International Women's Day - Women Working in Football - Crystal Palace Foundation's Susan Patterson-Smith
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 the game, how they reached where they are today and any challenges they may have faced along the way.
In the fourth and final interview, Kick It Out spoke to Susan Patterson-Smith, Education, Training and Employability Manager at the Crystal Palace Foundation, who discussed moving into the football industry as an outsider, helping young women plan their future careers and the importance of football clubs doing work in the community.
Not everyone who works in football is a lover of the game and when Susan Patterson-Smith began working at the Crystal Palace Foundation in October 2014, she certainly wasn’t.
“My husband is mad about football and I used to think of it as something that took me away him – I couldn’t get a word in edgeways! Aside from the World Cup I didn’t have any real interest in the game. I live on the same road as a football club, so all I knew was that on a matchday I couldn’t park my car.”
Susan’s move into the football industry was down to a chance meeting with a friend of her husband’s who worked at the Foundation – just before she was about to take a new job in Kentish Town, a lengthy commute from her home in south London.
“He explained the job to me and at that point I had no idea that football clubs even had foundations who do good work in the community, but I went for the job and got it. For me it was a no-brainer because it was on my doorstep.
“I had no desire to get into football, it just happened, but since working here I’ve fallen in love with the game and can see how it has a pull on the community and brings people together. It’s brilliant.”
As someone with little experience of football when she moved into the industry, Susan explained the challenges that came with disproving the misconceptions she might not be up to the job.
“It’s a difficult one – when I started, people wanted to know who I was and what I could bring to the table. My position was new for the foundation in terms of training and they’d never experienced it before.
“Two-and-a-half years down the line, we’re bringing apprentices in and getting funding that can sustain the foundation, outside from the funding we already receive – now they realise the impact that my role is having, so we’re all on an equal footing. I didn’t feel uncomfortable that I was in a male-dominated industry, but that’s just the type of person I am.”
Susan spoke passionately about her role and praised the vital work the Foundation is doing in the local area, although she emphasised the need to raise greater awareness of their efforts.
“It is very important – I was living on the doorstep of a football club and wasn’t even aware of what they do. The impact it could have had on me, my friends, local businesses, parents and their children – there’s a lot more to a football club than just players playing football.
“In some ways the football is secondary because the work in the community is what’s going to change that community, not necessarily people looking at a player who they can’t aspire to, but from their child attending something that has changed their life.”
She added: “There are people on the same road as the club, or living in Croydon that have no connection with it. And they should do. They should be proud that there’s a club right in the midst of them that is doing great things in the community.”
Susan’s work focuses heavily on encouraging teenagers to begin thinking about their personal development and employment goals.
Whilst she’s very proud of one particular initiative that she runs for young women, she feels that more awareness of foundation’s work needs to be raised to increase their engagement with local teenage girls.
“I run resilience programmes for young girls, using sport – such as table tennis clubs for example – as a pull to get them engaged. We run targeted sessions to talk them about how they set boundaries for themselves, how they can stay out of trouble and how they manage their behaviour.
“The Foundation needs to be seen, and if people know what’s going on here, then they wouldn’t be scared to apply as a woman. People still think football clubs are for a load of lads who want to play football – they don’t really know what else is going on.
She continued: “As a woman, you wouldn’t necessarily be drawn to that if you’re not into football. If we promote what the foundation does and they recognise that we need education managers, we need people to look after academy players, pastoral support, accountants and other roles, then they will gravitate to it more.”
Susan hailed International Women’s Day as a significant milestone for everyone in society.
“Last year we actually celebrated with one of our girls’ schools who had represented us at a national enterprise challenge. We spent the whole day with them, encouraging different groups to think about the women who have inspired them in their lives.
“All of us have mothers, aunties, famous and not so famous people who we look up to and who have made an impact in the world and our lives. So it’s important to recognise those women who are trailblazers, those who did for the first time. Because of them, we can follow in their footsteps and celebrate that.”