Women Working in Football - Exeter City Sports Rehabilitator Jess Preece (Part Two)
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.
In the second of a two-part interview, Jess Preece, Sports Rehabilitator at Exeter City, reflects on the challenges she has experienced as a woman working in the game, as well as offering her thoughts and advice on what more can be to encourage more young women to work in the industry.
As more women pursue a career in the football industry, there remains a concern that some parts of the game are still resistant to it becoming an inclusive sport for all.
However, for Jess, the experience of working at Exeter City has undoubtedly been a positive one; she highlighted how welcoming both the players and backroom staff were when she joined the club.
“I think being down at Exeter, because they’ve already got a female kit manager, they were more open to having another woman – so that was quite easy,” she explained. “The main thing for me was gaining the players’ respect.
“Being a woman – and at the stage I started I was only about 23, which is still quite young compared to the average of the players, which is about 28, and the majority of them have been in the sport for at least 10 years – so it was more about showing that they could trust me and I knew what I was doing.”
Jess continued: “So I think that was one hurdle because some [male] players might see a woman working in sport as a bit of a joke, but actually this is what’s real now, this is what’s happening – there’s more women coming in.”
Once again, she emphasised how comfortable she was made to feel when she arrived at the club on an initial six-week work experience placement.
“All the players have been brilliant – they’ve all adapted to it great and they don’t bat an eyelid. I’m exactly the same as the male coaches or any of the other male staff there. As I get told, I’m ‘one of the lads’.”
Unfortunately sexism within the game remains prevalent in some quarters, but Jess has a clear idea of what she believes needs to be done to encourage more women into football.
“It’s just about giving people that opportunity. At university, I know some clubs would say ‘we’ll only take men’ – but give the women a chance! Just because we’re women, doesn’t mean we’re going to be any worse, or any better than a man.
“There just seems to be that attitude of ‘oh we can’t have a woman working in sport’. I’m not being nasty but I could probably put a couple of the boys to shame in a press-up competition if I wanted!’”
Jess expanded on the difficulties other women have found attempting to secure a job at an elite sports club.
“Personally, I’ve never been told this but I know from work experience at university that some football clubs, rugby clubs or other sports will only accept men. But obviously that’s unfair on the women – why can’t they work there?
“They don’t give a reason. Sometimes they say ‘we don’t want women to distract the men’ – but we’re there for one purpose only, to do our job!”
Jess believes attitudes are changing and offered her advice to women hoping to break into sport.
She said: “Just give it a go. You might love it, you might hate it but it’s like everything, you’ve got to try. You’ve got a do a little bit of every sport and see which one you prefer. I worked at the hospital, I popped along to rugby, but football was the one for me – I think because I understood the game having had it in the family since I was a child. But if you don’t try something, you’ll regret it – so why not?”
Kick It Out continues to be at the forefront of the battle for equality in football and Jess was enthused by the progress the organisation had manage to achieve through its efforts.
“I think it’s brilliant – you don’t hear as much discrimination anymore and you mention Kick It Out and everyone knows what it’s about, because it’s so well advertised. It’s all over the media, at games, there are posters up. It’s a slow process but I think you will get the sport to where you want it to be.”
She ended with a simple message: “At the end of the day, it’s a game – there shouldn’t be harsh words spoken, you should be able to enjoy it and come away feeling happy. So I think the organisation is definitely having an important impact on football.”