The Most Influential Women In Football
James Brown sings "This is a man's world", and football has historically been regarded as just that – almost universally.
But then The Godfather of Soul also sang, "But it would be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl". And of course, today, football is not just a man's world; women are deeply involved in the game – almost universally.
Women's involvement in football goes far beyond just playing the game. Around the world, there are now women in many important and influential roles such as match officials, coaches and managers, agents, team owners, executives, and broadcasters and pundits.
The number of women in football and their growing influence has opened up a different facet to the game, such as the acceptance of women on equal terms, the growth of women's football around the world, and the betterment of career prospects for women in the future.
Here we take a look at the various roles women are assuming in the football industry and what influence their roles are bringing to bear.
What influence do female players have on the industry?
Women have been influencing football since 1895 when a determined young player named Nettie J. Honeyball founded the British Ladies Football Club. From that starting point onwards, women have been striving to get their game accepted.
Today, women players around the world, and there are many thousands of them, are not only achieving that aim but are exceeding it. Top players such as Christiane Endler (goalkeeper, Chile), Megan Rapinoe (winger, USA), Lucy Bronze (full back, England), Asisat Oshoala (forward, Africa), Saki Kumagai (centre midfield, Japan), and Abby Erceg (defender, New Zealand) and a host of others, past and present, have brought their influence to bear both on and off the pitch.
Take a look at our article on The World’s Top Female Football Players to find out more about these great players.
The quality of their football has earned women players their own World Cup, as well as confederation and national competitions. They play in domestic and confederation leagues. And, the ladies game has attracted some of the biggest names in sponsorship and advertising, and millions of supporters and broadcast viewers.
Off the pitch, the determination of these sporting women has influenced the conventions held by the football industry. Thus, they have earned women players in many countries professional status, an amount of parity with their male counterparts, and the support of unions.
But perhaps the most considerable influence that these players have is on young women and girls who aspire to join the ranks. They have become inspirational role models who are showing new generations and female fans a world of possibility.
What effect do female match officials have on football?
Referees and match officials control a game of football. They enforce the 'Laws of the Game' and ensure that play is safe and fair. These officials are highly visible in every game. They are open to criticism by the teams, supporters and the media – you could say that they carry the reputation of the game on their shoulders.
The acceptance and use of women match officials has been slow to come about, even in the women's game. However, things are changing. Women in command of the pitch sends a clear and direct message to all who watch and play football - women have the capability, competence and authority to govern the 'beautiful' game.
These are just some of the women who are showing the way in both men's and women' football:
- Bibiana Steinhaus - a German football and FIFA referee, was the first female referee in any of Europe's top leagues.
- Sarah Thomas – an American match official for the National Football League, was the first woman to officiate a major college football game, the first to officiate a bowl game and the first to officiate in a Big Ten stadium.
- Sian Louise Massey-Ellis, MBE – an English match official and FIFA assistant referee, refereed her first men's international match in 2019. In 2017 she was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to football.
- Stéphanie Frappart – a French football and FIFA referee, was the first female referee to officiate a major men's European match.
All of these women have been well received by both players and supporters. They are bringing their influence to the very heart of the game – on the pitch for all to see.
What influence do women managers and coaches have on the game?
Managers and coaches work together to get the best out of their players, determining tactics and bringing the most skilful, best-trained teams out on the pitches. Most managers and coaches have served their time as football players – so they know the game intimately. Women are now breaking into these traditionally male-dominated positions and are fulfilling these roles with great effect. Here are just a few of them:
Jill Ellis (born in the UK/naturalised American) played as a forward in her youth but went on to coach soccer teams instead. Most recently, she coached the USA women's national soccer team for five years, winning two Women's World Cups (2015 and 2019) with them.
Shelly Kerr (born in Scotland), a former centre back, has served as club manager for several domestic Scottish women's football teams, the Arsenal women's team, the Scotland U-19 team, and currently manages the Scottish national women's team - which, under her management, qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Corrine Diacre (born in France), former captain of the national women's team, became the first woman to manage a French men's team and the first woman to manage in the top two tiers of a men's European League. She is now the head coach of the French women's team.
Former Hong Kong international, Chan Yuen Ting (born in Hong Kong) was the first woman in her country to coach a premier league men's team. And, the first female to coach a men's professional association football team to the championship of a nation's top league. She is currently the head coach of the China U-16 team.
Maymol Rocky (born in India) played for her home nation before becoming the first-ever female head coach of the Indian national women's team in 2017. Quite a feat in a country not famed for its support of women's football.
With the successes that these and other pioneering women are having, we can expect to see many more of them influencing the game at both national, club and team level. Having women take on top roles in football, not only provides role models for other aspiring coaches and managers but ensures more opportunities become available for women to train as coaches.
What impact do female agents have on the industry?
Agents (or intermediaries) are powerful people; they influence the composition of teams and players’ careers. They negotiate contracts, transfer fees, conditions, endorsements and sponsorship deals and provide support in legal and personal matters. A happy player performs well, and everybody's a winner. And,female agents are making a difference to the industry, for instance:
Shehneela Ahmed is the first Muslim women to qualify as an FA-approved agent, and she is determined to open up the sport for more women and more players from ethnic minorities. Similarly, Samira Samii (born in Tehran) is the only female agent working in the German Bundesliga and is making an impression on one of the world’s greatest football playing nations.
