Sport Sister Podcast - Season 1, Episode 1

Episode 1 – The Importance of Positive Role Models: Rachel Pavlou and Tina Hamilton.

Rachel Pavlou and Tina Hamilton

Rachel Pavlou has worked at The FA in women’s football for 23 years.  Tina Hamilton is the Chair of Formby Community Football Club.  Rachel and Tina join Natalie Doyle to discuss role models throughout their lives, and how they try to utilise positive role models to engage more women and girls in football.  Both have extensive experience and many useful tips to share.

“I really like role models who just go about their business really, really well, and don’t make a big scene about it all.”

- Rachel Pavlou

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 for this episode, I’m joined by two women’s football legends.

Rachel Pavlou has worked at the FA for over 23 years, specialising in the development of women’s football. She was a key member in the implementation of the FA Women’s Super League, has managed both the FA Participation and Talent Development programmes. And now her main area of responsibility is to develop football opportunities for female underrepresented communities.

Tina Hamilton is the Chair of Formby Community Football Club, a Director at Liverpool County FA, and was selected to present the Women’s FA Cup at Wembley at the 2018 final. She was also awarded the women and girls football Unsung Hero award by the FA in 2020. Today, we’re going to be discussing the importance of female role models. Let’s see what they have to say.

So, Rachel and Tina, thank you so much for giving up your time to talk to me today. We want to get into the subject of role models and how important they can be, especially within women’s and girls’ sport. So, I suppose it’d be good to start off with, just to get a thought of what you think a positive role model looks like. Who wants to kick us off?

Rachel Pavlou: 

I’ll let Tina go first as she’s such a role model to her community.

Natalie Doyle: 

Absolutely. Go on, Tina.

Tina Hamilton: 

Do you know what, a role model to me… I call them touchable idols. It doesn’t necessarily have to be on the screen, a big sports star, it could just be somebody at your grassroots. It’s got to be somebody who’s honest, who’s open, who’s approachable. Somebody who’s maybe still achieving because I don’t think anybody’s the finished article. And what’s really great for me at Grassroots, we’ve got three year old girls right up to walking footballers at 70 odd. And we’ve had our under 6’s playing football for the first time a couple of weeks ago. And as they turned up playing the five-a-side, we had our under 16 girls playing on the 11-a-side and one of them stops and said, “Tina, why have they got the same clothes on as me?”

So, that’s the mind of a child, but to me, that’s a role model for that child starting then. So to me, it’s somebody you look up to, aspire to be and who can embrace and motivate and create what I like to call thirsty horses. You can lead that horse to water, you can’t make it drink, but if you can create these thirsty horses, then your job’s a good one.

Natalie Doyle: 

Definitely. I think those local role models are so important, aren’t they? So, the big aspirational role models are fantastic and it really gives people an idea of maybe where their journey could go. But I think it’s so important to have those role models who are a bit more relatable.

Tina Hamilton: 

Yeah.

Natalie Doyle: 

How about you, Rach? What do you think?

Rachel Pavlou: 

Yeah. You just mentioned the word that I would use first, relatable. Also, they have the lived experiences of the girls. So, those young girls look up to them and say, “Yeah, they understand me. They’ve had the same experiences as me,” which I think are really important. And I agree with everything that Tina has said, and I’d probably add two other words, that they’re really passionate about what they do and they’re humble. I think that’s really important. I really like role models who just go about their business really, really well, and don’t make a big scene about it all. But you just know that they’re good people and they’re trying their best in the circumstances that they’re in. And that for me is a great role model. But Nat, local role models are just key for me.

Natalie Doyle: 

It’s like it’s not just about what they do, is it? It’s about how they do it. And that humility is really important, I think, as you spoke about. Obviously, you have both been in the game for a long time. You would’ve seen a lot of change over that time. Do you think that those role models have changed over time? Do you think… Obviously it’s more high profile now, do you think that makes a difference? Has it changed at all?

Tina Hamilton: 

I think for me, when we started out on our footballing journey with my daughter, ten years ago, we used to go to the WSL games all the time and it was great because they could see the players, they could get autographs, they could get photographs. And there was a lot of stereotyping around women’s football. And it was really important, I think, for these girls to see the girls at and small things like, “Well, I like your nails. I like the way you’ve painted your nails,” because the perception of women playing football was they didn’t take care in their appearance. They didn’t care about it. And that was massive.

Now, it’s projected to a worldwide screen and they’ve got all the sponsors and there’s adverts and you can walk down the supermarket aisle and see on Weetabix Nikita Parris. I mean, Keets was great with us. She gave my son football boots. He was her biggest star, going on to her first WSL game at City. And we’re walking down… He’s talking to me now, and he’s, “Look, there’s Keets there.”

