Grassroots Football: An Interview with Alex Russell

Much has been debated and written regarding the disparity in the funds and financing of the women’s game. In recent weeks, we have seen the likes of Yeovil Town Ladies FC demoted two leagues due to financial problems and the liquidation of Guiseley Vixens FC from the National League. Yet in the last couple of weeks, Arsenal’s women’s team signed a major sponsorship deal with Mastercard and in March 2019 Barclays were unveiled as the main sponsor of the FA Women’s Super League, signing a multi-million pound partnership until July 2022. The partnership aims to drive the growth of the women’s game from grassroots level up to the full-time professional FA WSL. There will be a number of bespoke programmes delivered across the UK at schools to engage with and encourage girls to make football a part of their lives. Barclays’ acknowledgement of the FA WSL being Europe’s only full-time and professional league is testament to the work that has already taken place and the hope is that this sponsorship will break through the glass ceiling to drive the sport on to a new level.

Whilst this is all good news for the top league in the women’s game, the sense is that women’s football as a whole is currently at a pivotal and important point in its history. We have seen established teams such as Yeovil being unable to financially compete and the key issue that remains is how more funding and finance can be filtered down to grassroots level and how these teams can be promoted further to ensure that sponsorship can be received. There is still a significant disparity in prize funds for the FA Cup participants in the women’s game. The men’s pot stands at £30m whilst the women’s pot is a little over £250,000. This is clearly something that needs to be addressed so that vital funds can be filtered down from the FA WSL, to the FA WC, the FA WNL and to grassroots level to ensure that clubs can exist and provide an opportunity to girls and women to engage with the sport. The costs of running a club, especially within the lower leagues are simply not sustainable with the current level of funding and there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to bring parity with the men’s game but also to ensure that money finds its way down. In theory with the up-coming 2019 FIFA World Cup in France, the spotlight should be firmly shining on the women’s game with primetime television coverage, social media coverage at an all-time high and lots of interest being generated. I would like to think that this tournament will inspire young girls and women to take up football and it would be a huge shame to see opportunities to ignite a new passion with the next generation hampered through a lack of funding to enable a club to run.

As part of my #WhatIf pledge to provide an all-inclusive platform for promoting and highlighting women’s football at all levels, I recently interviewed Alex Russell, the new manager for the newly formed women’s team, The Peoples FC. The People’s FC are the first YouTube team with an already established men’s side; founded by Kye Trott following the suicide of a family friend. They are a side who raise funds for charities including Heart4More Foundation and Cancer Research amongst others with this being the third year since its formation.

Not only will Russell be managing a brand new women’s team but also this will be his first steps into managing a women’s team. With previous experience in a voluntary capacity working as part of the Millwall Lionesses media team, Russell is confident that he will continue the work already in place with The Peoples FC. His prior knowledge of women’s football will help to gain much needed exposure, not just for his side, but to highlight the importance of establishing a grassroots women’s team. “In my honest opinion, I can’t see too many obstacles in our path. Not out of ignorance or arrogance but purely on the basis that there is zero expectation on us. Going out there, raising funds and awareness is a win-win. Giving the girls the chance to demonstrate their ability on a global platform like YouTube will potentially gain significant exposure for the women’s game but also the work we are doing. That could open all sorts of opportunities for us all going forward”.

Russell is already looking ahead to the start of the new 2019/20 season and has spoken candidly about his expectations for his side; “It’s hard to gauge where we’re at. We have a few potential charity games and friendly matches in the pipeline whilst we await allocation to a league. I want to get the girls in to meet each other and train together for the first time. We have varying standards and players are commuting from across various parts of London and its surrounding areas. The main aim is to get a consistent squad, get training going and be ready to begin next season as soon as possible.”

A keen footballer himself, Russell describes his management style as fair but will expect high standards from his team. “I can empathise with the girls, the mental and physical demands of daily routines throughout the week will be tough but I am approachable and I want the girls to be aware of that. I just want to get the girls playing to begin with and the results will take a backseat whilst we look to establish our team identity”. Russell has shown a commitment to the women’s game by actively securing funding so that he can undertake his coaching badges to ensure that positive results will gain exposure for the team.

The People’s FC are actively looking to secure sponsorship opportunities so please do contact Alex directly if you are interested in finding out more (@ARussell_11).

Alex will be providing us with regular updates during the course of his first season managing The People’s FC. I’m sure you will all join me in wishing him and The People’s FC all the best for the coming season.

Categories: Interviews

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