In episode 27 we talk with the Head of Women’s Football at Manchester City, Gavin Makel. Manchester City are trailblazers for the women’s game with successes both on and off the pitch. They have also recently launched a new club wide campaign focused on promoting women’s football.
We discuss the growth of the game, risk taking, authenticity, and the importance of having a coherent vision that fuels performance.
Gavin’s involvement in professional football goes back over ten years when he worked within the football operation of the Manchester City’s community foundation. In his current role as Head of Women’s Football at Manchester City he is responsible for the business operation of the organisation which encompasses player recruitment, marketing, commercial, finance management and match day operations. He sits on the European Club Association Women’s Football Committee Bureau and is currently undertaking a Masters in Sports Directorship at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Commenting on the women’s team set up, Gavin has stated:
‘We are here to challenge and change the perception of women’s football. We are professionalising a sport which traditionally hasn’t received the support or resource it has deserved’.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 01.3.18 – Ep 27. Gavin Makel – the man behind the rise of Man City Women
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR
T: Welcome to a Question of Performance. I’m Tammy Parlour and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about what improves, limits and drives performance. Join me for 20 minutes of discussion twice a month to hear a range of views and what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.
G: So my name is Gavin Makel, I’m the head of women’s football here at Manchester City Football Club. Been in this role for five years now, since we re-launched Manchester City Women and brought them in-house and made them part and parcel of the overall business of the football club, which has been an incredible journey and one which I’m very proud of.
T: Things have changed quite a lot over the five years, which we’ll get into a little bit more as we go through. But I suppose first I’m interested to know why women’s football?
G: Well, I’ve been at the club 10 years now and in different roles throughout my time here. Initially started within our community foundation, taking up roles where obviously I was going out and doing a lot of outreach work. And that’s something that the club’s really passionate about and continues to be very passionate about. And that’s around football for all whether, you know, giving young people, male, female, those with disabilities, the opportunities to play the game. And then I was approached by the club through Brian Marwood, to go along to a meeting with himself and the FA around putting a team into the room simply. And it came as a bit of a surprise to me because there was a lot of areas with what the role encompasses that I’d never experienced previously. I’d never dealt with a player agent before. I’d never necessarily done a commercial strategy before because my roles had always been very much on the ground, if you like, project managing soccer schools and international soccer schools with the club etc. But I jumped at the opportunity because I saw where the women’s game was going off the back of the Olympics in 2012 obviously as well. And it was a blank sheet of paper that I could really get my teeth into and hopefully drive on the success.
T: You started at a very, very exciting time. And Man City has been incredibly successful over that time and is really seen as the team to beat. You’ve got the Continental Cup final coming up in March. You have just got through to the FA quarter finals. I suppose I’m interested in for a sport to be high performing like Man City Women are, what do you feel are the key ingredients that are needed?
G: I think for any high performance environment there’s a few elements. And I think first and foremost you need a vision. You need a real strong vision and objectives. And you set those objectives out right from the start. And then you’ve got to get people who are going to go along on that journey to create that vision with you. And I think we’ve managed to have that. And that was one of the things that we put in place right at the beginning, our challenge then five years ago when we re-launched was a change of name from Manchester City Ladies to Manchester City Women, was to challenge the perception of what is women’s football. And that still continues today in all aspects, whether it’s the product on the pitch, whether it’s what we do on social media, it’s what we do from a marketing perspective. So that was one of the kind of the key drivers for me, and creating a culture and an environment where everyone’s really working towards that vision is really key. And I think also you’ve got to give people, you’ve got to give people autonomy as well.
So I’m not the type of manager who with members of my staff, I’m not the type of person who will look over their shoulders. There’s got to be an element of trust. And I think that comes right the way down through the club, with my line manager, Oman Berrada who’s the CEO at the club, and Brian Marwood previously. You know, they’re very comfortable at letting you grow and take your own risks as long as you learn from them, you take risks. And I think we’ve done that quite a lot. And you know, obviously I’d like to say most of them have been really successful. But as I say, it doesn’t matter if those risks don’t come off.
