Legitimate careers for women in football smashing through that glass ceiling
As recently as 15 years ago, the chances for women carving out a career in the world of football in England were slim. So slim in fact that hardly any women and girls saw the sport as a legitimate career choice. Hardly any English clubs operated full-time professional women’s teams. To play the sport for a living, most women had to be good enough to make it like a pro in North America. And the route to the United States was not exactly straightforward. Other careers in football aside from playing the game were even harder to come by. Women coaches were few and far between.
The likes of Hope Powell who led England at the time being an exception rather than the norm. Women working professionally at grassroots levels were practically non-existent.
Also rare were females in the media. Presenter and pundit Jacqui Oatley blazed a trail when she began on Match of the Day in the mid-2000s, initially suffering severe criticism from those who felt that a woman should not be commentating on a man’s game.
Few role models were carving out careers in the football industry for girls to aspire to be like. Perhaps even more damaging was the impact that this had on how parents viewed their daughters aspiring to work in the sport.
Back then, it looked nothing more than a pipe dream. There were too many barriers coupled with a mindset that football careers were exclusively for males. Understandably, parents instead wanted their children to migrate towards a profession that they stood a chance of progressing in.
Even the FA believed this at one point, banning women from playing the sport for 50 years between the 1920s and 1970s. When you consider these attitudes to female participation in football, it is little wonder that few women ever considered the game as a way to make a living.
Not anymore, however. Women’s football is growing at a rapid rate and within this ever-popular and professionalised sport are numerous career opportunities across different areas waiting to be filled by aspirational girls.
There are several reasons why women’s football has developed into a huge industry of its own over the past two decades. At the highest level, the Women’s Super League came along in 2010 and changed everything.
Every WSL club is now fully professional. Beyond the players and coaching staff who are employed by the 12 sides competing in the top division are development squads and academies.
All this means that more opportunities to progress and play professionally in England exist than ever before – especially as professionalism spreads beyond the WSL.
Clear and improved development pathways exist and the chances of being scouted have increased. England is becoming a hotbed of talent when it comes to young women with players attracting interest from Europe and the US College System.
Whereas previous generations never had role models who had progressed through youth systems at big professional clubs to become England internationals, girls now look up to players such as Lauren Hemp at Manchester City, Manchester United’s Ella Toone and Niamh Charles of Chelsea for what is possible.
Each of those players is equal to the likes of Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka in the men’s set-up. Boys have always had these player journeys to dream of following; now girls do too.
Only a small proportion of the population ever make it right to the top. At the same time, professional players only make up a small proportion of those making a living from football. There are many different paths women can take to find a career in the sport.
How about coaching? Women coaches are now commonplace. Girls are seeing that they can make a living from coaching both males and females at the grassroots level.
At We Make Footballers, we are proud to have some of the best women grassroots coaches in the country working for our franchises. The number of female coaches is only going to increase in the coming years’ thanks to the explosion in popularity of the women’s game.
Over 3.4 million women and girls played football in 2020 according to data from the Football Association, double the 1.7 million playing in 2017.
We Make Footballers are leading the way in getting more girls into football. We believe that greater inclusivity is the key to England becoming the leading footballing nation in the world.
We have recently set up our first girls-only academies and these will continue to be rolled out across England, providing not only coaching for football fanatics but also the belief and inspiration that the sport can provide a legitimate future career.
Take We Make Footballers alumni Ashanti Akpan. She and her brother moved to England from Poland and initially started playing down the park with friends.
There was a noticeable difference to Ashanti in the style of football she had been used to and what she found here, something which enrolling in her local We Make Footballers academy helped bridge.
Training with We Make Footballers enabled Ashanti to develop the technical ability needed to get into Chelsea’s academy. She has since gone on to play for England at youth level with her next goal being a professional contract.
Away from Chelsea and England, Ashanti now has over 50,000 followers on Instagram thanks to her football skills and tricks content. The growth of social media has opened up another way for women to make a career in football, the sort of avenue that a tech-savvy company like We Make Footballers help players explore.
Women’s football in traditional media is evolving too. Games are regularly shown on the BBC and Sky, bringing the sport to a whole new audience. This requires ever-growing teams of professionals behind and in front of the cameras to quench the thirst the nation has for it.
The likes of Alex Scott, Laura Woods and Eni Aluko are household names through their media work. Emma Hayes to has shone whilst moonlighting as a pundit thanks to her eloquent manner and her tactical brain.
It is easy to see why the Chelsea manager is widely considered to be one of the best coaches in the country at any level of football, be it male or female. In 2012, Hayes was working for her family’s business in currency exchange.
And the best news of all? The popularity of women’s football is set to grow even more in 2022. England hosts the European Championships and Hemp, Toone, Charles and the rest of the Lionesses will go into the tournament as one of the favourites having won the Arnold Clark Cup last month.
Women’s football in England is already a fully-fledged industry with all the career opportunities that come with it. Those opportunities are only going to increase as the sport gets bigger and bigger.
We Make Footballers help girls get the football bug through fun weekly training sessions provided by FA Qualified Coaches. Who knows where it might lead them? Playing at Wembley as an England international? Winning the WSL? A scholarship with a top US college?
Helping coach the next generation at a grassroots level? Working in sports and medical science? Presenting Match of the Day once Gary Lineker gives up the gig?
Football is now a viable career path for women. There has never been a better time to get involved. Find your local We Make Footballers academy and book a free session here.