive influence on lads in an academy setting or the male players in and around the team and the male fans that see the female referee on the touchline of a big premier league game or, you know, whatever it may be in that sense, or the team doctor sat on the bench that is a woman running onto the pitch to treat one of the biggest stars of the game. All of those things matter right? They all contribute to that and yeah I think whilst the growth of women’s football is obviously significant, at changing attitudes towards women and sport and their bodies and how they should behave and all of those kinds of things, there’s a big role that women in men’s football can play as well because that audience is so, so huge and so engaged.

Natalie Doyle

Yeah, I’ve done lots of talks in schools about careers in sport, and I always say that whatever your skills and experience are or whatever your interests are, there is a job like that in sport somewhere, like you say, the industry is so big and varied. There’s always going to be, if you want to combine sport with whatever your interest and passions are then you’ll definitely be able to find a way to do that within sport if you want to.

It’s been so good to talk to you both, such an interesting discussion and I think it’s been really good to look at the wider impact of sport and society and how they link here as well. So thank you both so much for giving up your time today.

Suzy Wrack

That’s great. Thanks for having me.

Denise Richmond

And me too, it was good.

Natalie Doyle

Wow! What a great conversation there with Denise and Suzy. Some really insightful reflections from them both and fascinating discussions around how sport reflects on society as a whole and the perceptions of women in general I think. I really enjoyed the discussions around the pros and cons of social media which you’re all well aware of and we know there are lots of challenges there. But also, we talked about some real opportunities as well of how women’s sport can have a real positive impact on society in general and the different ways that people can get involved in the industry and help drive that change forward. I think it’s really inspiring for me and really thought-provoking in general.

So thank you once again so much to Suzy and Denise for giving up their time. I really hope you enjoyed that episode and we will be back with another one in a couple of weeks

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