“I I hope that one day we don’t have to have special days and every day is International Women’s Day, ”says Claire Rafferty. It’s a phrase that sums up the former England player’s involvement with Lewes FC as a board member, because in his corner of East Sussex equality is not a trick or a T-shirt slogan; it is consecrated.
In 2017, the fan-owned club pledged to invest, support and pay equally to its men’s and women’s teams. In 2021, 100 years after the FA banned women’s football, and 50 years after the ban was lifted, Lewes remains the only club in Europe to have taken the stance. “It’s really shocking, isn’t it?” Says Rafferty, who was a part-time analyst at Deutsche Bank when he played and now works for his former club Chelsea on the commercial team. “I am always very proud to say that I am involved in Lewes because of that. It’s been quite nice to go back to training and then have an indicator of the team culture and the environment, that’s where you can see that it works. It’s easy to say that we are treating the teams equally on paper. “
Rafferty’s recruitment to the board and his most recent participation in the championship team training – “Most sessions I just apologized for my bad passing and my lazy career” – shows that Lewes is as ambitious on the field as he was. of the. . Sporting success is fundamental to the success of the equality project.
“It is absolutely key that we are now moving up the table,” says club general manager Maggie Murphy. “We do not want to be considered an equality project that does not have football at its core. We are very serious about doing it right. We already have more points now than we have in any previous season. “
Adds Rafferty: “One thing Emma Hayes used to say was, ‘If you’re winning, it’s easier for me to ask the board for more.’ People listen more when you are winning and the product is of higher quality. “
Murphy, who worked in the fight against corruption and human rights and is a co-founder of Equal Playing Field (an organization that campaigns for sports equality by breaking world records) was drawn to the club for its equality PSU.
“For me, there was no other football club that I was interested in joining. It wasn’t really about football, it was about changing football, ”he says. “Joining the club, a little bit was putting my money where my mouth was and trying to see if it was possible to create a better kind of club. Lewes had already done all the hard work, they had already established the principle of equality in 2017. So for me, this was like, well, let’s see where I can help carry it out.
“Soccer has a lot of potential to influence and impact culture. If we don’t engage with football as a vehicle for social change, we will get there, we will get to where we are trying to go, but we could get there 10 years later than if we had used football as such. vehicle first, because in this country it is so powerful. “
Lewes is thriving. A six-figure sponsorship of clothing brand Lyle and Scott has changed the game. “The fact that they were willing to back us with such an investment in the middle of a pandemic was a great validation for us of everything we’ve been implementing for so many years,” says Murphy. Fans have responded, eager to back the companies that back their sport. “In the US, in the summer, fans would buy [NWSL sponsor] Budweiser to give away to Houston Dash players. Women’s soccer fans are very loyal to the brands that endorse the product, ”explains Murphy.
Sponsorship is reaping rewards. “We are already planning for next season,” says Murphy. “We hope to be able to work full time and work hard to be a candidate for promotion. Obviously that’s good for our football and we hope it’s good for our message that equality can boost performance on and off the pitch. “
They also seek to reinvent the trajectory and structure of the club’s academy. Building its own unconventional shape means that the small club is, to some extent, a thorn in the side of football. “Not because of our equal pay stance,” says Murphy. “But to point out that we can do football differently and that we don’t need to follow the same mold model.
“Women’s football is on the way to professionalism, and that professionalism is similar to men’s football in the Premier League. So we have a huge drive to create a glossy finished product that is ready for streaming out of the box, so that we can be salable in the way we understand and view the Premier League as salable.
“The danger of that is that the more women’s football advances, the more we depend on men’s football, because to finance some of the requirements we need capital upfront.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism