Today I’ve travelled south to meet Maggie Murphy – the new Women’s General Manager at Lewes Football Club. Two years ago, Lewes FC became the first football club in the world to pay their women’s team the same wages as their men’s team. I wanted to find out more about what that means to how the club is developing.
Maggie is committed, energetic, and inspiring. We talk about creating talent, engaging a community and proving the concept that equality matters.
ABOUT MAGGIE MURPHY
Maggie Murphy became Women’s General Manager at Lewes FC in July 2019. She was previously with the Sport Integrity Global Alliance, where she was Director of Public Policy and Sport Integrity. Prior to that she had senior roles in advocacy at Transparency International, the world’s largest anti-corruption organization and worked at Amnesty International on human rights issues.
On joining Lewes FC Maggie said, “I’m incredibly impressed with how the club leads through action, not words and it is an honour to be joining the team. My ambition is clear – for Lewes FC to be the best club in the world, for everybody to know about it, and for others to learn from the example we are setting.”
Read more here.
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: 19.11.19 – Ep 50. Maggie Murphy
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR
TP: 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.
R: So, Maggie Murphy, I’ve been a General Manager at Lewes FC since the summer, so that’s only about three or four months now. It’s a brand new step for me to be working in the sports industry and football industry because I’ve spent most of the last 10 or 15 years working in anti-corruption and anti-money laundering, human rights and good governance. I think for me, I’ve always been working in social change, in a way, and a lot of people I have worked with in previous jobs have said, why did you leave all this to go and run a football club? But for me it’s completely linked. Lewes FC is trailblazing in a way and trying to do things differently so when the opportunity came up to come over and be part of what they’re trying to do, it actually made complete sense for me to move over, to shift over to working in a football club. And football has always been a passion for me, it’s not a brand new thing. I’ve been playing or trying to play since I was a kid. But also in the last three years or so, I was one of the people that help set up equal playing fields, which is an organisation that’s promoting opportunity, equality and respect for women and girls in football but through a very international ends. So, this is the first time that I’m now, I guess, working in football in the UK, in Sussex, in you know, a very specific environment but you know, just trying to be the best we can be, I suppose.”
I: Four months in has it been a steep learning curve, or does it just feel like a natural sort of…?
R: Steep learning curve in terms of there being lots and lots of things to know. As soon as I came in, you know there was just a barrage of, of player contracts and registrations and you know that’s quite exciting where you suddenly move into a job where you’re trying to sign a Scotland international to the club, you feel this kind of buzz. But at the same time, there’s lots of small things that you just hadn’t really thought about. So, a learning curve in the amount of things. just the way a football club gets set up for match days, I’ve not done that before. I’ve set up events but not getting people through the turnstile and making sure you’ve got the bar stocked and things like that. So, a learning curve in the sense of lots of things to learn and also seeing how many things need to be improved and cleaned up and swept up and organised before I can get onto the meaty stuff I’m really here for.
So, you know the bigger picture, like the strategic business plan. Or like how we make our concept of equality. You know we’re the only club in the UK, in the world really, who pay our men and women the same but we have to prove concept. We have to prove equality works. We can’t just talk about it and live it, we actually have to be successful for people to take us seriously. So, I really want to clean up and clear up all the back room stuff but then I want to really get stuck into the meaty stuff of where we go next and how we take this to the next level.
I: I read a interview or a bio or something and there was a quote in there from you, that said, “My ambition is clear, for Lewes FC to be the best club in the world, for others to know about and for others to learn from the example we’re setting.” What constitutes ‘best club’?
R: Football clubs are at the heart of a community. They can be a huge source of good you know. They can be the beating heart of a community and that’s very much the case in Lewes where the club and the community are inextricably linked. A lot of people are dissatisfied now with the premiership or the huge amounts of money and they feel very detached from their football clubs nowadays. Some people hark back to the past, oh it was better in the past. And I hear that and I see that, but I also reject that. Because in the past, football clubs were not for women, and so I’d like to take the good of football from the past. I’d like to then move that into the future somehow and create a football club that is playing excellent, top quality football on the men’s side and women’s’ side, it inspires the local community and the community love it, live with it and thrive off it as well, so.
I: How do you do that? Because a lot of people, I like things the way they are, I don’t want change. How do you change?
