Sport Sister Podcast - Season 1, Episode 7

Episode 7 – If You Can See It You Can Be It: Kat Clifton and Leah Godfrey.

Kat Clifton and Leah Godfrey

Kat Clifton is a former West Ham United player and PE teacher.  In 2016 she founded She Can Play to provide more opportunities for girls to play football.  Leah Godfrey is Chairwoman of the Capital Girls League (CGL) and Head of Girls and Women at Sporting Duet FC.  Kat and Leah join Natalie Doyle to discuss the importance of representation for women and girls in sport and in business, and how they create opportunities for girls outside of playing sport.  If you can see it you can be it.

I designed our own football kit because I was sick and tired of ordering XL Boys in Nike and Adidas kits. It does my head in. It doesn’t fit the girls properly and they feel insecure wearing it.

- Kat Clifton

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 grassroots sport. 

I’m Natalie Doyle, and in this episode, I’m joined by two people with a lot of passion for creating opportunities for girls.

Kat Clifton is a former West Ham United player and PE teacher. In 2016, she founded, She Can Play, to provide more opportunities for girls to play football and has now created a pathway for girls across Essex and Hertfordshire.

Leah Godfrey is Chairwoman of the Capital Girls League and Head of Girls and Women at Sporting Duet FC. Leah has over 25 years of experience in business transformation, brand development and engagement, event production and charity leadership, which she now applies to modernizing the girls and women’s game.

They’re both big advocates for, if you can see it, you can be it. I’m looking forward to this chat.

Right, Kat and Leah. Thank you so much for giving up your time to talk to me today. I know you both do fantastic work to create opportunities for girls to play football, but today I want to talk to you about creating opportunities for girls outside of playing, which I know you also do some fantastic work around as well. 

Leah, if I start with you with my first question, why is it important for you to create opportunities for girls outside of playing?

Leah Godfrey:

I think it’s a little bit tricky because I would say my first year here in the CGL, what I’ve tried to do is actually just intensely look at the football that they play and get that right. And I would say that what we’ve done is we’ve also looked at events in digital and social and other ways to reach girls off of the pitch so that there’s more connectivity. When we look at the women’s game, we see that social football is really popular and in a recent interview of our players for the State of Play, they spoke about how football gives them confidence. And when you ask girls what they love about football, they won’t tell you anything about football. They’ll tell you about their club and their friends and what it means to them.

And so I think I have to say being new to the role, I’ve focused a lot on the football this year, but what we did was, with our big events, we did TikTok challenges, we did a sports bra drive, we had the women’s Euro trophy, we did a storytelling booth. What we tried to do is build around the football itself. But I am keen to do more events that unite this community’ because if they’re united more because of their friendships and their clubs and their relationships, that tells us that they’ll benefit more from social engagement without a ball. I think this might be Kat’s area of expertise more than mine.

Natalie Doyle:

Kat, why is it important for you?

Kat Clifton:

I think it’s really important for girls to have other opportunities because I’m a big believer in what you do is not who you are. And with girl’s football, a lot of them zone in, and it happens in boys football as well, they zone in on I want be a footballer. I want to be a footballer. That’s all I want. They get to 16 and what 1% make it to be professional footballers? So I don’t know why we don’t do more of this. If only 1% are making it to be a professional footballer, let’s open up their eyes to see what other opportunities are out there to develop a more rounded person, rather than just having a sole one identity of, I must be a footballer. And if I am not successful in being a footballer, I’m not a successful person. So I think identity for me is a big one. And what you do is not who you are, so let’s try and explore that. So they feel a little bit more confident in their ability to go and do other things.

Leah Godfrey:

To speak to what Kat is saying as well about identity, that’s a huge part of it. The United States can be a bit of a meritocracy in the sense that you’re rated on how you perform at work and at sports. And all of that is considered your measure of success, as opposed to who you are independently as a person. And what I really like about girl’s football here is, it’s obviously really set far behind in terms of the life cycle of girl’s football, but the winner of that is that there’s actually far more community involved with it. So when I hear what Kat’s talking about, it flags up for me, like we’re going to be doing some referee programs, all female referee programs at Hackney Marshes this year.