So, I think there’s a wider berth now for these high profile, particularly in football, that the kids can pick from. And for me, it’s important it is the kids. It’s not just the girls. My son always used to say, “You can tell if the ladies are injured because they do properly go down and they are injured as opposed to the role play that you get now.” But I think there’s a wider variety.

We’re looking… We’ve got Simone Magill, who’s on our committee and she will come down to the club and she’ll see the kids and the kids are a bit like, “Oh my God, it’s a WSL player.” We always tell the story, she’s scored the fastest goal for Northern Ireland. But the flip side of it, she’s doing a master’s degree at Edge Hill, so you’ve got two different types of role models. But again, people can talk to her, they can ask her questions and she’s lived the dream and she’s worked really hard and she’s gone through the process of turning fully pro and she’s qualified for the Euros now. Northern Ireland are going to be play in England on home turf. And it’s just… It’s come full circle. Sometimes I think, “Yeah, this is brilliant. This is great.” And there’s a small part of me that thinks, ” Do you know what? I’m not so keen on this, because it’s heading a similar way to the men’s game.” I don’t know if that’s answered the question. I’ve gone off on a tangent.

Natalie Doyle: 

Tangents are good. We love tangents. What do you think, Rach?

Rachel Pavlou: 

Yeah. Well, let’s just be clear because I have been around such a long time. I don’t think there were many opportunities to know who the players were. So, you didn’t have role models in women’s football. You chose other sports because you didn’t know anybody. So for me, the difference now is that because it’s on TV, because more girls go to matches because they’re more local to get go… There’s more Women’s Super League and Championship matches and National League matches to go and see. Obviously, England travel the country. You now get to see them. 

And obviously social media is so big now that everybody’s accessible. So, it’s gone from those days of not knowing who players were and we used to do quizzes and we’re grateful if one person in the classroom would say one female name, to now feeling that the girls are household role models, which is just awesome.

And also, what I think has changed massively, which is great, is it’s not just on the pitch. It’s all the roles off the pitch as well. We can talk about people in board rooms. We can talk about women as physios, as journalists, as sports scientists, that every single job in football, we know women that are doing those jobs and they are role models in their own way. For me, the whole thing’s unrecognizable from where it was. Certainly when I was growing up, I couldn’t have a football role model who was female, because we didn’t know where they were and who… Where they were playing.

Natalie Doyle: 

That’s so true, isn’t it? I think it’s important to make it clear that it’s not just players who are going to be role models. It’s about all of the other roles alongside that. And if you look across football at the moment, like you say, you’ll have commentators, you’ll have people sitting on boards, you’ll have directors and managers and coaches who will all be female and be positive role models, depending on what people are aspiring to do. You talked there, Rachel, as well about earlier you wouldn’t have necessarily had football role models, but I know that obviously football wasn’t your first love in terms of sport, was it? Hockey, you used to play?

Rachel Pavlou: 

Interestingly, Nat, it was my first love.

Natalie Doyle:

Okay.

Rachel Pavlou: 

… But I was banned.

Natalie Doyle: 

Right.

Rachel Pavlou: 

So, I had to find other sports to play because my headmaster wouldn’t allow me to play. So, it was my first love without a doubt. And that’s why I carried on going to watch men’s football and still do, because it was always my love. But yeah, I had to play tennis and hockey. And don’t get me wrong, I have lifelong friends and happiness from being part of those sports, but there was always a regret that I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to. And I didn’t get a chance to play football properly until I was back from university. So, it was too late for me. It was too late for what my dreams and aspirations were. And I had to have those through other sports, which as I said, I don’t regret. I just feel I’ve missed out.

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah, definite missed opportunity.

Rachel Pavlou: 

Yeah.

Natalie Doyle: 

Did you find there were role models in those sports or did you find when you were younger, it was role models in different areas that maybe wouldn’t have been within sport?

Rachel Pavlou: 

Definitely, definitely had role models in the other sports. So without doubt, and my role model within tennis was Chris Evert. She was just absolutely brilliant at what she did. She was such a lovely person when she was interviewed. I just liked how everybody thought she was wonderful. She didn’t seem to have anybody that didn’t like her and I wanted to play like her. I wanted to do a double handed backhand and be as good as her. So certainly, tennis had that for me.

And then I ended up, really luckily, playing hockey when Jane Sixsmith was doing really well and was doing well in the Olympics. And she happened to play for a club, not far from me. And yeah, we eventually became friends after all those years. But she was a role model because, again a sport where there was not much publicity, but everybody knew who Jane Sixsmith was because she was the golden girl up front who scored all the goals.

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah.

Rachel Pavlou: 

So, yeah. They were my two role models in my own sport, for sure, because there was a little bit more… Well, certainly tennis was all over the news because of Wimbledon and we got to watch that, obviously. And hockey was getting better because of the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. So, yeah. And it was all down to the fact that it was visible.

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah. How about you, Tina? Who were your main role models growing up would you say?

Tina Hamilton: 

You know what, it’s interesting that you said that, Rach. I loved football. I mean, I lived, breathed and died Liverpool when I was younger, to the extent I could name the men’s team. And I knocked around with a group of lads and we would have a knock about in the garden, but it would never occur to me to go and play football because we didn’t do it in school. The opportunity wasn’t there and I often think now if you had the time again, Tina, would you do it? And yes, I’d like to think I would do. So, the Liverpool team I literally held up there in adulation. 

Unfortunately we didn’t win much until the Champo’s Final in 2005. So, I had a long wait, but I can remember Sally Gunnell at the Olympics and she was my first female sporting hero.

I remember Karren Brady when she was at Birmingham and looking at her and thinking,” God, she’s done well, hasn’t she?” And not necessarily thinking she’s made it in a man’s world, because I wasn’t old enough to process that, but just looking at her and thinking, “Wow, that’d be a great job.” And I suppose that would probably be my first recognition of a woman’s job in football. 

Now, it’s great to hear rightly or wrongly about the demographic, but I listen to Radio 1, Betty Glover, is the sports correspondent and I messaged her on Twitter, because to me, like you say Rachel, it’s really important that the girls realize that actually there is a life outside of football.

The likes of RBF, Rachel Brown-Finnis, she was brilliant for Everton in goal and she’s now making it as a commentator and you know when you switch on you think “God, there’s Rachel, there’s Kaz Carney.” And for me it’s great and the girls can see that. I don’t suppose I felt hard done to because I didn’t know any different, but as I’ve got older and wiser and more white hair, you do think, “God, I wonder what if? Would I have had a go? Would I have been any good? Would I have kept it up? Would I be doing footy now?” Yeah. It’s the what ifs from my point of view and my generation. But I think, the world’s their oyster now.

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah, definitely. So, thinking about both of your roles now, I know that you both wear multiple hats for different organizations that you’re involved in, but how important do you think it is to integrate positive role models into your work and how do you try to do that?

Rachel Pavlou: 

Well, I’ll put aside the Lioness legends piece because that’s something we started a few years ago when they first got their contracts. And I’ll say that was a brilliant success and continues to be because having those girls go out and see young girls, it was lovely to hear Tina say that she remembers when Nikita and Rachel first came. You don’t forget those things. And I think that’s become normal now. So, I’m going to put that aside because for me now, it’s very much around finding local community champions, the legends in the areas that young girls know their names, they know their families, they know them very well. And that’s what I think is really important because the girls will stay in the game if they have people around them that they look up to.

And that, as I said earlier, have those lived experience with those girls. So if I take, for example, the fact that we run a National Asian Women’s Football advisory group, we do that because the numbers of Asian girls playing sport, isn’t as good as it should be in this country and we really want to change that. So, we’ve brought together some fantastic women at national level to talk about what we should do differently and how we approach this. But the best thing that they do, is when they go out into the local communities and they speak about their journey as a coach, as a referee, as a board member, as someone successful in their own roles and jobs, and they talk about their journey in girls and women’s football and why they love it so much and why they’re involved. And you just see the girls respond to those women.

Some of them are very strong in faith and they talk about, that aspect being very important to them, especially for those that have got Ramadan coming up soon and how they want to help girls understand that and wearing hijabs, et cetera. So, I just think it’s really important that those young girls can talk to people who know the experiences they need to have in football and get some advice. So, that would be a really good example of how I’m seeing it happening quite a lot now and really being pleased to be part of it.

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah. It goes back to that relatable element, doesn’t it? That we talked about. It’s important to see people who have come from similar backgrounds or have similar experiences to what you’ve got and how you can then think, “Well, if they’ve done that, maybe that’s now an option for me?” How about you, Tina?

Tina Hamilton: 

For me, we’re trying to work smarter and not harder within our club. And we have a youth committee. A previous club I was at, we asked for a youth committee, because we said… We asked the kids what they liked about the training and they said they didn’t like it. And the chairman said, “What did you ask them for? Why are you asking them?” So, that’s something that resonated with me and we have this youth committee, but the idea is we want the older children to run it for the younger ones. So, we’ve got a… We actually had 6 D of E girls, which for me was brilliant. We didn’t have… Not that we didn’t have boys, it’s not that, but 6 D of E girls who got into it and said, “Hey Tina, can I come down and help at…?”