R: Yeah and that’s certainly a challenge that we have here at Lewes, we, people sometimes assume we have everything right here and we don’t. One of the biggest thing for me to learn when we first came in, was that not everyone is on the boat. You know there are some people that think that when you give equal amounts of visibility or equal pay, that actually that’s taking something away from the men and the men’s side and proper football and how it was. And you know, you learn stuff along the way. The matchday atmosphere or the matchdays on the women’s side and men’s side are very different from each other. It doesn’t mean that one is better than the other necessarily. But some people who might follow the men’s side might not like the women’s side because uh, on the women’s side, we, we have a band that comes in and plays the Match of the Day theme tune as the players walk out onto the pitch and they think that is somehow frivolous. This is a comment that we’ve received.
But from our side, it is 100% authentic because the person playing that trumpet is actually a fan. We haven’t hired in a band, we haven’t done the American glitzy style you know hiring some dancers, it’s not like that, these are fans that come along, that drum. We’ve got fans that come along and play the trumpet. I think that authenticity is really important as well.
I: Am I right in that Lewes is 100% fan owned isn’t it?
R: Yes, yes.
I: Does that bring an additional challenge?
R: Um, yes, challenge or opportunity. Both probably. [laughs] I haven’t really thought about it this way. So, we have about 1,500 fans, um sorry, owners that own the club. I actually became an owner two years ago, I never thought at that time I would have a job here. In fact I never thought I would probably come and watch a game but when this football club, Lewes FC decided to put its money where its mouth is and pay men and women the same. From afar, I saw this on Twitter, I thought there you go, there’s a club, I don’t mind, I’m paying my, it was like £30 a year, take my money, like I want to be a part of that story. Um, and I think we have now owners in 26 countries. They’re probably not going to come to the dripping pan here and watch a game, but they believe in the values and the principles and want to support it in the way that they can, which is just to pay this annual, kind of subscription in a way.
So, there’s opportunities in so far as we have all these owners that believe in the values and it’s quite reassuring to know that. The challenges, well as anyone in a football club knows, fans are really opinionated, some more than others. And so, I think maybe one of the challenges maybe is for the people that have been here for a long time, they’ve suddenly seen, at least women’s football, explode here in little Lewes. So, with that comes a lot more, well a few things, with that comes a lot more visibility, a lot more media attention and that can feel a bit strange if you’re used to your team. But you know it also means that standards have improved on the pitch. But also in the terms of the restrictions upon us.
So we have a lot of, let’s say, standards that we have to adhere to and these people are like, oh but I was always allowed you know, I was going to say my dog in, but we do allow dogs in. but if we go up a level there’ll be more restrictions that you can’t have that, can’t have that. And it’ll be, the club’s gone mad. But it isn’t, it’s that we’re constantly hitting newer standards. So, yes it can be a bit of a challenge to incorporate and see fan viewpoints.
I: Have you personally been criticised at all?
R: Uh, not directly. Every so often people have been critical to me, but sometimes that’s, I’ve tried to introduce something or tried to improve something. And then a couple of things I’ve heard is, well why has this never happened before, and I’m saying, well I’m trying to do it now. And it might just be improving communication because I think sometimes some of the things can just wheedle away at people for a while, and then me coming in fresh, why don’t we talk to people about this? Why are we not communicating better? There’s little things I’m trying to improve but when you’re trying to improve it, that bubbles up as a frustration that hasn’t already happened, I guess.
I: To grow a football club in today’s climate isn’t a small task. You’ve got commercial revenue to secure, talent pathways to grown, audiences to engage and infrastructure to create. What are you doing well? What do you think needs more focus and getting better?
R: Yes, so we do a number of things really well. Clubs love coming to play us because we do have a great atmosphere. Our crowds in attendance are amongst the highest in the league. Last season we had the second highest attendance in the league after Manchester United.
I: Are you talking men’s or women’s?
R: Women’s, apologies, yes. So on the women’s side we’re doing really well in attendances. The other thing we do really well–
R: I think it’s really important we are one club. When I go to other clubs, say Charlton or Crystal Palace for example, they don’t play in their own stadium. They play in a stadium not linked to their home area, necessarily. They have to rent that stadium. So when they rent that stadium they also have to hire in caterers. They don’t get any money. First of all, they’re spending money to play that game there, then they don’t get to keep any money from the caterers, so therefore the foods not very good. There are just lots of things that are against them. For us, we’re so proud of our ground. We’re so proud of the beer we serve behind the bar, we have prosecco on tap, just because we can. We serve brilliant pies from a local pie maker. We included vegan pies because that was a thing that people wanted. So, we can experiment and do that and the local town get involved because they love the club.
