The issue of women at the top of the English football pyramid has been a hot button topic amid growing social change across the globe. The Premier League is a world leader in terms of competition and finances, but is staggeringly underrepresented by women in positions of power.
Susanna Dinnage was earmarked to become chief executive of the Premier League, only for the move to fall through at the last minute. There are no female coaches in the top flight or any of the other three tiers of professional football in England. Natasha Orchard-Smith did have a spell in charge of Arelesy Town in the semi-professional ranks, although she left her role in 2019. Sian Massey-Ellis has been an assistant referee in the Premier League since 2008 and has operated at a high level throughout her career.
The 34-year-old became the first English woman to officiate in a men’s European game – running the line in a Europa League contest between PSV Eindhoven and Linzer ASK. There is great hope, if she continues in her development, that Massey-Ellis may become the first woman to referee a Premier League game.
Other than Massey-Ellis there are no other women represented on the field, which is of concern. However, there are positive signs elsewhere notably in the media where Gabby Logan and Kelly Cates among others have excelled in lead anchor roles for the BBC and Sky respectively.
Alex Scott has been a perennial fixture on Sky’s coverage as an analyst. Jacqui Oatley has been a frontrunner in the field of commentary, while Bianca Westwood has developed into a solid part of Soccer Saturday as an on-site reporter communicating with Jeff Stelling and company.
It’s not only the media where there are signs of encouragement. Premier League teams have taken a huge step forward in the boardroom in appointing women as CEOs. Karren Brady has been the flagbearer for women in football for over two decades. She has been an essential part of the hierarchy behind the ownership of David Gold and David Sullivan at Birmingham City and West Ham. Brady also played a notable role in West Ham’s move from Upton Park to London Stadium.
Susan Whelan has served as chief executive officer of Leicester City since 2011. She has served under the ownership of the late Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, and now Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha. Whelan has overseen the club’s rise from League One to Premier League champions in 2016.
The Foxes continue to be a success on-and-off the field and are currently on course to reach the Champions League once again, being backed at 1/6 in the English Premier League outright odds to finish in the top four this term. Whelan will be busy once again, ensuring that the club is ready to compete with Europe’s elite once more.
Everton became the latest club to be headed by a female CEO following the takeover of Farhad Moshiri. Prof Denise Barrett-Baxendale rose through the ranks of the Toffees’ hierarchy and now sits in the premier position. Her role will be crucial in the coming years as Everton seek to rise the ranks and challenge for a top four place, which may include a long-awaited move from Goodison Park with plans already afoot.
Barrett-Baxendale is in an exciting role to take the club forward into a bright future. With these three women in place, there is hope that women are beginning to have a greater influence on the world’s top sport and leading competition. We can only hope the shoots of life in the boardroom spread downwards onto the field and in other supporting roles.