International Women's Day - Women Working in Football - Charlton Athletic Women's Sue Prior
Whilst coverage of women’s football has increased in recent years, what often goes unnoticed are the hundreds of women who play a vital role in the day-to-day functions of professional and grassroots clubs and organisations.
In a new feature series, Kick It Out has been speaking to women who work within football – in a number of roles including coaching, club executives, photographers, administrators, matchday staff and more – to gain an insight into their contributions to the professional game.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, the organisation has spoken to four women from across the game – Ffion Eade, Preeti Shetty, Sue Prior and Susan Patterson-Smith – to discuss their role in football, how they reached where they are today and any challenges they may have faced along the way.
In part three, Kick It Out spoke to former Charlton Ladies defender and now General Manager of the club, Sue Prior, who reflected on a lifetime of service to football and the importance of role models in inspiring more women to get involved in the game.
Sue Prior has been in love with football and Charlton Athletic for as long as she can remember.
“I’ve been passionate about football from a young age, when I used to play. My biggest influence was my Dad – he was an avid Charlton fan and when I was little I used to pester him and ask if I could go to football with him.
“He used to say ‘no you’re too small, you won’t see anything’, but this went on and on and on until in the end, he gave in. I’ve always been a Charlton fan, which makes it all the nicer to be working with the club now.”
More than just a supporter, Sue enjoyed a 15-year playing career at Charlton Athletic Women, Millwall Lionesses and Chelsea Ladies, before becoming the first female councillor at the London FA and one of the first women on the board at Millwall Football Club.
Sue’s return to her childhood team didn’t come until the turn of the millennium, when she had been working as a matchday administrator at Croydon Women. Following a takeover by their south London rivals, the club was rebranded as Charlton Athletic Women.
Sue stayed with the new club in a similar role, although it was a number of years before disaster struck and she was asked to take on a more senior position.
“The men’s team got relegated in 2007; all the women’s funding was withdrawn and we very nearly folded,” she explained. “It was at that point that Charlton Community Trust rang me to ask for help running the club.
“Now I oversee Charlton Women and also the Girls Regional Talent Club, which was formerly the Girls Centre of Excellence. I oversee all the admin on that, which can involve lots of things – from washing kits to confirming fixtures!”
As Club Secretary and later as General Manager, Sue set about rebuilding the club and despite initial difficulties, 10 years later, Charlton Women are thriving. They sit top of the FA Women’s Premier League Southern Divison and have no less than three cup finals to play in the coming months, with the club’s ambition to make it to the Women’s Super League.
Her central role to Charlton Women’s survival was just one of the many accomplishments that were recognised when she was given the Special Achievement Prize at the 2010 FA Women’s Football Awards and the Outstanding Contribution to Women’s Football at the London FA Awards in 2014.
Having accomplished so much in football for over more than 30 years, there are few people better placed to appreciate the change in attitudes towards women in the game.
“When I first started playing it was frowned on a little bit because there weren’t as many women playing. It has certainly changed but there are challenges, which I think are similar in other male-dominated environments – it’s something I encountered in my career in the police.
“It never really worried me and actually I quite like the challenge. Why shouldn’t women be involved in the police or football?”
Sue is delighted with the progress being made, especially at her own club.
“Women’s football has grown hugely over the last five years and it will continue to grow. Charlton are really embracing it, particularly in the last 18 months and credit for that must go to Katrien Meire, our CEO. We’re also involved in the new Hummel deal so we’ll be wearing the same kit as the men’s team next year and we’re going to have a minimum of two games at The Valley.
“The Charlton media team have been really on board too – in the past we’ve struggled to get much media coverage for women’s football. They’ve been brilliant, they come down every couple of weeks and have launched an ‘Introducing The Women’ YouTube series, talking to the first-team about how they got involved in football.”
Sue was eager to praise her namesake Baroness Campbell, The FA’s head of women’s football, for her understanding of how the women’s game should develop.
“I met her recently – what an absolute breath of fresh air she is, she was absolutely inspirational. She hit the nail straight on the head when she said that people have to start recognising that women’s football is different, we need different management, our bodies our different and so is the physical work we need to do. You can’t train women as you train men.”
Full of ideas herself, Sue believes more women’s clubs should offer their support to smaller grassroots teams.
“We work with sister clubs and one of them, Castle Colts, came to be mascots for our game last week which was lovely. There were about 20 of them and they all look up to our senior squad as role models, which I think is hugely important.”
The significance of role models is something Sue continues to emphasise, particularly with International Women’s Day in mind.
“It’s vitally important that women have a day where we celebrate our success. My role model when I was working for the police was Cressida Dick, who has just become the Police Commissioner, which I think is marvellous. She was my Commander when I was there and I just think it’s fantastic when you see a woman taking a role like that.”