I: So, is it the same people supporting the men’s and women’s team?
R: Yes, some do. The club also has a lot of volunteers that come along on match day and they have done it for literally decades. So, there is a pride in the club from the town, something that I’ve loved to see coming in as a stranger. I’m a DFL in their eyes, I’m a down from Londoner, I’m so proud of Lewes and so proud when I walk through the town and see the posters up in the shops. That’s because the shops give discounts. I walked the other day, in into a shop and I had my Lewes FC jacket on. I was buying something and the guy said how are your results going? I said, yes, doing okay. I walked out and looked at my receipt and he’d given me a 10% discount without me even asking. That’s the kind of relationship the town has with the club. He saw that I had a jacket on, it had my initials so he knew I worked here, so that pride in the club, I think is important. So, coming back to the question we do the match day stuff much better, we generate revenue when we have match days, which I thought was normal until I met other clubs in our league, who lose money when they hold a game.
It’s crazy that a team in the second tier of English football should lose money when they host a match. So, we do that really well there’s plenty of things we can do better though. One of the things I really want us to improve on is our talent pathway. Just naturally, we know that the more that women’s football grows and expands, the more the big clubs will buy in talent. We don’t have the budgets. We know there is always going to be a challenge for a small club like Lewes to buy talent, so we need to create it. So, the pathway is really important for us.
I: How do you hold onto talent when you’ve got those bigger clubs looking over your shoulder?
R: Should we hold onto talent? I mean I actually think, I don’t want to name names because they’ll go yes, but we’ve got a couple of players in our squad and if Man City came knocking I would be like, you’ve got to go, girl, you have to do it. Our players want to play professionally, they’re semi pro at the moment. Now, a lot of our players say they want to play professionally with Lewes and if they can’t with Lewes then with someone else. My job as manager, is okay I need to get the money in so they can go pro. Yes, we do do things differently, I’m not going to stand in the way of any player that wants to go, as long as it’s the right decision for them. A lot will stick around, no, a lot come to us because we have a really good manager who puts in way too many hours and basically works fully professionally in terms of our data analysis, our GPS tracking, we have a semi-professional club with very professional elements and then some of our stuff is very grass roots. So, I’m trying to tidy up the grass roots to get it to the semi pro and pushing for us to be professional as possible as well.
I: I’ve heard as well, that as far as developing talent, that when people get to university age, that’s a key time they’re losing good players as well. Has that been an issue with you?
R: We have a really talented player that came through our academy and got a scholarship to go and play in the US. That’s brilliant for her, isn’t that wonderful that her football talent has allowed her to get her education free in the US. I wish you could have that in the UK but it’s not really an option. I also think it’s brilliant for these young players, anyway, to move away to experience different clubs, playing styles. This is probably a very personal thing because I, myself, travelled a lot and I think I learnt something from every random location that I travelled to. So, I don’t think we’re going to keep someone from the age of six till twenty six. If we did, they would be a local legend down here and there’d be a statue of them in the town.
Yes, I wouldn’t want to stand in the way, I think that those players as they come through, they’re going to be looking for the best opportunities also to work with them. We can’t forget that for female players at the moment, they are having to juggle so many life decisions in their head at the same time. If you’re a boy and a talented footballer, your life is almost mapped out in a series of academies. You just go through the system and come out the other end as a professional player, hopefully, not everyone. But if you’re a female player because the opportunities still aren’t there yet, you have to be tough, you have to be strong, you have to be thick skinned and take risks and decide whether you do want to try for university, whether you’re going to carry on playing football? Whether you can afford to or need to take a job? I think there’s huge life decisions female players are constantly navigating. I see that with our own players, trying to juggle jobs as well as playing. Others are trying not to take on jobs so they can really focus on playing as well as they can. Yes, there’s some big life decisions there for those players.
I: Going back to you and your role, what’s top of your to do list at the moment?
R: Number one I want to be able to get the money in so we can go full time. I think these players, I see some of the players coming in and they’ve worked three or four cleaning jobs before coming to training and they’re exhausted. How incredible if we could be like, those cleaning jobs, you can quit them you can come in here full time.
I: So, why should someone invest?