T: What would you say are one of the sort of big risks that you have taken?
G: Well, I think we’ve taken one recently really with the launch of Same City, Same Passion, in terms of merging our social media channels. That was a bit of a risk for us because the women’s team social media platforms were really, really strong. We had 4.6 million followers on our Facebook page, which was more than 13 men’s Premier League Facebook pages. So for us to then say, “Right, that’s not happening anymore, but we’re going to move along into the parent channel”, if you like. That was a big risk for us to take. And I think it’s been well received as we did, we obviously aligned it with the launch of that campaign. And it continues to. And there was a lot of deliberation around it. And to begin with, I’ll be honest, I was a bit…I wasn’t all for it, because I did see the risk in it. But I definitely think from now we’ve seen the benefits out of it, because ultimately we’ve now been able to reach 10 times the amount of people that we ever could on the women’s channels through communication and content and engaging with fans through our parent club social media channel. So that was one.
I think changing the name from City Ladies to City Women could have been a bit of a risk. But that again went down really well because we just knew that we wanted to promote our players as strong athletic women, because that’s what they are. We don’t call it the gentlemen’s game I always say, so why should we call it the ladies game? It’s no different for us. So there’s been plenty, to be honest. And we’ll continue to do that because this club’s about pushing boundaries. It’s about innovation. It’s about getting people excited. It’s about showing some passion. And you can’t do that without taking those risks. And it’s nice to work in an environment where that’s, you know, that’s kind of expected as well.
T: You must have seen loads of changes over the past sort of 10 years that you’ve been with Man City. What do you think have been some of the key milestone moments that you have experienced?
G: Well, there’s been quite a few to be fair. I mean I remember when I joined; I joined the football club probably maybe six months before the takeover happened. And obviously we’re coming up to the 10 year anniversary of Sheikh Mansour’s ownership in ADUG. And I was actually at a funeral that day and there was someone from the community, phoned me, a friend of mine and he said, “You’re never going to guess what’s happened. We’ve just been bought out by Abu Dhabi and we’ve signed Robinho.” I was kind of, “You do know I’m at a funeral, don’t you? This is not a joking matter.” But obviously it was true. And then ever since that first day, I mean I remember that weekend after we played Chelsea, I think, the men’s team played Chelsea and Robinho’s debut. And I’m pretty sure he scored in that game as well. And there was just a whole sense of optimism throughout the whole football club. And from that day on every single day there was changes right the way through the club, whether it be in personnel, whether it be the look and feel of club. There was a direction and there was real hunger to make this one of the most successful football clubs in world football.
T: It’s interesting, you talk about change, sometimes change can be quite disturbing and quite sort of difficult to go through. But the way I hear you describe it, it seems empowering and exciting.
G: Yeah, it was. And don’t get me wrong, there would have been…change can be scary for some people, 100%. But it’s how you as an individual, how you embrace that. Because the actions and the words that were coming out at the time about, “This is what we’re going to do. This is what’s going to happen.” It was exciting and you couldn’t help but be excited by it. Then came City Football Academy here on the campus which I know you’ve been to. And that opened up and you’re suddenly put in an environment where you’re living and breathing football on a daily basis with everyone around you that can ultimately get you to the top of your game. And again, that’s one thing about here, you can either…we often say, you know, I often speak to people in turn and we often say, “This place can either make or break you in many ways.” Because it can break you in the sense that you can quite easily take your foot off the pedal. But because you’ve got everything that you could possibly need to be the best version of yourself. Or it can drive you on to be even better. And that’s what it does here. And that’s something that I live by day in, day out. I drive in every morning and I can honestly say in the 10 years that I’ve been at the club there’s not been one day where I’ve gone, “I’ve got to go to work today.” It’s an unbelievable place to be.
T: It is an amazing campus. And the success that Man City and you as well has been quite phenomenal. And I suppose with success comes a degree of responsibility. Do you feel a responsibility?