And I know that we can’t do coaching, that’s provided directly by the FA, but we’ve looked at coaching development. So I’m really just sort of heading to that point, that Kat is at where I’m thinking to myself, how do we continue to engage girls? And what’s been lovely is we’ve had a few former CGL players come back and intern for us. So we’re looking at what type of opportunities you can get as an intern, just because there’s such a wide breadth of things that we’re responsible for. You could be interested in social media, finances, analytics, event planning, and there’d be a little bit of work for you to do. But I think that Kat’s right to hone in on the fact that there’s a microscopic amount of players that move forward. And frankly, on the women’s game, there are a lot of players who don’t want to move forward, because if you are in any league, other than the Women’s Super League, you’re likely working a second job.

Your pay is very middle of the road if you’re lucky. And that’s just not as appealing. I think boys don’t mind that as much, if you could play, if you could wear the badge, that’d be fine. They don’t have to face that because they get paid at almost every level. So I think that it is about alternative options and how you contribute. I would say to Kat, I find this U10 generation, completely new, these girls come off the pitch and they’re like, I’m going to be in the Women’s Super League. I’m going to be a reporter, I’m going to be a journalist. They already actually have a sense that this is the world that they want to be in.

Natalie Doyle:

Why do you think that is Leah? Is that because they’re just more confident growing up at that sort of level? Or is it because they’re coming into a world where they see that there are loads more opportunities than there would’ve been for previous generations?

Leah Godfrey:

100% it’s seeing it. So State of Play is a marketing initiative that we did to tell the story of all of our clubs. We interviewed all of these players and in it they, again, I mentioned that they talk a lot about confidence, but also they see this as something that is more of a hobby as opposed to something that they want to do. But regardless of that, they talk a lot about how much they want to see more girls and women on TV. All of the girls that we interviewed for maybe 13 and up talked about that. And when we did a documentary in April, it was the same thing. We had Rachel Woodland from Fulham talk about the moment she had her name on the back of her jersey.

She was like, it seems like a little thing, but I never thought that would happen. And if you are closer to our age Natalie, seeing women in sports was every four years when the Olympics played. And I mean, I was a tyrant. I was like clear the living room. I do think if you can see it, you can be it. We only do all female refs and linos at all of our events. That’s the first time I’ve been to an event that it’s been run by women completely top to bottom, but I had 10 year old girls there that’s their experience at 10. So I think it is about healthy mirroring about seeing Alex Scott out there, about seeing powerful women who work in football.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah. ‘If you can see it, you can be it’ is one of your big tag lines, I think as well, isn’t it Kat?

Kat Clifton:

Oh yeah. I love it. I absolutely love it. So, like you’re saying with the U10s, I think what’s beautiful about that age is how curious they are and how many questions they ask. So for their starting point to walk into Wembley to 50,000 people, that’s the first time they’ve ever been to a football match. Now, the first time I went to a football match with my dad and I must have been about 10 or 11, really excited to go and watch the women’s team. And there was about three people in the stands. I think we left at half time, because I said to my Dad, I can play better than these lot.

That was my first experience. And then like for you Leah, to say you’ve gone into an event like that and it’s reffed by all females, like that’s at your age. And then you’ve got U10s doing that for the rest of their life now they’re going to think this is normal. They’re going to go to the next event and go ‘Why haven’t we got all girls everywhere? This isn’t normal? So creating the norm is so important. And with the U10s, yeah, 100%, they’re so curious and they ask the best questions and for them to see for the first time, all of the different, powerful women and powerful role models, that’s going to help them create opportunities for themselves in the future. Like you said, how do I be a journalist, and how do I do this? And my favourite question is ‘What if?’. What if I go down this route? And what if I look on YouTube to get better at this skill? What if I ask my coach how to create a video for other girls to learn from me? Like, that’s what they do. They’re so curious and inquisitive, it’s a great generation to be in women’s football.