R: In the club? I think first of all, Lewes is already punching above its weight. I mean Lewes FC, Lewes who? Most people in the south of England couldn’t put it on a map, yet we’re sitting alongside Blackburn Rovers and Crystal Palace and Charlton and Sheffield United and Aston Villa. So, already we’re doing something spectacular. But what an incredible story if the first club in the world to treat its male and female players equally were to actually sit alongside the Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea. And prove that when you treat females equally, you just accelerate their potential for success. You know it’s just something that if we can make happen, it will be incredible and hopefully knock a whole set of dominos around the world potentially.
I: When you look back at your own career, because I know you’ve only been here about four or five months as yet.
I: What’s something you’re most proud of?
R: So, in my previous job, it seems so far away from being sat next to the pitch here in Lewes but I led an organisations global advocacy. I was working in anti-corruption for Transparency International. And so, I was in charge of leading our global advocacy at the UN, at the G20. There was an anti-corruption summit that David Cameron held here in London that I was very involved with and we managed to get about 40 countries to sign up to I think it was, 700 commitments to change their laws on anti-corruption. That stuff I feel so passionately about. I’ve found myself in crazy situations where I’ve been with presidents and prime ministers. But it didn’t make me angry in the same way that gender inequality in football made me angry. You know corruption and money laundering I was so frustrated and so keen to change the laws to make the world a fairer place.
But sometimes I look at football and I think, if we can’t crack it in a game, in the most popular game in the world, if we can’t crack fairness in a football game, we’re never going to change the structures that allow politics to be so skewed, economics to be so skewed, so those kind of challenges shouldn’t exist on a football pitch. Just let them play. It makes me so angry when I hear of girls, I met a girl last night, 18 years old and she said to me, ah I wish I had the chance to play football. The boys always look like they had so much fun and they’d hang out together and they’d have that team of people around and they can just…I was like, wow you’re 18 years old, this isn’t a 65 year old, 70 year old you speak to. I’m rambling here but people often say, yes but things are better now aren’t they? Things are so much better than when you were 15, Maggie. I’m like yes, but here’s an 18 year old who’s never been able to play football and she lives in Lewes, the best town in the UK, so, yes, I don’t know. It’s a long winded answer maybe.
I: So, what’s success for you personally?
R: I think for me personally, I have my personal targets. Like I’ve said, I really want to take the club to go fully pro, I do want the club to get promoted. But I also want to make sure that the club is a really positive place to be. I know that sounds really whimsical and really hard to put a finger on. but football clubs can be not necessarily nice places. They don’t treat their players particularly well, don’t really care about the staff. Or they do things because this is the way they always do it, so shut up or put up. I think we want to rip out all of that toxicity and create a really wonderful football environment. If that means really boring stuff like having great communication or really valuing our players and our staff and letting them know they feel valued. And having standards as well, making sure that staff and volunteers know there are standards and we want to adhere to those standards.
So, I’ve got specific targets, I guess but I also just want to create a really positive environment. And I don’t really care about the name play, I don’t care… a lot of people have said to me, yes, one day you want to be a CEO or head of this. I just think, I’d rather be successful on something than have a name plate that denotes success, I guess.
I: Just going to wrap up with a few quick fire questions.
I: What did you eat for breakfast?
R: Oh I had a fancy one this morning, I had avocado on toast. Yeah I feel great. It was going mouldy so I thought, great I’ll get a good breakfast this morning.
I: Favourite piece of kit?
R: Kit as in football kit? Oh I like collecting really interesting football shirts.
I: What’s your most interesting?
R: I played against Greenland once, so I’ve got a Greenland International shirt, I’ve got one of those.
I: Fantastic. Sporting hero?
R: Oh, ah god, Serena Williams, what a champ. Billie Jean King, what a champ, coming from tennis, interestingly.
I: A useful bit of advice you’ve either received or given?
R: Yes, okay wear flat shoes to meeting and conferences, got to be the best right.
I: Greatest passion outside of sport.
R: Greatest passion outside of sport, these are quick fire and I’m thinking there’s lots. Um, oh god, I’m hesitating because I feel I should be saying my family, I love them to bits, which I do. But I love a comedy and I love reading. Sorry that was slow.
I: Last question, best performance enhancer?
R: Caffeine, coffee, I think that’s it.
I: Thanks it’s been fantastic talking to you this morning. Thanks for listening, you can follow the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and also don’t forget to subscribe online to Aquestionofperformance.com