We call it the BabyBallers, the age three up to eleven. “Yeah, no problem.” So, you can see, there’s attainable idols there, that these are girls who are still playing now, who are also helping at the youth committee. But for me personally, we were lucky because we had Sylvia Gore at the County. My God, she was just… She started talking to us when we took the girls to the Everton games back over in Widnes and she helped Nikita to get to City, put a word in her and her story was just… And I can remember her telling the kids she scored the goal at Wembley and the kids were just mesmerized. But that was somebody who was just… Like you said, Rach, very humble, very unassuming and just brilliant, but would do anything to help you to the extent… I remember we went to watch the Lionesses at MK Dons against USA.

We lost 1-0, but hey, that was a massive achievement. Sylvia came up to us and she gave the kids all a pin. And it’s the little thing like that stay with the children. For me, I can remember being with the kids and seeing Bev Priestman, running to watch Everton’s first game at Walton Hall Ave. Bev Priestman is now a national coach at Canada. She’s got Andy Spence as her second in command. These kids at our club have seen these people. So, although they’ve been propelled into massive jobs in a worldwide audience, it gives me goosebumps knowing that our kids have seen them and the kids are like, “Oh my God, there’s Andy, there’s Bev.”

One of the most humbling moments was when I was surprised to say, you’re going to give the cup out at Wembley, I was just gobsmacked, but I can remember Emma Hayes when Chelsea won, coming up the steps and shaking my hand and I said, “Congratulations.” You feel a fraud. It’s the imposter syndrome and you think, “God, what am I doing here?” And she said to me, “Tina, thank you.” First of all, she knew my name, which I didn’t expect, but she said, “Without Grassroots people, we wouldn’t have these players.” So for me, it’s really important that… Yeah, it’s great when you get one of the players to come down or even… We get the county FA, our CEO, Dan Green, he’s come down and he’s watched the kids play and the kids get a real buzz from it.

But to know that it’s appreciated, to create these memories and help people on the journey. Your role model could be anyone. That’s what I say to the kids. Your parents are role models. They’re standing in the rain with their brollies week in, week out, cleaning your boots, invariably. But there are role models everywhere. And if you can take that and hold onto it, bottle it and give it out, you’ve got to be onto a good thing that there’s just… It’s exciting. As I say, I feel really lucky, the people that I’ve met to see where they are now.

Natalie Doyle: 

Now, that’s a really interesting point, Tina, isn’t it about once you’ve got these role models, once you’ve identified who they are and you’ve got them involved with what you’re doing is, how do you then keep them wanting to be involved? How do you make them want to keep coming back? It’s similar to, I suppose, to how you look after volunteers, but you mentioned there about how it made you feel when Emma Hayes said that to you at the cup final. There’s ways to do that, isn’t there? At a more local level to make sure that once you’ve identified who these people are, make sure that they feel valued within your club.

Tina Hamilton: 

Well, we’ve had three girls go off to academy. So, I’m immediately saying to them, “Do us a favour, can Holly come down just in her gear so the kids can see it.” And we’ve got a set of twins who have gone to Liverpool. “Can they come down and just talk about their journey and what they’ve done?” Because sometimes I think role models are viewed as adults, adults who have gone on to do things, but sometimes the most relatable ones are the kids and they can talk about things in that respect and that to me is the main positives that we’ve got at a local level. As well as County FA, our women and girls development. Anna Farrell, she’s brilliant and she can talk about her experiences. Our referee development officer, Natasha, that’s another positive role model. And we’ve got our safeguarding officer, that’s another female.

So yeah, if you can go across the spectrum and I think what you said, Rach, was really interesting, about the Asian aspect. And I watched… It was on Match of the Day on Sunday about Crystal Palace and their inclusion with the Asian community. And they particularly mentioned the girls and I think within our area the demographic isn’t that diverse, but you go into Liverpool and you see more and more of it. And I think the acceptance that the kids have got today is just brilliant and it’s something that we shouldn’t gloss over. But like you say, to get more involved and become more diverse, I just think it’s just great.

Natalie Doyle: 

And obviously you will both be big role models to a lot of young women who are having an involvement in the game, either if it’s because they want to work in football, they want to volunteer in football. Is that something that you both think about at all?