Leah Godfrey:

It really is. I mean, I literally had no intentions of being in football. I’ve been in football for 16 months full-time. And I just, I dipped in, I was volunteering. I was retraining to open a gallery and all of a sudden it just like, Oh My God, it sucked me right back in. And it’s too exciting.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah, it is definitely. I really liked Leah, when you were talking about using some of the former players as interns. What sort of things have you had them doing within the league?

Leah Godfrey:

So interestingly it’s been based on what their interests are really because I always have work that needs doing <laugh>. We’ve had somebody who’s actually been working on researching an NFT and Web3 project for us because they wanted to go into finance. And I knew that there’s a short window to be the world’s first on that. So we’ve had someone work on that. We’ve had loads of different event interns. A lot of people interested in event management. We had somebody who was interested in governance, so she worked on the League Handbook which was phenomenal as well. And then we’ve had people who are interested in social media marketing. We’ve got someone right now, who’s writing all of the content for State of Play. He’s got a phenomenal voice, which I didn’t think I would be picking a guy to do it, but he’s just really good. It sounds like me writing, so I’m like, great. I’m trying to think of what other roles they’ve had. We’ve done analytics, I would say mostly it’s events, social media marketing, a little bit of governance and some finance.

Natalie Doyle:

What great experience for them though, as well. If that’s the areas that they’re interested in, that they want to go into as a career, what a fantastic way to get some experience.

Leah Godfrey:

Yeah. I was just like, our semis, this is a world-first event. We have all female refs and linos, which in and of itself in this country is rare, but I was like, we’re using park balls, this is the world’s first carbon-negative football girl’s event. We were interviewed live by BBC One on the day, we had the Euros trophy there. We had the production of a small documentary where we were interviewing players and also Amanda Lewis from London FA, Katie Phillipson from Middlesex, we had Sam from Amateur and coaches. It’s meant to be more dynamic. And so you can sink your teeth into different areas. And I felt like being a part of that event was really exciting.

Natalie Doyle:

Kat, you did some great work as well, which I have to mention, obviously, because Sport Sister are involved, around showing the players how they can aspire to own businesses. Could you talk a little bit more about that project that you did?

Kat Clifton:

Sure. So I’m a big believer in modelling, and I listen to a lot of books and podcasts, and they say the best way for children to learn is not by telling them what to do, it’s by modelling. And what we said earlier, you’ve got to be able to see it. So it started off with, I actually designed our own football kit because I was sick and tired of ordering extra large boys in the Nike and Adidas kits. It just does my head then. And it doesn’t fit the girls properly and they feel insecure wearing it. So that’s where it actually started. I designed my own football kit and my own tracksuit for the players. And then I thought actually, while I’m designing it, why am I not utilizing this space to bring on female-owned businesses? Like I’m not just going to get any old sponsor, like come on.

This is, She Can Play, let’s think outside the box. So instead of getting like The Greene King down the bottom of the road to sponsor us, I put it out and I said, look, I’m looking for female-owned businesses. Is anybody up for it? I’ve never seen it done before. And then Nat, you got in touch and said, you know what, Kat, we’d love to sponsor you. We’d love to be on the kit. And then we ended up having seven female-owned businesses, sponsoring our football kit for this season. 

And that is on every single shirt for every single player to wear and is designed by a female. So every time they put on that shirt, they’re looking at those female businesses logos, and they’re thinking I could do that one day. And what else is beautiful is that every one of those businesses is completely different. Like we’ve got you Nat, and then we’ve got like a Bulldog charity that one of our mums created. And that just makes me happy. I’m just smiling about it now because I know every time they put on that shirt, they’re seeing that every single day. You can be a business owner. You can be an entrepreneur if you want to.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah, it was fantastic. And we came down to one of your sessions didn’t we, near the start of the season and did a bit of a Q&A with the players. I think that’s probably the most intense interview I’ve ever had, even when I trying to get jobs when I was employed, <laugh> from the girls, like fantastic questions around how we come up with the idea for the business and the things that we encounter through running the businesses. And I think it’s just really good. Obviously it’s something that I’m very passionate about. So it’s great to be able to demonstrate to girls that that is a possible opportunity for them in the future. So yeah, we’re really massive fans of that project. That’s for sure.