Jennifer Mendelewitsch, in France, is an FA and FIFA licensed football agent who is not only speaking up for players but also for agents who are fighting to maintain their financial freedom from FIFA.
In the USA, as in other countries, sports agencies with women like Elizabeth Lindsey (Wasserman Managing Partner) are working hard to make the sport more welcoming to the next generation. Her company’s agents represent more than half of the United States women’s national soccer team. Similarly, in the UK, Georgie Hodge is the Head of Women’s Football at the Base agency where they promise to take care of careers both on and off the pitch. Ubah Kadie, a Somali Swede, wants to show all the young girls in the world that they can break barriers in the most male-dominated of industries.
Women like these now have a major say in the globalisation and development of the game, the availability and wellbeing of players, and industry finances.
How do women club owners and executives shape football?
Ultimately the team owner is responsible for everything to do with the team. The owner's actions and decisions influence the finances, premises, image, direction and strategy, players and staffing, legal and health and safety responsibilities and sales and marketing. Most owners delegate to their executives.
Executives come in all shapes and sizes and not just at club level, they are involved at national and confederation levels and, at the top of the pile, at FIFA. Football is a massive business on a worldwide stage. There are huge rewards in terms of pride and finances. Club executives have to make sure that their clubs survive and prosper in the business.
Women are making their mark at these levels, consider some of them:
Some of the women who own teams include Maryam Amir Kamali, Iran's first female football club-owner - FC Nassaji Mazandaran. She faces a huge challenge in a country that does not allow women to attend football stadiums to bring the team back to its heyday. Alona Barkat, Israel took on the Hapoel Beersheba club in 2007 and lifted it to the premier league. In the USA, a group of female celebrities including tennis star Serena Williams, several actresses, former national team players and a gaming entrepreneur, led by Hollywood star Natalie Portman has founded a women's professional football team set to debut in 2022.
Some major players at club level include the UK's Karen Brady – having sold Birmingham City FC for £82,000,000, she joined the board of West Ham United in January 2010 and negotiated the club's move to London's iconic 60,000-seat Olympic Stadium. Under her leadership, West Ham has become one of the five fastest-growing brands in world football. Marina Granovskaia – a Russian Canadian who is a director at Chelsea FC, recently brokered a multi-million-pound sponsorship deal with Nike until 2032. Katia Koxenoglou is Vice President and CEO at the Greek club Atromitos FC - responsible for her club and linked to the re-organisation of the Greek football league structure. Also in Greece, Angeliki Arkadi is the General Director at AEK Athens developing, amongst other things, the club's Social Responsibility programme and community endeavours.
At the highest levels women are making their mark, women like Fatma Samoura from Senegal, FIFA Secretary General, is working on the development of international rules and regulations. She has been named as the most powerful woman in international sports. In this position, it is her avowed intent to make football inclusive to all.
It is not just in football that women are influential. Amy Wanday from Kenya is the founder of the African Sports Network. This organisation aims to encourage the country's youth to participate not only in sport but also in the sports business industry - helping to develop the country's future leaders in sport.
These ladies and more are proving that women have the business nous to successfully manage, guide and direct football from the highest levels.
What effect do lady broadcasters and pundits have on the sport?
Broadcasters and pundits are hugely influential – they present the game to millions. For women in a man's sport, the most significant hurdle to clear is that of credibility. Here are some of the women who have made that leap:
- In the UK, Alex Scott was a very successful player, captaining Arsenal and winning a record 140 caps for England. When she retired in 2017, she was able to transfer those experiences to broadcasting and soon became well regarded for her involvement with the BBC and Sky Sports. Gabby Logan, daughter of player and manager Terry Yorath, was an accomplished athlete in her own right before turning to broadcasting working with the BBC, ITV and Sky Sport for over 20 years. Jessica Creighton and Seema Jaswal (Asian heritage) are not only leading the way for women presenters but are also role models for equality and ethnic diversity.
- In Europe, German Anna Kraft (former athlete and sprint relay champion) has worked for Sky Deutschland and channel ZDF presenting regular sports and football programs and major events.
- Elsewhere around the world, Americans Julie Foudy and Kyndra de St. Aubin (former soccer players) provide commentary and expert analysis of games. Mexican Marion Reimers became the first Hispanic woman to be the match analyst and co-commentator for a UEFA Champions League final. And in Australia, Lucy Zelic (sister to football-playing brothers) is a radio and television football commentator, presenter, sideline reporter and show host.
Women like these are showing that they can present the sport with excellent knowledge and credibility; they have gained the respect of players, supporters and viewers alike.
Women are now very much a part of the global football scene. Their influence touches all areas of the game from the pitch to the boardroom. And in truth, it is not just the positions that these women have achieved; it is the fact that they are there - showing the world that women belong in the game and opening the doors for other like-minded females.
It has been a long road to the success in football women are experiencing today. Read our article The Making of Women’s Football to learn more about the history of the ladies game.
There is an enormous number of talented female football players across the globe. We have chosen one outstanding player from each of the six football confederations.
Women's football has taken over a century to gain the kudos it enjoys today; it has been a hard-fought journey. Today work continues to make the game accessible for women worldwide.
Women's football is taking off around the world, though barriers to its spread still exist. Qatar hopes to be a trailblazer for the Middle East in its support of the ladies' game.