Women Working in Football - Exeter City Sports Rehabilitator Jess Preece (Part One)
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 clubs and organisations.
In a brand new feature series, Kick It Out will be speaking to women who work within football – in a number of roles including coaching, club executives, photographers, administrators, matchday staff and more – to celebrate and gain an insight into their contributions to the professional game.
The feature will discuss their experiences of the game, how they reached where they are today and any challenges they may have faced along the way.
For January’s entry, Kick It Out spoke to Jess Preece, Sports Rehabilitator at Exeter City Football Club. In part one, she reflected on growing up immersed in sport, her journey into football from university and gave an insight into her day-to-day role in Exeter’s medical team.
Football has been a part of Jess Preece’s life for as long as she can remember – not that she’d have it any other way, of course.
“I’ve always enjoyed football. I’ve got two brothers who have both been professional footballers themselves,” she said. “I’ve grown up with it – since the age of one I was getting put in all-in-one bodysuits and taken to a football match every weekend!”
Despite the influence of her brothers, former Ipswich Town and Sunderland striker Marcus Stewart and Hereford defender Mark Preece, as well as her father, a former rugby player, it wasn’t an inevitability that Jess would end up working in football – in fact her dream was to be a veterinarian.
But then the sporting bug took hold.
“I started playing netball at quite a high level and thought actually, I’d like to get into sport,” Jess explained. “At first, I was going to go to university to do physiotherapy and then they told me I’d mainly be working in hospitals and with the older generation, which wasn’t the area I was interested in – I wanted to work with athletes.”
Having grown up on the outskirts of Bristol, when Jess found out about the new Sports Rehabilitation degree at the nearby University of West England (UWE), she knew it was the right move.
But it wasn’t until her final year of study that an opportunity to move into the football industry arose, with Exeter City giving her an initial six weeks of work experience in their medical department.
“Originally it was my third-year placement from January-February in early 2014, and then I got asked to stay on voluntarily until the end of the season, which I did. I thought that was it – I was just thinking about graduation and needing to find a job.”
Yet Jess had clearly impressed her employers at Exeter more than she realised, so when extenuating circumstances left the club understaffed in the physio room, she was first on their list.
“I was away on holiday actually and I got a call to say ‘both the Academy and First-Team Physio are leaving, we go to Brazil in 10 days, can you come back from holiday to go with us?’”
Unsurprisingly, Jess jumped at the chance, and all of a sudden she was a permanent employee at a professional football club.
Two and a half years on, Jess is more than comfortable with the pressures of working in elite sport, speaking passionately about her day-to-day work.
“My average day will start with the players turning up in the morning and we’ll do any pre-training massage or treatment that they need, so that could be anything from massing backs, to legs, to necks if they’ve played on hard surfaces.
“Then they go out and train which is when we have all our injured players in and we’ll do all their rehab. So that might be taking them off to the gym, or it can involve taking players who’ve played a game to do a recovery session or mobility work in the swimming pool.”
She continued: “While the players are out training it gives us time to do one-to-one work with injured players to get them back fit, although that doesn’t always happen because there’s only two of us – myself and the Head Physio. At times this season we’ve been a bit unlucky with injuries so we’ve had to call our Academy physio over to help us!”
“We also provide them with care on game days – my Head Physio’s the main person who deals with that. But if a player needs to come off during a game to receive ice or any treatment, then I’ll take them in so he can carry on and concentrate on the rest of the team.”
Jess is humble about her success, but when pressed she admits how tough it was to get to where she is today.
“I think I’m just proud of getting into a professional sport – something like 1% of our cohort at UWE managed to get a job straight out of university, so it’s very low. I’m not the most academic person, I’ve got to be honest – university was a struggle, I found it very hard. But to come out and prove to myself that yes actually I can do this job makes me very proud.”
In Part Two, Jess reflects on the challenges she has experienced as a women working in the game, as well as offering her thoughts on what more can be done to diversify football’s workforce and gives advice to any young women or girls hoping to break into the industry.