Kat Clifton:

But you were so great Nat.

Leah Godfrey:

That’s wonderful. It really irks me that up until this past season, you couldn’t even order girl’s kit at all. And so every time you do it, it’s like, I’m just swearing. I honestly am just like, you know, trying to do that. So I think well done to you for doing that, but I just want to say, I think it’s so savvy for you to just go out and seek female-only sponsorships for that. The two main sponsors that we’re seeking are female-run businesses and I’ve chosen them for that reason. And I’m in the middle of finishing up our ethical partner policy because we are only going to work with gender and ethnically diverse companies. And I just got out of a meeting with a really lovely gent about a Web3 website. And I just said, you know, it’s really only you and three other gentlemen here. I can’t see that we would spend this amount of money with it, with a group that doesn’t even have a single female employee, because you do need to put your money in your power where your mouth is or nothing will change really.

Natalie Doyle:

So true, isn’t it? I think when you talk about, if you can see it, you can be, it’s not just about playing is it? The obvious ones are coaching and refereeing for example, but then Leah, when you talk about the projects you’ve done with the interns, Kat, when you talk about the stuff that you’re doing with female-owned businesses, it’s all just expanding their horizons isn’t it? Getting them thinking about things that they maybe would’ve never considered?

Kat Clifton:

Yep, totally. When we go back to curiosity Nat, when you were talking in front of the girls, I just have to say this, they were U11/U12s, and you could have heard a pin drop when they were asking your questions and they were listening, because for the first time, they’re looking at female owned business owners, they’ve never seen that before, ever. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before and you could see the light bulbs going off in their head. I think that’s why they were asking such good questions because they were seeing things for the first time and asking questions that they’ve never thought of before. And I’m 100% sure that there’ll be a female-owned business owner in that group of children you were talking to Nat. And it was one of my favourite nights I’ve ever had at She Can Play. I just wanted to say thank you for coming down, because it was so special.

Natalie Doyle:

It was a pleasure for me. I took the leap into running my own business, Sport Sister will be one this weekend. So it’s been very short.

Leah Godfrey:

Congratulations.

Natalie Doyle:

Thank you, but it’s something I’d considered before, but hadn’t been brave enough to do. And you think, maybe if you’d had someone come down and talk to you at the age of 10, 11, 12, and show you that it’s possible, you might actually be more open to that as an option. So the earlier you could start those conversations with players and young people, the bigger impact it can have.

Leah Godfrey:

Agreed. It really is a life changer. I think you do need to see that women can be successful as owners in order to believe that that’s something that you can do. I, at 19 started a cake company, my entire background is in food, with a friend of mine. And it was because we came upon a need and talked it through and she was like, well, do you think that you could find us a kitchen in that area? Because there are loads of restaurants that need high-end cakes. And I was like, yeah, actually I know a bar that doesn’t do any food. <laugh>, let’s see if they’ll let us do that. But being taught to be scrappy early on and that there was no reason why we couldn’t do that, it wasn’t overwhelming or beyond our scope, is what led me to run nine other companies after that. It made a huge impact on me. I loved that moment. I wish I had seen that. That sounds so empowering.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah, it was, it was really good. It was a good night. Right. I’m going to try and get you thinking about some tips that we can give. So if you’ve got clubs and organisations who want to look at how they can provide these opportunities for girls, how they can empower their girls to think about the other opportunities that might be available to them, what would be your top tips about how they approach that?

Leah Godfrey:

I’m going to let Kat go first on this.

Natalie Doyle:

I’m not sure if that’s good or if that’s thrown you under the bus Kat, but we’ll see.

