Women Working in Football - Reading Football Club Academy Coach Shelley Strange (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, the grassroots game and national and community-based football organisations.
In a 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 celebrate and gain an insight into their contributions to the professional game.
The feature discusses their experiences of the game, how they reached where they are today and any challenges they may have faced along the way.
For June, Kick It Out spoke to Shelley Strange, panellist at the organisation’s Women’s Raise Your Game conference, who recently became the first woman to coach in Reading Football Club’s Boys Academy.
In part two, Shelley discussed the vital support she’s received from campaigning organisation Women in Football, creating opportunities for women to coach, as well the need to educate everyone who works in football about equality.
To achieve her goal of coaching in Reading Football Club’s Academy, Shelley Strange knew that she would have to go the extra mile – something she was more than prepared to do.
“I always have belief in myself that I am good enough and that’s why I tried to source opportunities everywhere,” she said. “I knew in the back of my mind that women will break into coaching the men’s game one day and I thought to myself that when they do, I will be the first one; I will be the most qualified and the most experienced so when the opportunity comes, I’ll be ready.”
Whilst Shelley had already forged a successful coaching career, she credits Women in Football with giving her the confidence to be more assertive in order to take the next step on her journey.
She recalled: “The last year has seen the most progression for me and I believe the mentoring I received from Women in Football has been a massive factor in that, because I learned so much about me. I didn’t big myself up and tell people how good I am, I wasn’t forthcoming and that doesn’t do you any favours.
“But the biggest thing my mentor said to me was ‘why not ask? You’ve been told no for 15 years, what’s another no?’ That was a light bulb moment that confirmed that I needed to go bang on doors and start telling people what I’ve been doing.”
Shelley praised the educational training she received from Women in Football, explaining how it has given her the tools to challenge sexist behaviour.
“Ten years ago, I was 21 and the first woman to manage a Hellenic Men’s team. As you can imagine it got a lot of coverage in the local newspaper – one said ‘at least when it’s Shelley’s turn to do the kit, it will come back nicely ironed’.
“At the time, I expected it and just simply ignored it. Now, thanks to Women in Football, I know how to approach these types of situations with confidence and understand the importance of why I should too. I can honestly say that I don’t believe this would get printed in today’s world and shows just how far society has come already. But we still have a long way to go and better education is crucial.”
Shelley believes other women would benefit from having similar educational training.
“I think having gender-specific workshops in businesses is a good thing,” she said. “Equality works both ways and studies prove having a mixed-gender workforce is more effective than one gender.
“It’s the little things that people need to start consciously thinking about that will bridge the gap. I now purposefully speak to women who are also in the game, because women don’t always help out other women and that is a must.”
Aside from educational support, Shelley believes that in order to encourage more female coaches into football, there needs to be more opportunities and clearer pathways to high quality coaching roles.
She explained: “Without these critical female role models in the game, women won’t believe it is achievable. That has a knock-on effect to women applying for The FA courses and obtaining the necessary skills required. The more opportunities we offer, the better – I realise it’s not just women, but also BAME coaches that require the same support.
“How was I meant to be proven as an Academy Boys’ coach if I’m not going to get the opportunity to be one? I was working full-time in a demanding role outside of coaching and used every spare second after that to learn the game and coach wherever and whenever I could.”
Shelley praised the work of Kick It Out and Women in Football in promoting greater diversity in football, but believes there is some way to go to ensure people are aware of all the support and guidance they can receive from such organisations.
“Just being there as an establishment is unbelievable. I didn’t know that there was that support and didn’t realise that there were organisations like Women in Football out there for people like me – I have only really learned about them in the past 18 months.”
However, Shelley argues that achieving greater equality in the game is not the sole responsibility of women and more needs to be done to educate men who work in football about their own role in helping the progress of their female colleagues.
“If everybody is educated, they understand the situation better. And this plays a role from grassroots right up into the big professional clubs.”