Rachel Pavlou: 

When people say that, you think, “Oh, yeah. Okay.” But I think… I suppose… I always find it a bit embarrassing when someone says that you’re a role model because I always think, “Well, there’s millions of better women than me to be a role model.” But I also feel I have a responsibility, therefore, to be a good role model if people think I am. So, I’m a little bit uncomfortable about it, but at the same time, absolutely believe that you’ve got to show everybody that you’re doing the very best you can do. You treat everybody the same way as you’d want to be treated yourself. You help everybody, all that stuff.

It’s important to me because that’s just being a nice, kind human being and that’s what we should all be. So, it makes me feel uncomfortable because I don’t think it should be anything special, but at the same time, I know people say it and therefore I have a responsibility to act in a way that is right to every, I suppose.

Natalie Doyle: 

Just starting to wrap up the conversation a little bit now. I’d like to think about if we’ve got clubs or other organisations listening to this, what would your number one tip be in terms of how they can utilise role models within their setups? Within their organisations?

Tina Hamilton: 

I guess you’ve got to listen to what your, as much as you shouldn’t say it, what your customers want, because although we’re a charity and we’re a football club, we have to run as a business. So, listen to what the demand is and then identify your role models and your role models can be within. It doesn’t have to be the superstars. And get yourself a good network. Link up with the County FA, link up with the FA and take whatever courses you can. And the likes of… I mean, I speak from a girls’ point of view, the Wildcats was a revelation because a lot of the old school thing was a big… Get them doing these drills and get them doing this and if they can all Cruyff turn, that’s really good.

And I’m thinking, “God, these kids are four and five” and got out their workbooks and to have fun games where the girls are really enjoying it. You can get your role model from the coach who delivers a brilliant session. As I say, the Wildcats were great, but there was a scheme, the mashup scheme, which was the next stage on to try and keep your 14 to 16 year olds interested. I loved that because the girls took control of that session and did what they wanted to do. And you could see the positives from each group there.

But yeah, you’ve got to decide what you want from your club. I mean, for us it’s not just about football. Our communities… I don’t say disjointed, but they’re all the different age groups are in their age groups and they don’t mix. So, we want to use football as a vehicle for community cohesion. So for us, there’s different people we’re bringing in. We’re bringing in the local MP, we’ve got the FA engaged, we’ve got Simone engaged, we’ve got the schools engaged. It’s getting your partnership and your networks together, listening to your customers and identifying what your vision is.

Natalie Doyle: 

Brilliant advice. How about you, Rach?

Rachel Pavlou: 

Yeah. I was going to say, I can’t really add much more to that other than it’s just really important that clubs think carefully about who they’re going to ask to come and speak to the girls and the boys. And I would always say, and it still doesn’t always happen, that when you’re choosing that, make sure that you choose someone from the men’s team, someone from the women’s team, someone from your para team, if you have disability football, have the three pathways, a representative of both together and it not just being one of them. And always think about the diversity of who you’re bringing in. If you are in a community, which has all different communities within that, then make sure you are representative of those communities. I still go to events and I see the male player, who’s the big star.

And I just think, “Oh, why didn’t you ask your women’s team captain to come along at the same time?” Because for some of those young boys, that might be something that really sticks in their mind, that their men’s captain was embracing their women’s captain and encouraging her to talk about all the things that they do on the training pitch and the differences and the similarities. And this was a massive opportunity lost, because you just thought I’ll bring the men’s footballer because he is the big star in the show.

But actually, there was a chance there to bring the female along as well. So, I just think everyone needs to think about who they do these role model nights with and these awards nights and the events. And as Tina rightly says, it’s not just famous people, it’s people from the community, people within. But just think about who they are, who they represent, what gender they are, so that people feel, “Yeah, they’re someone I look up to and they can talk for me. I get them and I want to be like them.” So yeah, just thoughtfulness about who you bring in.

Natalie Doyle: 

Yeah. That’s a really good point. Well, thank you both very much for giving up your time today. It’s been a really interesting discussion. I’m sure there’s lots that people can take away in terms of implementing into their own clubs. So, thank you very much. And it’s always a pleasure to see you both, of course.

Rachel Pavlou: 

Thanks Nat.

Tina Hamilton: 

Yeah. Thanks for asking us. It’s been nice to have a chat.

Natalie Doyle: 

That was a fascinating conversation with Rachel and Tina. Some really interesting points that they both made. I think the key takeaway for me is, how do you utilize those local role models? We’re fortunate to have some fantastic high profile role models across women’s sport, but how do you identify who those role models are within your organisation and how do you utilise them to make sure that they’re people that the young people you’re working with can aspire to be like.

Thank you again to Rachel and Tina for giving up their time. 

We’ll be joined by some other fantastic guests across professional and grassroots sport next week. So, we’ll see you then.

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