Kat Clifton:

Okay. I’m going to go back to my modelling. I think they need to see the behaviours modelled. There’s no point in just giving them a list of things, look, you can go be a coach, you can go be a ref, go be a physio. It’s just old school. I think they need to see the behaviour. So we ran a tournament last weekend, all female refs, is hosted by females, all female sponsors. We go down to really tiny details and I’m not shoving that down their throat. I’m not saying, look at all these female refs and all these female coaches. It’s just like planting seeds. I just love planting seeds and, then they’re coming up with the idea. And if they come up with the idea, they’re more likely to remember it. So what I’d say to clubs is I’d say, look, take your time and plan any events with the future in mind.

So what seeds can you plant right now that will flourish? When the girls see them, they come up with the idea that, oh, that’s a good idea there. Is that a female ref? They might look at it and say, oh, what business is doing the catering there? Oh it’s a female-owned caterer. Wow. Maybe I could do that one day. I would say, just take time and think about the tiny, tiny details. Don’t just tell the girls what they could be or what they could do. Let them be curious and let them be inquisitive to try and discover little tiny moments, like aha moments, little light bulb moments where they come up with the ideas.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah. Brilliant. What about you, Leah?

Leah Godfrey:

You know, I’m struggling a little bit with it because it’s a little bit tricky as a league because it’s the clubs that really oversee that development with the players. I do wear a coat that says Chairwoman and everyone was a little bit funny about me going with Chairwoman instead of Chair initially. And I was just like, when there are loads of Chairwomen, I won’t need to be a Chairwoman anymore. We can all be Chairs, but until that point, that’s what it is. And so I even wear that coat when it’s too warm and I introduce myself to girls and tell them what I do and why I do it. And they often are surprised to find a woman in football. I don’t know if you find that Kat, but if I’m honest, girl’s football in this country, it’s off the backs of a lot of women who played illegally for a long time and kept pushing, but it’s very much propped up by dad, coaches and dad fans of the vast majority.

And so I don’t want to undo all of that good work, but I think it is about visibility, but in listening to you Kat, I was thinking to myself, you know, am I telling the story of our league committee, of the women on our committee that make a massive difference in our driving change? I’m not sure if I’m doing that to the best degree that I can. One of the other things that we were thinking about doing, I couldn’t agree with you more about modelling and mirroring. I feel like that is the best route forward, but we’ve been looking at different sponsorships that we would have with banks as well. Because I think that for me, part of, one of the initiatives that we want to launch is to work with a bank that has an account that really is kind of set up the way that we think that girls and women, people in general, should start, so that every cheque that goes in immediately a portion of it goes to retirement from age 18 on, that goes into your savings account, that goes into a mad money account.

And then into your checking account. This immediate sort of built-in understanding that every dollar or pound that you earn needs to be respected and to be thought about because I think that one of the things that’s most important is changing the financial situation for women. And for me, that should come at the jump at 16, at 17, 18 when you have an account. So I’ve thought a lot about that. I mean, we’re talking about how to empower the next generation here. And for me, part of it was just a huge drive around our digital connectivity, which resonates. I spend all hours on Instagram messaging back and forth with kids who are like, thank you for posting that. Or, you know, I play in this country, can you support us? I think that there’s a big space for that as well, but yeah, I think that I have to focus a little bit more on the mirroring because we aren’t present with the players. It’s not like a club. It’s not like my teams that do that, that see me all the time and know me and know my role. You’ve got to kind of marry that layer, I suppose.

Kat Clifton:

What you said about empowering women, Leah, I think that’s really, really powerful. And I just had a little light bulb moment there while I was listening to you. And the thing is, if you think about it with girl’s football clubs, and you said the original question was how to help the clubs Nat, and you said Leah, it’s a lot of dads that are coaching. So actually why aren’t the mum’s coaching, is the lack of confidence from giving birth. They don’t go into work. They’re full-time mum. And I think they give a lot of that time to being a mum and they lose confidence in everything else. And I think how can clubs, if we changed the question, how can clubs create a safe environment for mums to feel like they can take ownership of different initiatives within the clubs? Like we had a mum a couple of months ago, message me and say, look Kat, no-one would do the lino.