G: Yes, first and foremost we have a responsibility to the game. We have a responsibility that we want to drive interest. We want to drive visibility. In the women’s game we all know that it suffered for many years of lack of resources, lack of funding, lack of investment, lack of media interest. And we take that on our shoulders as well, not us alone, by any stretches, obviously other clubs and national associations etc have to come along on that journey with us. But yeah, we do have that responsibility on us, and providing a platform for the next generation of young girls to put on a pair of football boots or pick up a ball and play the game ultimately. Because that’s the only way we’re going to get the game growing at a faster rate, although it’s growing at a considerably quick rate.
T: I suppose I’m interested to know and to understand well, why more support and resources are starting to go into the game, why is that?
G: I think other clubs and people have recognised the opportunity. They see the game that is growing. But I think also there’s this piece around that football’s maybe not what it used to be in terms of the target demographic of audience, we go back years and years. And I grew up in the 80s going to St James Park up in Newcastle. And it was predominantly middle aged white men that were at the game, working class. And the game’s not necessarily like that anymore. It’s a much wider demographic of people. And I think maybe that stems a lot of peoples’ interest as well. And so it’s been able to reach out to different audiences. But also I think for us it aligns with our values. This is who we are as a football club. And Manchester City, I spoke about at the beginning, my work at the Community Foundation, we were football for all. And that was the basis of Manchester City being founded back in the late 1800s was to create something, an environment and a space for young people, men and women to play the game or spectate and watch the game, get involved in any area. And that’s no different for us. So that’s really, really important. So it’s go to align with your values. And I think if you’re going to do it and you’re going to embrace the women’s game within a club, you have to do it in an authentic way. And that’s one of the big things that I’m very, very proud of, because I think we have done it very authentically, because we are authentic, because that’s what we believe in and that’s what we value.
T: You’ve just spoken a bit just then about spectatorship. And in many ways understanding spectatorship is almost the next frontier for women’s sport, for women’s football. Can you relate to that?
G: Yeah, of course, it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for all. And you know one of the biggest frustrations for me in some ways is that, you know, you obviously see when England, whether it was in the World Cup in 2015 or the Euros last summer, fantastic TV audiences and spectatorship. And the way that the whole country got behind the team, whether it was from a media interest. And then it comes down to the domestic game at club level and it doesn’t necessarily fall through. And I think you see that, you see that in other women’s sports as well, you know, like the hockey, obviously they were really successful in Rio a couple of years ago. But do we hear about women’s hockey outside of those windows? We’ve seen, you know, what’s going on now in South Korea with, you know, Lizzy Yarnold with a double gold now. Will we ever hear about the skeleton until another four years? So there’s this piece about making sure that we continue on this legacy and continuity.
And we keep on talking about women’s sport and the role models that are in there because we do need strong role models from the sports, like Lizzy Yarnold, like the Jessie [unclear – 0:14:56] and like the Steph Orton’s of the world. But for me as well within the women’s game we need to make sure that we’re not just targeting our marketing and our match day experience and everything that comes with that just for young girls and women. Because it’s much broader than that, there’s a lot more interest. We know there’s a lot more interest in women’s sport than it just being for young girls and women. If we’re ever going to grow it to where we want it to be, we need, we need to be able to create those different match day experiences, target and communicate with different types of people in different ways.
T: Which new change or development do you find most exciting when you’re looking at your role?
G: It changes on a daily basis. It changes on an hourly basis, to be honest. I mean if I look back on the 2014 Continental Cup final when we beat Arsenal at Adams Park, and actually it’s the exact re-run of that game at the same venue in a couple of weeks time. If I look back at what we had then in terms of the players that we had, we definitely didn’t have the best team by a long stretch. But we had honest players. We had young players, Keira Walsh was in that squad. She was only 16/17 at the time. And now she’s just been called again to SheBelieves Cup, which is fantastic. I think for me it’s about how far can we push it? How far can we grow? We’ve now got a girl’s academy which is incredibly exciting and that’s one thing for me, when I look at some of our under 12s and our under 14s, and there’s some major talent in those age groups, to think, right, in four or five years’ time when, you know, Jill Scott and Karen Bardsley decide that they need to stop playing, we’ve got a strong succession of young hungry talent coming through the system. And that’s one area for me that I’m really focused on at the moment because it’s vitally important that we have that succession plan for the future.
