In the second of our UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 special, we sit down with Fern Whelan, Women’s Football Executive for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for the PFA.
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
My name is Fern Whelan. I am a former professional footballer for Everton, Notts County, Brighton and England. My current role is for the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) as the Women’s Football Executive for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. I am also a fully qualified sports physiotherapist with a masters in Sports & Injury Rehabilitation. I currently work in the media on an adhoc basis commentating on the women’s game.
What do you do in your current role?
I work with the professional footballers in the women’s game and make them aware of the support that the PFA provides. Whether that be education, well-being or injury support amongst other things. I also work with the equalities team across the male and female game delivering workshops and educating the players on aspects such as discrimination, reporting abuse and acceptable behaviours and language.
Alongside this I commentate or talk about the women’s game in the media on an adhoc basis. This has most recently been with Sky Sports or BBC.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
No week is ever the same. I am remote based so find myself traveling up and down the country a lot. This could be in clubs, meeting with players or meeting with other stakeholders within the game. Other days I work at home from my office and support the players remotely. If there is a game on a weekend I may find myself in the media.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
I have always been involved in sport since I was little. I wanted to join in no matter what it was. When I got a little older I realised I wanted to dedicate myself to football and I have done ever since. I studied as a physiotherapist whilst playing so that I would always be involved in sport when I finished playing. It just so happened that after playing I got this role at the PFA and am loving learning on the job every day.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
How can I help to elevate the female professional game in England and how can I make sure that every player feels supported on their journey. From starting as a young player, during their career and as they go through their transition out of the game.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
I had always grown up in the England set up and captained my country at every age group. Unfortunately I suffered a major set back at age 19 and I injured my knee severely. This injury kept me out of the game for 22 months. My sole aim and goal was to return to the England squad the player I was before and achieve my dream of playing in a EURO’s and Olympics. Both times I made the last 30 but not the 23. I deem this as failure and it took me a long time to learn a lot from it. I bounced back from the disappointment twice and continued to carve a domestic career from myself and complete a masters despite the injuries and heartbreak. I learnt that I can be resilient when I need to be and that failure is what you make it. I succeeded in continuing to play despite the setback and educating myself to secure myself a role in sport post playing.
What excites you most about UEFA Women’s EURO 2022?
The opportunities for the future of women’s football in England. I am hoping it catapults us into a new era where the demand to watch the sport increases dramatically, we have a whole host of new girls wanting to play the sport and be inspired and that this translates into attendances in stadiums. That would be a real area of growth for me if these audiences now come to watch the WSL week in week out.
If you could change one thing about your Industry, what would you change?
Football is such a male dominated industry and has been for a long time. I would love to see more females making up backroom staff in clubs and we are starting to see that as the game grows but I still feel there is massive room for improvement.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
I take time out with my fiancé and my little boy. If I am lucky I get a nice holiday in the sun and leave the phone at home. When I can I get back to Liverpool to see my family and friends and this is always special to be back home.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Work hard and anything is possible but make sure you enjoy what you do. For me that’s what makes football so special, you go to work and really love it. If you can find a role in sport that makes you feel like that you will definitely succeed.
How to follow Fern Whelan on social…
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Thanks for reading our chat with Fern Whelan! If you want to read more from our Industry Insider series, you can do so by clicking here.