So I stepped up and did it. It’s normally the dad’s well, why aren’t moms running the line? Yeah, because they’re scared of what other people think. So how can we create psychological safety within your club? Where if a mum does want to run the line, the other parents are not going to laugh and think, look, there’s a woman running the line, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and creating that psychological safety for the mums to feel confident in saying, you know what? Yeah. You know, I will run this team and then another mum will say, well, I’ll come and help you. I’m going to run the next age group. And I would love to see more of that. I really would.

Leah Godfrey:

I think that’s a brilliant idea. I agree. I think a lot of it has to do with confidence. But the thing is, I would say for mums in their 40s like that, the ones that I meet refer to themselves as the lost generation. I’ve met two women in 10 years in this country that played football that are my age. It’s just so rare. So I wonder too, if part of it is there’s a soft education too. This is what it takes to run a line. These are really like the 10 core things that you need to do well. And making sure that people feel that that’s straightforward and that they’re comfortable with that. But I also wonder too, when I think about what you need to do at the club level, there’s so many bitty roles that you could use support with, even if it was just somebody doing player registration or letting people know that you want to run an event, chances are somebody has that experience.

So I think creating better pathways for parents to contribute at the club and letting people know what those are, is a really good, strong first step. And I just want you to know Kat, I am going to steal your ‘we’re only accepting female-owned sponsors for kit’. I’ve done quite a few things to try and gain sponsorship. One of the things we’ve done, because we have mostly male coaches is that we gave away day tampons at a tournament so that everybody had a box of them with them. And they were really open to that. But there were so many men who were just like, thanks because I wouldn’t have asked. And I didn’t know. And I wasn’t sure, but I will always have this in my bag.

Kat Clifton:

I love that. It’s breaking down the things that no one talks about for me. Last year we had the doctor, I can’t remember his name now, it’s Dr. Carl, and he came and spoke to all our parents on two different occasions via zoom, about periods. And I said on my email, I want to see all the dads listening to this because it is not just a mum job. I want to see all the dads listening to this because they need to know they can’t just be squirmish about it. And their daughters will appreciate that they’ve been a little bit vulnerable in listening to periods, so why can’t the mums be a little bit vulnerable and run the line.

Leah Godfrey:

That’s a good start.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah. So it’s so true. And I think the key bit, as you mentioned, there Kat is around how do the clubs create that safe environment that people feel comfortable to do that? I think that’s a really good thing for any clubs who are listening to this, to reflect on, on whether their environment is one where you would have a mum who would be confident enough to do those things.

Thank you both very much for giving up your time. There’s been some fantastic tips and it’s been great to hear about the stuff that you do as well to show the girls that you’ve got involved in your programs around what they can aspire to be. It’s been a really nice chat. It’s a really motivational one for me. So thank you both very much for joining me.

Kat Clifton:

You’re welcome.

Leah Godfrey:

Pleasure, pleasure. Thanks for doing this and being a resource to clubs. Now, I think it’s phenomenal work and if you have people on like us who are trying to figure things out, I think that the whole series is really a benefit to clubs because I think that they don’t always know the next step. So thank you for doing this.

Natalie Doyle:

Wow. What a couple of inspirational women we’ve had on this week’s episode. Thank you so much to Kat and Leah for joining me for that conversation. It was really inspiring. And I think for me, it was great to also get onto the conversation around showing young girls the opportunities to run their own businesses when they’re older, because that’s certainly something that I’m really passionate about and that Kat and Leah also have a lot of experience in. They’ve been really creative with the ways that they’ve provided other opportunities for girls within their own organisations and setups. And I hope that today’s episode has inspired you as much as it’s inspired me. And I hope it’s given you some ideas that you can utilize either for yourself or for your organization. 

We’ve only got one more episode left of this series. So we’ll be back again soon with two more fantastic guests. We’ll speak to you soon.

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