T: This whole podcast is about different peoples’ views on success, different views on performance as well. So I suppose I’d like to ask you the same question that I’ve asked everybody else and that is what does success mean for you personally?
G: For me, if I was to ever leave the football club or leave the role that I’m currently doing, if I can at least look back on what I’ve achieved and what I’ve put in and the effort that I’ve put in and have no regrets. I think that’s a kind of level of success for me personally. It’s often said, isn’t it, when players or any athletes, when they go into a final and they say, “Don’t leave anything out there. Make sure that you put everything in. And that you have no regrets.” I think that for me personally is something that I would take with me as that level of success. But also knowing that I’ve made an impact and helped more than anything, and I do believe I think we have helped. And I say we there because I think that’s really important. You asked me the question about success for me, but it can’t be done without good people in and around you as well. It’s impossible. And that’s something that Nick and I speak about, Nick Cushing, the manager of the women’s team, when we bring in players they have to be at the right personality. That’s not to say that they’re bad people, by the way, just to clarify that. But they have to have, if they want to come on the journey with us, they embrace our vision of how we want to perceive the women’s game, how we want to grow it. And it’s the same with the other staff members, whether you’re in the marketing team or whether you’re in our commercial sales team, wherever it might be. So that’s important to me as well. So I guess there’s a bit of a legacy piece there, if that all makes sense.
T: Absolutely. Well, just to round up with some quick fire questions. What did you eat for breakfast?
G: Scrambled eggs on toast.
T: Favourite piece of kit?
G: Sports kit I’m assuming you mean?
T: However you want to define that.
G: Well, I do have, I mentioned before that I grew up in Newcastle, around Newcastle. So I do have Paul Gascoigne’s shirt, when he played for Newcastle back in 1980, you’re testing me; I think it was around 87, 88. So I do have that which I cherish quite a lot.
T: Well, that leads onto a sporting hero.
G: Growing up, it would have been on the terraces of St James, it would have been Gazza.
T: And why?
G: I think, you know, he captured the hearts of many people, didn’t he? And particularly in 1990, in the Italian 90 watching the West Germany game in the semi-final, I was a 10 year old then and he was obviously local to me. And I was fortunate enough, because my brother played for Newcastle right away until he was 21 before moved to Blackburn. And I was fortunate enough to see Gazza training etc. So he was a fantastic player, first and foremost. But then from football, there’s obviously also Andre Agassi who I looked up to quite a lot because tennis was a big sport that I was involved in as well when I was a kid.
T: Most useless piece of advice you have given or given to someone else?
G: You’d ask to have my [unclear speech – 0:20:56] advice I’ve given. You know what, I was thinking about this the other day and I don’t think there’s any one bit, there’s never a bad bit of advice. Someone once said to me, there’s never a bad bit of advice, no matter, it might seem wrong or might seem like a bad piece of advice at the time. But take it onboard because you never know when you might need it or might use it in the future. So that lives with me quite a lot.
T: Greatest passion outside of sport?
G: Music actually.
T: Do you play something?
G: I do, I play guitar.
T: And last one, best performance enhancer?
G: Well, I’d have to say music, wouldn’t I as well, in many ways? It’s like the Rocky movies, as soon as that music comes on you want to go and fight 12 rounds with Apollo Creed or something. But I mean realistically it’s probably making sure, again, just bringing it back to what I’ve discussed. I think you’re on the right page and the right vision with other people around you who embrace that as well, I think that can give you that extra 1% that takes you to the next level and ultimately gets what you set out to desire.
T: Well, thank you very much, Gavin, it’s been brilliant talking with you today.
G: You’re welcome, thanks very much.
T: Thanks for listening. You can follow the conversation on Twitter, Facebook. And also don’t forget to subscribe online to aquestionofperformance.com.
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